Not on purpose, of course, but they just have SO many different activities scheduled between 11pm and 3 am - the time when really, I absolutely, positively have to be in bed, ASLEEP - and trying to figure out how to keep them happy and well-adjusted and me alive is proving to be quite tricky.
I live in downtown Jerusalem, where until a few months’ ago there were stabbings regularly happening almost every week (and during one really horrible period of time, almost every day…).
When terrorists aren’t trying to stab people and / or shoot them and / or run them down on purpose, my neighborhood is actually really pretty safe and genteel. But the trouble is, you really never know when the next ‘Ahmed the stabber’ is going to show up, and there’s something about trying to go to sleep when your teens are out of the house that seem to bring all these paranoid fears rapidly boiling to the surface.
So here we are, stuck in a paradigm where they (rightly…) want to have the freedom to be teens, and to do the things that teens like to do in the middle of the night, while I (rightly…) want to be able to sleep at least six hours a night so my brain doesn’t completely dissolve and drip out my ears.
I’m typing this on around four hours’ sleep, and I can literally barely see straight.
Which brings me to another point I’ve been pondering recently, about how so much of what we’re regularly taught is COMPLETELY NECESSARY FOR HEALTH can only really happen in a people-less, hermetically-sealed bubble.
It seems that health gurus that preach the benefit of 8-9 hours sleep every single night, and the importance of getting to bed by 10pm, just don’t have teens to contend with. Or small children. Or elderly parents, who often have their own dramas and difficulties that we need to help out with. Or friends. Or social lives (unless you count all those obsessive, daily ‘hot yoga’ classes). Or spouses who don’t always fit their nervous breakdowns, cries for help, late nights at work and desire to have an evening out into the ‘ONLY BEFORE 10PM’ box.
THIS ISN'T THE FIRST TIME THEY'VE TRIED TO KILL ME
Not that my teens are only trying to kill me by severely biting into my beauty sleep. In the past, they’ve also tried to kill me by absolutely refusing to pretend that probiotic sauerkraut is a salad, the sugar-free anything is eatable, that brown bread - and brown pasta and brown rice - is just as tasty as the real, white deal, and by forcing me to make at least two suppers a day - healthy for me, and yummy for them.
At the height of my healthy-food obsession, I was getting into regular fights with my kids (who were not even teens, at that stage) because they (rightly…) didn’t want to be forced into eating stuff they didn’t like just because it was healthy, and I (rightly…) didn’t want to be making them white pasta - which they absolutely love to bits!!! Especially with tons of high-fat cows’ cheese grated all over it!!! - that was also giving them stomach aches, zits and mucous issues.
Again, I come back to the idea that the healthy eating fanatics that insist that their kids just LURVE all that sprouted stuff, and kale cookies, and avocado chocolate mousse (which btw IS really yummy…) either have kids that are completely different from mine in every way, shape and form and / or are complete control freaks who give their kids no free choice and / or are lying.
But my teens aren’t going anywhere soon - thank God! - so I have to continue trying to figure out how to tread that fine line between doing enough to stay healthy, without causing them to go completely insane by insisting that I have everything my own way, all the time.
God gave me my teens. God made teens temporarily retarded, so they think they don’t need to sleep properly and eat enough, and they forget that while they get to sleep in until 2pm in the afternoon, other people in the house actually have jobs to do, and errands to run, that require them to be awake much, much earlier.
In the meantime, I’m learning that while 10 hours sleep is nice, five hours sleep is also doable, at least some of the time. If you don’t mind feeling like a zombie, sprouting a whole bunch of wrinkles and losing all pretense of coherent thought.
The single biggest thing that’s prevents us from dealing with the painful circumstances in our lives, and growing from them, and healing from them, is a lack of acceptance.
This lack of acceptance impacts us in two main ways:
For as long as we keep buying in to the ideas that our parents are ‘perfect’, or that our family life was ‘wonderful’, or that we somehow ‘deserved’ all the slaps, insults, manipulation and emotional neglect that were doled out in our childhood, that keeps us away from accepting ourselves, our true selves, that has an alternative view of things.
