A friend recently told me about a parenting moment where he yelled at one of his children, repeatedly, while they were on an outing together. At the end of the outing they were both angry, upset and picking fights with everyone else. Instead of building connection, the outing pushed a wedge between them.
While my friend and I talked, he said, “I made a mistake and had a bad moment.” He was being gentle and kind to himself, showing himself empathy. And I was the friend that stepped in and said, “It was a mistake, but was it really only a moment?”
You see, my friend yells frequently, and accuses his children of purposefully being mean to others. He makes mistakes, his children are bad people. Obviously, he doesn’t really think that, but his words and actions don’t really demonstrate what he does think. Instead he only shows others those, frequent, moments of anger and upset. This friend often has negative self-talk, negative talk about others, he exhibits many signs of having depression, he expresses how difficult life is with absolute language that prevents growth.
As we talked I told him about the type of parent I used to be. I told him of those moments when I understood how a parent could slip into hitting their child. I also clearly understood that if I were to ever hit my child, it would be abusive. I don’t mean to say all parents hitting their children are abusive – that is an entirely different conversation, though I do feel all hitting is wrong – what I mean is that in the moment when this clarity came to me, I knew that if I hit my child once, I’d hit them again, and again, and again. There was a lot of anger and hurt built up inside of me. One hit, and all that anger would come pouring out my hands, probably my fists.
Don’t worry, I never hit my child. I called for help. That’s also a story for a different day, but it illustrates where I came from. I get it. I know what it’s like to be utterly broken inside. I know what it’s like to have zero self worth. I know the entire continuum. From being down at the bottom of the pit alone, afraid, unable to see the light at the top, certainly unable to climb out. I’ve also experienced those moments when I absolutely loved myself, my family, when I flew high above the clouds. I’ve walked along the ordinary path as many people do.
When I talked with my friend, I brought this up. I also talked about what I’ve done to make sure I never slide below the surface again. I lightly talked about those dark days, and the changes I made to myself.
Each of us is in a box.
Growing up, many factors determine what type of a box surrounds us.
Some people have Golden Boxes: big beautiful boxes with colours and skylights, open windows, doors that can easily open and close when needed. These boxes are a life full of wonder, love, kindness, empathy, and resilience. We all know these people. They float above the rest of us. Everything always seems to go their way.
But things don’t always go their way. Instead when they hit a bump in the road, their box cushions them. They have windows to allow in different views, doors to open to new opportunities, but also to close on those that try to bring them down. When someone in a Golden Box makes a mistake, they have enough windows and doors to allow other views in, and any negative self talk just floats away.
Some people have Beige Boxes: boxes with a couple windows, a door, maybe some cushioning, maybe some colour, it’s a nice box, but not as well decorated as the golden boxes above. In my experience, most people seem to have these boxes. Over all nothing really gets them down for long, but it sometimes takes them longer to recover from life’s mishaps. If they make a mistake, negative self talk might bounce off a few walls, sticking with them for a while, before it finds an open window or door to float through, and away.
But some people have Black Boxes: These have no windows, no doors, they are stark on the inside. Whatever these people learned growing up, are all they have to support themselves. When these people make a mistake they may say words like, “I’m an idiot!” or “How could I have done that? I’m such a failure!” These words just bounce right back to them, reaffirming their own negative story. there’s no way for these words to escape, no way for new words to come in.
That sounds pretty dismal, but the beautiful part is, we can all rebuild our boxes into what we want. Inside each box, we have a hammer, nails, saw, whatever tools we need to open a door. Once the door is open, we can build windows, we can build skylights, we can move in a few cushions, paint the walls. We can move from a Black Box to a Golden Box!
It takes work though.
This post became longer than planned, I’ll continue in my next post.