I came across this quote by Amber Janae on Twitter: “Turn your back on the people who don’t see how much of a gem you are, but run toward those who do.” Those words were helpful to me while thinking about Shannon and Ryann, Dr. Phil’s mother and daughter mentioned in my previous blog. Embedded in Amber’s beautiful message is an ode to self-esteem. A tribute to ’embracing yourself as a gem.’
In working with mother, Shannon, I would ask her to hear Amber’s words and think of ways she could be more supportive of her daughter, Ryann.
To readers, I would say: Of course it’s not easy. As a parent, you’ve tried your hardest and raised your child in the best way you know how. And when your child is acting in an unexpected way, a way that baffles you, that leads to your anxiety, a way that you know can lead to trouble or tragedy-that’s the supreme challenge.
To be of the most help to Shannon and Ryann, I’d “map” the mother/daughter relationship. First, we’d look at their history. What were things like when Ryann was an infant, toddler, a student in elementary school? What was going on for Mom during those years? Was she grieving the loss of Ryann’s dad? Shannon and Ryann report that Ryann never knew her dad. How did the loss or absence of a dad affect Ryann? What was her response?
Delving into those life events is key to mother and daughters’ understanding and insight into their problems. But while it’s important, insight is not sufficient to solve problems. That’s why the next step is all-important: I’d guide both mother and daughter to explore the sad and vulnerable feelings underneath their angry, reactive fight cycle (just like I do with couples).
One thing that helps when people are accessing inner, vulnerable feelings, feelings they perhaps never knew they had, is to encourage them to express those feelings to their family members and/or loved ones. For example, Shannon might become aware of her fears. She might then say to Ryann, “I’m frightened when I know you’re meeting with strangers from the internet. I care about you. I want you to be safe.”
Hearing her mother say this would be more beneficial for Ryann. She could feel loved and cared for rather than attacked. When she felt more supported by Mom, she’d likely become more cooperative and loving.
You might be wondering about where the anger comes in. A heartfelt statement of anger toward the other is acceptable but always with the caveat that family members explore the feelings under their anger. Most often, reactive anger has been expressed already and doesn’t do much to help the situation or the relationship. That’s why I block those angry reactions whenever I can. Doesn’t mean that won’t surface again. But if people can learn to own and express their caring about each other, it probably won’t happen as much.
The next step in helping this mother and daughter would be to teach and model good communication. With guidance, they would learn how to speak to each other differently, directly and to hear and be heard by the other. Listening and talking with each other is the key to a healthy connection between parents and teens. Parenting can be enjoyable. Children and teens are happy when positive communication is established.
I’ll be delving more into fundamentals of good family communication in future blogs. Next time, I want to suggest some books I’ve found inspirational.
I would love to hear your stories-your experience of how good or bad communication has had an impact on your life.