Many of us have a traumatic experience at an early stage in life (physical, sexual, emotional abuse etc.) which leaves us with a sense of powerlessness and shame; powerlessness, because we were too young to say 'no' to the abuser and shame, because we interpreted the experience as a flaw within us or something we could have avoided but did not.
Many of us carry this burden of powerlessness and shame well into our adulthood and this burden prevents us from achieving deep intimacy in our relationships. That is, we may go through life not allowing anyone to come "too close" lest they see that we are flawed. This is not done consciously and many of us do not realize that we are afraid to allow people in. We develop several coping mechanisms to allow for this "safe distance", but this kind of living leaves a sense of unrest within. We search for "happiness" and "peace" but they evade us...
In my opinion, one way out is to trust another adult (spouse, partner, therapist, etc.) enough to share this traumatic experience with and process thoroughly. Of course, one needs to first feel safe with this individual, because such a step feels very risky. In effective therapy, the burden of shame is removed when the affected individual feels understood, empathized with and importantly, recognizes that self-blame is no longer necessary.
The experience of trusting another human being and feeling "safe" in the relationship can open the door to intimacy. Intimacy also increases our sense of self-worth because we feel valued and loved by another. Peace, contentment, happiness etc. are bound to follow...
As parents, we often struggle with feelings of helplessness and frustration when our children behave in ways we do not understand. Some examples are young children's tantrums when they don't get what they want or a teenager's mood swings and "attitude".
I tend to first look at myself and see how we as parents might be influencing the behavior. Does one of us tend to throw adult "tantrums", which our child emulates? Do I get scared and quickly given in to a meltdown just so I can have peace? Does my teenager's anger make me feel unwanted/rejected and therefore, I react in anger or by appeasing?
Or, is there something else the child is reacting to because he/she does not know any other way? Is there trouble in the parental relationship? Is there open hostility or silent distance? What is the general stress level in the household?
After these questions (and more) are looked into, it often becomes easier to deal with the actual behavior. If the behavior is a symptom of something related to an adult or adults, it is up to the adult/s to work on themselves. If the behavior seems age-related, then again, it is up to the adult to draw the lines for what they will/will not tolerate. Ultimately, I believe that the buck stops with us adults!
Sujata V, Ph.D, MFT
Always Learning..through the good AND not-so-good times!