Inside each of us, there’s a small child that still can’t understand what they did that was so wrong that they had to go through whatever they had to go through. Young children idolize their parents as a defence mechanism, but when the parent is the source of pain instead of the source of comfort, denial of what’s really going on, and what was really experienced, becomes the adult child’s biggest emotional obstacle to living a happy, healthy life.
This is for two reasons:
It’s also true that parents can’t always supply what’s required. Accepting the limitations of parents, many of whom are also still trapped in the ‘fantasy world’ view of what they actually experienced as children, is also a big part of acceptance.
But the one doesn’t cancel out the other: Kids deserve all those things, and parents are frequently unable to provide them. Accepting both parts of this equation leads to true inner peace and healing, (especially for us parents.)
There’s another, deeper, degree of acceptance too, and that’s accepting that whatever horrible things occurred, whatever bad experiences we had, it was all part of God’s plan for our life. When this spiritual acceptance is absent, people can get sucked into a vortex of bitterness and anger that can be very difficult to exit. Spiritual acceptance teaches that whatever is broken can be fixed. Whatever is lacking can be filled - but only if God is in the picture.
Without this spiritual acceptance, it can also be very difficult to accept ourselves, especially when we hit our own faults and flaws. When a person can’t accept and acknowledge their own flaws and issues, that’s when they expect others to ‘overlook’ the problem and act as though everything is fine.
And we’re back into that pattern of not accepting reality again, except this time we’re the one asking others to put our need to see ourselves as ‘perfect’ ahead of their own need to recognize the very flawed reality they're experiencing.
Acceptance of reality is the key to getting everything to change. And that’s only truly possible when God is in the picture.
In the last post, we started exploring how it's possible to validate, acknowledge and give a voice to that traumatized child within, without it completely rupturing our family relations.
Before I answer that question, there’s another crucially important part of the puzzle that you need to have: kids are simply the mirrors of their parents. However the parent is treating their kid is how, fundamentally, they feel about themselves.
The slaps, anger, criticism, disparagement, violence, dislike, hostility and blame they dole out to their children are just ‘mirroring’ their subconscious attitude towards the real them, their own ‘inner child’. (There’s a whole other biological dimension to this involving what’s called ‘mirror neurons’ and empathy, but that’s a post for another time.)
If the adult can be taught to like themselves better, to love themselves more, to see the good in themselves and to treat themselves with a whole lot more self-compassion, they will automatically start treating their own children a whole lot better, too.
It works in reverse too: if the adult can be taught to see the good in their child, and to accept them, and to understand instead of blaming, shaming and criticizing them, then they will automatically start to do that for themselves, too.
You can sum it up like this: the abusive behavior has been going on for generations, passed down like some sort of warped inheritance from parent to child. Children are abused, maltreated and neglected because their parents were abused, maltreated and neglected. If that child isn’t helped to break the cycle, they in turn will go on to abuse, maltreat and neglect their own children – probably against their will!
What this all means is that the people themselves are not the problem and shouldn’t be labelled as such, but the abusive behavior and attitudes have to be identified as the evils they truly are, and challenged – but from a place of compassion, not blame.
Remember, the abusive parent was once a scared, traumatized kid. On some level, they are also stuck in the past, reacting to old hurts and injustices that they never really healed from.
In the next post, I’m going to share a powerful ‘gestalt’ visualization, that builds on the previous ‘inner child’ exercise to help your inner child develop their voice, and express their hurts, in a safe, non-risky environment that will help you to keep your external relationships as intact as you wish them to be.
When we lose a loved one, it’s usually too much to take in that reality right from the beginning. There’s a mental grieving process that we have to go through over time, that enables us to deal with the magnitude and scope of what we’ve lost in a healthy way that won’t overwhelm us, or incapacitate us, with huge, often negative, emotions.
In many ways, coming to terms with the primary causes of pretty much every mental illness you care to mention is no different, because it also involves grieving for a relationship that was actually never really ‘there’, the way it should have been. Before we explore this idea further, let’s set out the basic ideas that have been proven by a huge number of scientific studies, as to what’s really causing mental and emotional illness.
