One of my earliest memories is of my 4 year old self, sitting in my grandparents’ living room, crying intensely over something that I cannot remember…had I gotten into trouble for doing something wrong, or perhaps someone had simply hurt my feelings? I guess I will never know. However, I do remember the embarrassment and the sense that no one cared about what was happening to me. I also remember a handful of adult family members laughing at me for my wailing, taunting me into near hysterics with comments like, “You sound like a fire truck! The fire truck is coming! REER REER REER REER!” My brother even remembers this incident.
All too often, we minimize a child’s ability to feel emotions, to think, to have opinions…to be human. We brush off their feelings, invalidate their emotions, and ignore their viewpoints, all the while inferring that until they reach adulthood, their experiences are not valuable. Rarely, if ever, do we acknowledge that what happens to a child tends to greatly influence the adult that child becomes.
So, back to my “playing” fire truck. I am quite sure that my reaction to whatever happened that day was extreme. Being that I was 4 years old, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I milked the situation for everything I could, throwing a tantrum out of immaturity. But my questions are these…why was I taunted and laughed at by adults and why did no one recognize that the tantrum had developed into a serious cry for help? To answer these questions, I must say that I believe many adults find a sense of power in their ability to treat children however they choose. When adults feel inadequate, invalid, or unsubstantial themselves, children are an easy target to bully and mistreat in a twisted effort to claim authority and control. However, I submit that this sort of power development is actually a form of dominance…and love has never come from dominance.
In recently discussing issues of impulsiveness with a BPD group I belong to, I ventured into the realm of how I try to relate to younger family members with the memory of “playing” fire truck as my motivation to be the loving, validating adult that I didn’t always feel I had in my life. The post is below:
“(Some of my impulsiveness issues) come from what I posted the other night…trying to be for others what others have not been for me. For instance, I have teenage cousins who I bust my butt to validate and listen to, even if I have to tell them they are wrong about something. I (rarely felt I) had that. I was always made to feel, and in some instances, directly told, that because I was “just” a kid, my reactions/feelings/opinions weren’t important. I want my cousins to look back and be able to say, “I had an adult in my life who didn’t coddle me, but did take the time to make me feel human.” I guess being able to do that is what makes me feel going through all of this anxiety/BPD/bipolar crap is worth something.”
Listen to your children. Validate your children. Do not simply say they are valuable but treat them, and their feelings, like gold. That doesn’t mean buying them everything you didn’t have growing up; it means showing them that their existence is no less priceless than yours.