One of the most common responses I find when people begin I Matter Training and start thinking about a child's challenging behaviours is that they begin to become more aware of their own angry responses towards their own child. Then they find that they are not sure what to do with that anger..
"I know it is not very helpful to be angry with my complex child they tell me, but isn't it normal to feel angry if my child is hitting me or hurting their brother or sister?"
In I Matter practice I like to encourage people to begin to make a distinction between i) healthy controlled anger which can be channelled into asking clearly for what we want - I call this form of healthy anger "Outrage" - and ii) toxic anger which is the primitive often out of control anger we associate with red route. This red route anger may be expressed outwardly towards your child in your own uncontrolled way, or it may be more suppressed and emerge in the form of persistent and equally toxic resentment and quiet but intense dislike of your child.
Being in touch with the ability to feel outrage is vital to your own well-being and to the well-being of your often strong-willed egocentric complex child. The movement of outrage arises from a healthy and primitive part of you that works to keep you safe. You will know you are in touch with it, when you become aware of your own needs and your own healthy wish to be treated well by others - one of whom is your child.
One of the reasons that living and working with complex children is so challenging is that we have to be able to stay in touch with very conflicting emotions. We may for example feel deep empathy and a sense of understanding for a child who has experienced neglect and trauma or who struggles to get on with a peer group. We may feel pain and sadness for them. But in so doing we mustn't lose touch with our own healthy outrage when because of their own challenges they treat us disrespectfully.
In contrast to an emotion like sadness, outrage is a healthy, strong, determined movement of energy that allows you to stand up for yourself and set a strong boundary to others. Your child needs you to maintain your position in the hierarchy if they are to be able to mature. One of the reasons that this is so important is that many children with complex needs are developmentally younger and confused about their own boundaries - ie confused about where they start and stop in psychological space. They do not find it at all easy to remember that they are surrounded by other human beings who have thoughts and feelings of their own.
Setting the boundary about how you want to be treated, and being firm and vigilant in policing that boundary demands daily effort but allows your child to gain a much stronger sense of themselves. It is vital to their ability to mature and become able to manage and make sense of their own emotional responses to Not-wants.
I advise that the simplest place to assert and monitor the boundary in your relationship with a complex child is by monitoring the day to day way in which your child speaks to you and treats you and others. If you co-operate with a child who is abusive and aggressive to you, without finding a way to draw their attention respectfully to the fact that this attitude will not win your co-operation you are making their journey to greater maturity much more difficult.
So next time you feel that rush of emotion in response to something that your child has done, don't be afraid of it, but instead remember to create a gap so that you can think then trust it and channel it into asking yourself - how am I going to engage and coach my child into treating me and others the way I know I want? And how am I going to do this in a very determined way with myself as a role model? If your determination is fuelled by your understanding that what you are asking your child to do is even more difficult for them than it is for you, you will know that you will be travelling down green route.
If you want to learn more why not consider signing up for an I Matter Training course?
Dr Cathy Betoin
Dr Cathy Betoin
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