In contrast to the never-proven theories about ‘chemical imbalances’ and ‘rogue genes’ being the cause of mental illness, this information has been repeatedly proven by any number of peer-reviewed, rigorous scientific studies.
So why is it being ignored, as the prime cause of mental and emotional illnesses?
It comes back to the idea of how hard it is for us human beings to face up to the idea of losing our loved ones. All of us need to feel that ‘someone’ is looking out for us, caring for us and protecting us. As young children, the thought that we are completely alone and vulnerable in the world is too scary to even contemplate.
When our caregivers are ‘good enough’ (and I hope to flesh out these ideas in more substance as we go along, as it’s crucial to understand that we’re not talking about ‘perfect parents’ here) – they give us a sense that the world is safe, that we’re seen, that we’re important, and that we’re loved.
When our caregivers are not ‘good enough’ – the opposite happens. Having a basic sense of safety and feeling secure is the basis of good mental and emotional health. When the very people who are beating us up, attacking us verbally and otherwise, bullying us, tearing us down, treating us like dirt, failing to ‘see’ us or nurture us – are the people we depend on to care for and protect us, that puts us into an enormously difficult bind, emotionally.
We desperately want to believe we have caring, ‘good enough’ parents, but that’s not the reality.
So many people start to lie to themselves about what’s really going on – because the idea of ‘losing’ their caregivers is simply completely overwhelming to a child, no matter how old they might be – and voila, you’re already well on the way to a host of mental and emotional difficulties.
It’s so much easier to blame all the problems on a chemical imbalance than on enormous problems with our parents, because when all is said and done, we all want to believe that our parents truly do love and care for us, and that their treatment of us is not responsible for our mental and emotional health issues.
But that’s not reality.
And for as long as we’re not really accepting reality, and we’re not acknowledging the root causes of our emotional difficulties, we can’t start to really solve the problem.
The second, much less prevalent cause of mental illness is experiencing some sort of acute danger or trauma. This can also have a huge impact on the individual, and can definitely contribute to mental illness. However, the research done on the incidence of PTSD in Vietnam veterans showed repeatedly that the vets who had already experienced chronic trauma as children were the ones who went on to subsequently develop PTSD as a result of their combat experiences.
By contrast, vets who enjoyed happy, secure ‘good enough’ childhoods very rarely went on to develop PTSD as adults, as a result of their combat experiences.
You can sum it up like this: if you enjoyed a caring, nurturing, secure ‘good enough’ childhood with your caregivers, you are very unlikely to develop a serious, lasting mental or emotional illness as a result of experiencing acute trauma as an adult. If you were already traumatized on some level by experiencing a chronically abusive or emotionally neglected childhood, your chances of developing a serious mental illness (or PTSD type response) after experiencing acute trauma as an adult is much, much greater.
So the first stage of the God-based holistic healing process is this:
Accept the reality of what really happened to you, and what you experienced as a child.
In the next post, I'll share a practical exercise that can help you start to get in touch with your actual experiences, as a child, and start to heal them.
For once, I didn't write this!
It's a 3 part in-depth series on what's really causing all the emotional and mental health issues in the world, backed up with solid scientific research spanning more than 60 years'.
It's highly recommended (although I'm guessing the spiritual part of the equation will still be mostly missing....) and you can read the first part of it HERE, over on the Mad in America website.
In her highly recommended book Running on Empty: overcoming your childhood emotional neglect, psychologist Jonice Webb tells us that:
“There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy, and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development, so they will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult.
“Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally – outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.”
Webb goes on to define the 3 emotional skills she says are required to be a ‘good enough’ parent:
Good enough parents:
1)Feel an emotional connection to their child
2)Pays attention to their child, and treats them as a unique person in their own right, not just as an extension of the parent, or an unwanted burden, or as a possession
3)Responds competently to the child’s emotional need – ie, they empathise with what the kid is experiencing, sees when they need extra help, guidance, love, attention and support, and gives it to the child in a way the child can relate to as filling their ‘emotional need’.
