When we encounter an individual who has been impacted by trauma, it is very difficult to try to explain some of their behavior. They can be unpredictable, panicked, withdrawn, hyperactive or even violent. Some of their emotions may seem out of control or swing back and forth from calm to hypervigilant and back again. When we try to reason with this individual we often become a target of anger or verbal abuse. In those moments it is very hard to know just what to do to help them.
This is the plight of many parents who have children who are struggling with this kind of disequilibrium. There are temptations to confront the behavior with intensity, to argue, to insist that they listen or to scream some form of command for them to change immediately. Often when they do not stop the behavior we assume a level of disrespect and the confrontation can easily become a power struggle. At that point it is predictable for this to get to a place where it becomes a competition, resulting in there being a winner and a loser. Yet in a dysregulated brain much of what is going on is unconscious and unintentional. It is deep within us (and our children) that we need to find a way to survive a perceived threat and it can be a reflex to high threat situations.
This is so difficult when you want to be a caring yet responsible parent, caregiver or professional. You emotionally ache for this child and yet do not want them to be out of control and unable to manage their behavior and emotions. It is a serious double-bind that is quite frustrating and hard to internally process when you are in the heat of the moment.
Emily Daniels has written an article about her 11-year-old daughter who had a meltdown. I think she describes this situation in a way that most parents have dealt with in terms of a fear-response that is extreme. She has become aware of some very sophisticated research by Stephen Porges with his Polyvagal Theory. This is very complex in depth of understanding but the essence of it is that we have a normal propensity to protect ourselves that is deeply ingrained in our human system of protection. In her article she explains the perspective from such research.
But what is more important is that she expresses in a clear way why one of the most important attributes we can acquire is self-awareness. It means that we are able to understand what is going on for a child and within ourselves. That awareness will instruct our reactions, keep us calm and help us make much better decisions in managing those difficult and seemingly impossible moments.
Here is Emily’s article: https://www.acesconnection.com/blog/understanding-this-theory-is-essential-to-being-trauma-informed
I hope that this article can help parents or anyone who may be attempting to manage behavior that feels overwhelmingly. We all have the capacity to be more self-aware, realizing that our impact to those we are encountering can be much more positive and effective if we are in a calm and cognitive state of our own regulation. It can be transformational to our relationships and reduce stress for our families.