Saturday, January 12, 2013
Be hard on the problem; be soft on the person
Rejected Parents often have difficulty distinguishing between the problem and the person. Such confusion leads to tense interactions, misunderstandings, angry reactions, and lost opportunities to reconnect. One mother, for example, didn’t respond to her estranged daughter’s first text in many months, in which she proudly reported making the drill team. “She didn’t let me know she took extra dance lessons, she didn’t tell me she tried out, she didn’t ask how I’m doing. She probably sent the text hoping I would send her some money, nothing new there.”
The barrier in many of these instances is the Rejected Parent’s emotional reaction, what neuroscientists call an amygdala hijack. This mother, like many Rejected Parents, focused so intensely upon her emotions of hurt and betrayal that she set reasoning aside and lost sight of her goal to reconnect with her daughter. Driven by her emotions, she saw the problem as residing within her daughter (“she’s selfish, mean-spirited, manipulative”). But the problem was not her daughter. The problem was their estrangement.
This mother resisted redefining the problem when offered an alternate perspective, angrily blaming her daughter and then her ex-husband for their estrangement. This is not to say that the daughter and the father didn’t contribute to the problem. But by maintaining a mindset focused so intently upon the persons, the mother was captive to her emotions of hurt and betrayal. She was reacting, not problem-solving. If this mother is to make progress with her daughter, she must adopt a new mindset—seeing their estrangement as a problem to be managed, moment by moment, rather than a situation to assign blame. She might have said: “Your hard work paid off, you have good reason to be proud. I look forward to seeing you perform.”
This doesn’t mean that Rejected Parents shouldn’t set limits. This mother, for instance, must learn to speak directly to her daughter about how they will resolve conflicts, without getting so tangled up emotionally in reaction to her daughter that she doesn’t recognize opportunities to reconnect. If the daughter did indeed ask for money, the mother might say: “I understand your dance lessons have been expensive but I’m uncomfortable giving you money for something that I’ve been left out of. Let’s talk about how we can be more a part of each other’s lives going forward.”
Learn more about managing relationships to alienated and estranged children by reading earlier blog posts or from the DVD, Welcome Back, Pluto.