Webb has some very good resources on her website, (click the blue) including a Questionnaire which can help you work out if you experienced childhood emotional neglect, and how it’s affecting you as an adult.
Particularly helpful, at least for me, was her list of ‘themes’ that typically come up in adult, if they were emotionally neglected as children.
The 10 main ‘themes’ of emotional neglect:
We’ll come back to these ideas again in the future, God willing, but for now I just want to flag how most of these ‘themes’ show up time and again in diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder, and anxiety and depression, amongst other things.
Emotional neglect can cause huge problems for people, ranging from depression to suicide to personality disorders, and a few other things, besides. But once you know what it is, what it can do, and what's causing it, it can be surprisingly easy to start turning the problem around.
As a parent, I often think how great it would be if I could just tell my kids all my mistakes, and learnings, and life experiences, and save them the trouble of going through so much trouble and pain themselves.
Save yourself the heartache, kid, and believe me when I tell you that you don't have to stress so much over your maths' exam! Save yourself a fortune, my daughter, and stop buying those junky bits of 'cute' pottery mass-produced in China for your room. They'll just sit there gathering dust for years, silently rebuking you for being dumb enough to buy them.
It doesn't matter what it is, from eating healthier, to getting enough sleep, to avoiding 'bad' friends, to making sensible decisions, I see that my kids normally have to learn things the hard way.
They have to see for themselves that wearing high heels gives them knee pain; and that staying up all night reading makes them knackered; and doing that extra bit of babysitting meant they didn't have time to really get all their homework done.
Apparently, there is no other way.
I'd pretty much got to that conclusion myself, but then I read something in this book called 'The language of life: how cells communicate in health and disease' which made me realise that actually, personal experience truly is the only thing that counts.
The author was writing about how the synapses in the brain are formed, and how 'superficial' experiences or learnings result in small, temporary, surface chemical changes in the brain; but how a powerfully-felt experience actually changes the physical cell-structure of the brain.
When something is experienced first-hand as 'good' or 'bad', that experience is literally hard-wired into the brain, so the person won't forget it. Of course, this can also be why it's so hard for addicts to get away from their drug of choice, or why it's so hard to walk away from the Black Forest Gateau, or why it can be so difficult to stop watching movies, or spending so much time on Facebook.
At some cellular level, these things have been (deceivingly…) coded as 'good' and 'enjoyable'. Our body thinks they're great; our soul knows better, and our minds are caught in the middle, trying to work out which one to listen to.
This is also why it can be so hard to break a habit, and why having good habits gets most of the job done, for you. It's literally hard-wired in.
What does all this mean, for you, for me, for our kids?
The first thing I'm taking away from it is that I really need to get God involved in breaking my old bad habits, and installing new ones. It's not just a simple matter of 'will power', whatever anyone may say. My job is to ask G-d to help me change, and then stop beating myself up if it doesn't happen overnight.
Next, I realised how important it is to let kids make their own mistakes, and experience their own consequences, from as young an age as possible. If they get the message when they're young that acting like a jerk is a bad thing; or that wasting all their money on candy is dumb; or that leaving all their homework until 10 minutes before school is extremely stressful, that message will get hard-wired in, and save them so much grief when they're adults.
I know, that's hard for us parents to do, isn't it? I literally bite my tongue, sometimes, when I can see the looming negative consequence of one of my child's immature decisions. If I tell them, they won't get it. If I enable them to experience it themselves, they'll own that wisdom forever, and it will stand them in good stead.
The last thing I realised was how important it is to give our kids as many good habits as we can, when they're young. That doesn't mean nagging them to bentch or wash - again, I learned the hard way that saying the grace after meals was directly linked to making a living, and I expect they will have to do it that way, too.
But it means helping them to develop healthy accountability, and self-awareness, and compassion and empathy for others. It means encouraging them to try things, even if they're going to end in failure. And it means trusting G-d to send them whatever experiences they need, even at a young age, to gently hardwire in the notion that with G-d in the picture, it will be 'good' however it turns out in real life - and vice-versa.