WHY THIS TOPIC? Parents Are People Too provides reality checks about parent advice or what is posted as news. This post looks at abandonment, real and imagined.
One of the ongoing psycho-babble rants deals with abandonment. A recent article on Psych Central discussed Emotional Abandonment. Emotional abandonment hurts, but it is one of the areas the parent advisors and theorists have awfulized.
Awfulizing is a term coined by Albert Ellis the founder of a school of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. To awfulize is to turn an ant hill into Mount Everest. Which is why I ask “Really?” The child in the cartoon is probably feeling abandoned, but as angry as Dad appears that does not mean he is abandoning.
The article is posted by Psych Central. Here is their discription of their site: “Dr. John Grohol’s home of down-to-earth, reliable and objective mental health symptoms and treatment information. We’re here to help. ”
Their disclaimer tells this story. Here it is: “The contents of this site are for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing found on our website is intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.”
I quarrel with the word “Objective.” So let me rant about that a bit. As a rant, I will share some things for you to think about.
Jerome Kagan, Harvard researcher and professor emeritous, devotes an entire chapter of his classic book The Nature of the Child to discussing the frailities of most research. He believes objectivity is particularly difficult to obtain in the soft science study of humans and how we grow and develop.
As he notes, “…most observers of children begin their work with a deeply held philosophy about what human nature is or should be and how it attains its adult form.”
Kagan has a long standing disagreement with abandonment theory. His disagreement began when he studied a small village in Guatemala. The villagers, fearing evil spirits, kept their babies in hammocks hung in the dark for the first year of their lives. As toddlers these apparently abandoned infants appeared retarded, but by the age of five were as normal as any five year old.
Still as the article clearly shows, abandonment theory and its sibling attachment theory remains a solid source of a cash flow for many parent advisors and therapists. The opening paragraph of the Psych Central article explains why:
Many people don’t realize that they’re feeling emotionally abandoned or that they did as a child. They may be unhappy, but can’t put their finger on what it is. People tend to think of abandonment as something physical, like neglect. They also may not realize that loss of physical closeness due to death, divorce, and illness often is felt as an emotional abandonment.
Believe me, I am not down-playing the pain that comes from being abandoned. When David and I have a fight and I feel he is abandoning me emotionally, I feel physically as if my skin is being flayed. I am suggesting that such feelings be subjected to a reality check. Does the fact that your parents worried more about your B+ than an A? I remember feeling hurt when my mother said that. I also know from my point in life, it really was not abandoment.
I also suggest developing a bit of armor against such pains.
As I sometimes say silently to myself and outloud to others, “Time to suck it up, Buttercup.”
So how does one help a child not feel abandoned when parents say no, don’t understand, or blow their cool, and the child feels abandoned?
Tip One: Accept criticism directed toward you. Work to create a family climate of comfort with letting each other know when behavior is out of line. You are the model. Here are the rules you need to follow when accepting criticism:
- Make eye contact.
- Keep a neutral facial expression and posture.
- Listen quietly.
- Do not interrupt or argue.
- Think about what is true.
- Accept responsibility for any wrong you have done and show you understand. A useful tactic is nodding your head as you listen and occasionally saying “I hear you.”
- Try to correct the problem. Ask the critic for specifics, “What do you want to see me change?”
- Be honest about what you think you can do. Learn “You Want, I can’t, what else can I do.”
- Learn how to beat a strategic retreat. That means if you don’t think the critism is fair or if you think you cannot change, find one thing to agree with so you can give an honest, “I understand.”
Tip Two: Do not expect teaching this to children to be quick or easy. Start early with time out, which is a criticism of behavior. For the very young, tell them clearly what they did wrong. In time the child, should be able to tell you what they did wrong. As the child ages, her apology should be more than “Sorry.” By the age of four or five, the apology should include what the child is sorry for.
Tip Three: Teach lots of self soothing skills. EFTI teaches Calming Breath, Soft Face, Calming Self Talk, Remembering What Matters, and Observing the Now. Watch for the publication of Emotional Fitness Training’s E-book How to Self-Sooth. For now you can go to EFTI’s Home Page for a quick self soothing exercise. Another important EFTI exercise: Thinking about what matters.
Tip Four: Remember to balance the bad with an abundance of good. Five good experiences for each time you criticize.
Tip Five: Do not abandon. This is particularly true for parents involved in heated custody battles. No child should become the bullets directed at his other parent. Nor should any parent limit contact unless the other parent is criminally abusive–breaking bones, having sex. Unfortunately in many situations contact is brought to a halt. In other situations a child may end up in another country. Finally, a parent may have to place a child. Life can be a struggle. When these scenarios play out, there are ways to legally maintain contact. Phone calls, letters, and “I love you,” birthday, and other holidays gifts.
One father was forbidden contact and doubtful his child’s other parent would pass along letters or gifts, so he kept a journal of his thoughts and hopes about how his child was growing, put birthday cards with birthday money in it, bought duplicates of the gift he had sent. He left explicit instructions that these items would be given to his son in the event of his death. He was able to re-connect with his son when the boy went off the college. He did not abandon.
PRACTICE KINDNESS. Like this post or share it. I need all the caring I can get. Not only will you be helping me stay strong but perhaps a few others as well. Karma dictates your kindness will be returned.
You will also be practicing one of the 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises and strengthening your emotional fitness.
Click here to view all Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises. If regular practice of the 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises does not improve the quality of your life, more might be needed. That is the time to think about therapy.
Good luck, life is a struggle, caring for children harder than you expect AND despite the struggle, life as a parent is also wonderful.Katherine