Saturday, December 5, 2015

Part Three: Some Call Them "Whiners", Have Courage

atheist parent atheist parent atheist parent highly sensitive people highly sensitive children highly sensitive children highly sensitive children
In this series of posts I have been exploring a particular temperament of person that I have termed "challenging". In my first post in the series I talked about some of the difficulties one might encounter when interacting with a person who carries the traits and in the second post I attempted to describe the traits with the caveat that I might be inventing an entirely new personality constellation of traits because I have never been able to find any literature or internet sites that were useful to me.

I fully admit that these writings are my own experiences and observations. In my life I have frequently been surrounded by people that I care for who I would suggest were challenging. People who are challenging me and challenging to themselves. People who have been beyond merely rebellious or sassy or demanding or provocative or quarrelsome or passionate or overwhelming and beloved people who have required me, as a person who regularly connects with them, to temper my interactions with intuitive mood and need recognition. It has often been my task to both determine crisis level and to figure out how to intervene. In other words, I've been the person who has to respond to their behavior.

And it's a real challenge, both to me and to the person who is my subject. I know that my compassion and effort to make sense of their super-strong needs and behavior and energy is a part of what makes things work for them. For the purpose of this blog post I will refer primarily to my relationship with my daughter. In simplest terms, it is our relationship that is healing and centering for her.


I am Elizabeth and
I approve of these posts.
For example, this week as I am working on this series of blog posts, it has been quite difficult in this house. She is upset about something and that thing is the size of an elephant to her. She can't handle the enormity of the feelings going on inside of her and it is spilling out all over the place to affect everyone else. 
If she's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

Elizabeth and I have a very close and loving relationship. Over the years I have taken the time, again and again, to really listen and display my sincere efforts to understand. I have shared my struggles with her with care and honestly. We have had effortful conversations about previous crisis events, looking at the crisis event closely. We have reviewed difficult times to find patterns, struggles, areas we could improve in our communication or where we can reduce assumptions. We have made our relationship a real place of connection. 

Because of the long-term growth and health of our relationship, she always knows that I am on her side. She knows that I am her ally. The fact that we have built this environment for her, this holding place, is healing for her in and of itself. She can bring stuff to me and begin to feel more in control of her highs and lows. Over the years we have talked very honestly about the extreme emotions that she feels and how the emotions are, sometimes, out of perspective.

If you are looking for specific interventions I've got some suggestions for you. Know that the process of getting to where we are today has taken time, authenticity, and sincere effort. Nothing happens in a day. Both Elizabeth and I have worked hard to understand what happens and how to effectively help.


Remember, our challenging person is feeling out of control. Their emotions are huge. They are looking for what I can only think to call a hug. An emotional or a verbal hug. You might think of it as an intervention or an intercession. Nonverbal hugs might be kind and loving words identifying the struggle we can see. They might be an acknowledgment that you see the struggle and you care. A nonverbal hug might be a simple reminder that you are there and listening and ready to help. This simple expression of genuine compassion and empathy helps our loved one to feel tethered, connected to something solid and safe.

The hug is needed when you feel the least like giving them one. 
When they feel the least deserving of it. 
That is why it is so powerful and true.

A Solution to their Current Problem

You don't need a solution; in fact, there is no solution. You can only offer yourself, your time, your genuine love and care. And this YOU that you offer, it is a process. Over time, your challenging person will find that some crises feel easier to cope with. Over time the crisis will be less dramatic and will last for shorter periods of time and they will be able to find a place of comfort of personal competency (efficacy) easier. Read on to understand this.

The Goal

The goal will never ever be to solve anyone's problems but will, instead, be to model self care, self comforting skills, problem solving, and mood management. In case you need a concrete example, there are times with my daughter when I draw her a nice bath, put on some soothing tunes, light a candle, and invite her to bask in the warmth. I explain that we are looking for a way to comfort her and this lovely interlude will help her to relax and slow things down so that she can think again. She connects those moments of comfort with the idea of how to handle overwhelming emotions and, today, can use that technique to sooth herself when she needs to relax. 

Easy? Obvious? 
Not to her.

Give the sympathy that the challenging person seems to crave. Recognize that the real issue at play here is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. Express the powerlessness that you see that they are feeling. Put words to it. Observe that yes, indeed, that is a problem. Yes, indeed, you are really struggling to figure this out. Yes, you feel that there may not be a solution. Maybe you feel to blame. Maybe you feel overwhelmed and terrified that your life will always be too large for you to handle.

Giving these verbal cues helps our challenging one to learn how to express their enormous and perplexing feelings with words.


Bottom Line

What? Am I saying that I don't try to cheer her up?
Don't offer obvious solutions to the presenting problem?
Am I saying that we don't try to solve the problem, the one that my challenging child is presenting in all of her explosive glory?
That's right! Offer one thing: empathy.


In the moment of crisis keep these things in mind:


  • Acknowledge the frustration, the powerlessness, the enormity of the emotions that the challenging one is experiencing. Validation of their distress is key for this person in crisis. Sometimes validation happens just by being a patient listener.
  • Remember that you cannot remove the issue or solve the problem.
  • Ask the person if they want advice. If they do not, do not offer any. If they do, give simple suggestions and back off.
  • Remind them that, while they may have caused some of the distressing issues with their behavior or choices, one of the realities of life is that it is difficult. At some other time, if appropriate, talk about contributing factors, but now simply remind them that they still deserve good things in life and that you are on their side.
  • Encourage self-soothing behaviors, distraction, redirection, comforting things: music, healthy activity, walking, bike riding, art, sight seeing, writing, etc.
  • Know that the person must move forward with or without you and determine how much time you can offer. 
  • Express your sincerest certainty that they have what it takes to handle even the most challenging things and to come up with solutions and ways to move forward. This person is wise enough and capable enough to figure out the next step and the next; what they lack in the confidence to do so.
  • The final piece of the puzzle for me was this: If you are a parent, love and accept your child as they are. There is no blame or reason for this temperament; there is only love and patience. You have not caused a challenging person to be negative and you cannot change it. You can only accept and love them, knowing that that is who they are. When you offer acceptance and understanding, only then will our challenging person realize that they can choose, grow, and improve their way of handling the difficulties that life throws at them.

These challenging people are our loved ones. They are not bad people. They are living with internal messages and doubts that seriously complicate their ability to handle even the most basic encounter with struggle. I am here to tell you that when we love and seek to understand the challenge of what it's like to be inside of the head of the challenging person, compassion comes.


Remember, they are not giving you a hard time (Well, they are, actually), they are having a hard time.

Our relationship with our loved challenging one is truly our best tool for helping them figure out how to move forward in life. We acknowledge that they are who they are, they will not be different, and now what. Now we assist them to learn what to do with it.
And that's progress.
...
_______________________________________________________________________________________


In the fourth and final post I will talk about additional ideas and suggestions for you, the person walking through life with a challenging person beside you.

Thank you for sticking with me for this blog series; figuring this temperament out has been an important goal in my life, yet I'm sure my efforts will fall short. Not only is my own beloved daughter of this temperament but others in my family as well. If you are of this temperament or if you love someone of this temperament, stay with me. 
I hope you will share your thoughts on this series of posts as well. I'm not a scientist, but I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this and I'd love to hear your thoughts, struggles, and insights as well.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment!