We have all, at some point in our past been ‘parented’. For many of us, the experience was sometimes misshapen, hopeful, desperate, chaotic and other times loving, patient, kind and wise. The experience of being parented is the way in which human beings transmit knowledge and skills for our individual and collective survival. It is the way we learned about consequences, or the lack of them. Our parents, the experience of being a child, the environment we lived in when we had an unavoidable effect upon the person we become as an adult, whether we have sufficient skills to cope as adults, whether we know how to parent our own children.
“We Parents, We Know Better”
Paramjeet and Manjeet, parents of Lilly Singh, have a lot of experience with parenting and family. They have taken some valuable time out of their hectic schedule to help us all parent better. Here they are empowering us with some Tips on “How to be a Good Parent”.
I meet people in the counselling room when they find themselves at a cross roads in life. Something is not working. Life is attacking them. A relationship is collapsing. God is not listening. Crisis is either happening or imminent and not only is it ‘not fair’ but often it is also ‘not under their control. They feel vulnerable and powerless. This feeling causes them to time travel in the counselling room and in life back to an earlier stage when they felt the same way, when they were … a child. It is easy to forget the experience of being a child. Many of us do not want to remember for lots of reasons, the least of which is … we do not like the feeling of being vulnerable or powerless.
The therapeutic journey does, at times, require going backwards in time, to the years when we were vulnerable and powerless and the way our parents saw us was inscribed indelibly on our psyche. We accepted that we were, what they saw in us. We accepted this without question. We had to, we were vulnerable and powerless and our survival depended entirely on our parents.
These experience good, bad and ugly imprinted upon us. They unavoidably define us. We either adopt or react but they go with us forward. Our experience being parented teaches us to behave in certain ways, to think in certain ways and therefore influences how and why we feel certain things. So, if this is not working for us in the present, it is necessary to rewrite our past, imbibe, integrate more skills, more knowledge – so we can change our future. This is the challenge of therapy.
“Family Comes First!”
Is there such a thing as Good Parents? Could be the pursuit of perfection, an important topic for another time, is an effective way to avoid the present? Here is Lilly describing the Types of Parents available …
These experiences get recorded in intricate detail by our nervous system and organised in to understandings and action plans by the organ that is our brain. It is a beautiful and elegant system. It works as follows …
We find ourselves faced with a situation we are not exactly sure how to handle. We feel confusion, possibly frustration or anxiety. This is the way we identify a problem. Our brain perceives the situation according to sensory stimulation or cues received from the world around us and filtered through our perceptual system, including our emotions and memory banks searching for an acceptable way to proceed. We try to locate a same same situation to find a solution that works.
Our brains categorize, process and organise an enormous amount of information. We acquire heuristics or templates that help us make every day life decisions in childhood, so we don’t need to start from scratch each time we need to learn something or solve a problem. We just go to the memory file. In functional terms, this would be why a childhood is needed, for learning ‘our ways’.
These heuristics or templates become thinking and behaving patterns otherwise known as habits. Some habits help us while others do not. Generally we are not aware of our habits. They are largely unconscious and therefore seem to operate without us having very much to do with the process at all. We can even believe that we have not control over our habits – but if this is the case, we would be a kind of organic robot, without free will or self determination. And we are not – right?
It can feel like we have not control over our thoughts and actions. In order to regain this control, the same kind of control we had when we were children and open to try a million new things – it is necessary to travel in to the inner world and to be present to what we find there.
Inner World is made up of a …
PARENT, CHILD and ADULT Self
There are many ways to understand the inner landscape of the psyche. Here is a very simple one taken from Transactional Analysis. We have a CHILD SELF, a PARENT SELF and an ADULT SELF.
- The part of us that is a CHILD – feels like a child, thinks like a child and acts like a child. This part is very emotional and often feels powerless or vulnerable.
- The part of us that is a PARENT – sounds alarmingly like our real parents and is often a bit like a track on repeat. Habitual thinking patterns often arise from this part of the self. This is usually good and not so good or helpful and at times unhelpful.
- Our ADULT SELF is capable of new learning and problem solving. This part of our inner world always problem solves and always deals with the here and now.
The ADULT SELF is more conscious or self aware than our PARENT or CHILD SELF, however with repeated self reflection activities such as counselling, journal writing or mindfulness practice we can learn to become more aware of what these SELVES are doing, thinking and feeling. And then, we can change them.
Berne, the guy who came up with Transactional Analysis as a way to understand and intervene in our inner world, thought a lot about exactly how these structures grow and get imprinted on our psyches. Berne suggested that the three structures corresponded to key systems in the brain to do with the regulation of emotion. He wanted to know more about the engine, the power behind the habits.
Berne suggested that our CHILD SELF is motivated by a desire to please our PARENT SELF. These two SELVES, therefore are more likely to reside in the ‘older’ or more primitive structures of the brain including the limbic system and the amygdala. The need to please our parents was a real life situation when we were younger, but later in life – we just replay a recording of how things worked when we were children – on everyone.
Berne suggested that the CHILD SELF is motivated by POSITIVE and NEGATIVE STROKES. Essentially ‘strokes’ are a bit like ‘pats’, you know ‘patting the cat’?
Cat likes being stroked or patted. Cat purrs – cat’s nervous system at peace and experiencing pleasure. Berne suggested we prefer to seek out, act in a way that gets a POSITIVE STROKE but if these are not available – we will seek out and act in a way that gets a NEGATIVE STROKE, or negative reaction from our parents. These thinking and behaving patterns become – habits.
Here is a collection of commonly used Maternal NEGATIVE STROKES
And … here is Paramjeet and Manjeet attempting to motivate Lilly using a NEGATIVE STROKE, or withholding approval and threatening rejection or not loving or accepting her. They are trying to get Lilly to behave in a way acceptable to their values and beliefs by comparing her to ‘other children’. Lilly responds to this in a creative way …
I think we all have more Questions and not enough Answers … what to do?
Luckily Paramjeet and Manjeet are here to help. Here they are doing a Q & A …