Posted by: Marie | December 31, 2013

(913) The value of clarity – Part 4 of 7

Post #913
[Private journal entry written on Friday, August 3, 2012 about a conversation between my therapist and me – continued from previous post]

————–

Edward: I think the simple answer to your question of why she behaves that way is because that behavior gets her attention, and she really wants attention just like any child wants attention. The sad thing is that it gets her negative attention . . . but, if that is the only attention she can get, then she’ll settle for that because negative attention is better than no attention . . .

Me: That makes sense . . .

Edward: As to why she is continuing to behave that way with you despite your giving her intense positive attention . . . again, I don’t know her, but my guess is that she feels she doesn’t have the capacity for connection with people . . . and she desperately wants that.

You described some times that she has connected with you in a meaningful way . . . and how she really comes to life in those moments . . .

(I nodded)

Edward: I think that, in those moments, she simply can’t help herself and she shows up authentically . . . she is excited and expressive and engaged . . .

(255)

Photo by Martin Chen

And then, something happens that reminds her you are an authority figure and that it is your job as her piano teacher to critique her performance . . .

Of course, it is your job to critique her performance . . . that’s what you get paid to do and what you are expected to do . . . so it’s not like you can avoid doing that part of your job . . .

But something in her life experience has caused her to believe that any critique or evaluation or judgment will necessarily mean a loss of connection. Therefore, she does not believe that the connection you two share can survive your critique of her performance.

She fears that loss of connection so much that she withdraws from the connection first . . . she beats you to the punch. She believes that the only way she can survive the loss of connection with you is if she pulls back and withdraws from the relationship first.

That withdrawal shows up as sullen and helpless behavior . . .

(I had to take a moment to digest all of that . . . it was an idea I had never considered before and it took a bit to wrap my brain around it. Then, after a long pause, I inquired further . . . )

Me: So, it sounds like there really is no benefit in my requiring her to not be sullen and helpless . . . because her behavior is being driven by primal terror . . . she most likely cannot control that behavior, for the most part . . . am I understanding you correctly?

Edward: I believe that is probably accurate.

Me: But I do feel, in my gut, that I need to require her to participate in the lesson . . . it doesn’t feel appropriate to me to allow her to sit and do nothing . . . or to pull me into a lengthy conversation about stuff other than piano just so she can get out of doing the piano lesson . . .

I mean . . . when she refuses to do anything, then I’ll say something like, “Well, you aren’t willing to do X and you aren’t willing to do Y, and I’m not okay with us not doing anything related to piano, so you decide what piano-related activity we are going to do.”

Edward: How does she respond to that?

Me: She picks something and then does it . . . she still acts helpless and sullen, but she does it.

I’ve not said anything about her attitude, I’ve only required that she participate . . . I’ve let her have whatever attitude she wanted to have as long as she participated in the lesson.

I could draw a hard line and tell her that she has to have a good attitude or she can’t do piano lessons, but my gut says that would not be helpful . . . and, given what you just explained to me, I think my gut is right. Her dad would say something like that . . . I think it is harmful when he does . . .

But, I don’t want to be enabling her and babying her to the point that it’s detrimental or counterproductive . . . I don’t want her to be able to manipulate me . . .

If she’s having legitimate emotional issues, I want to allow space for her emotional needs to be tended to . . . but, I don’t want to enable her . . .

Edward: It doesn’t sound to me like you are enabling her . . . it sounds like to you are setting appropriate boundaries with her around what behavior is and is not acceptable.

Me: Okay . . . that’s what it feels like . . . it feels like I need to be careful about what battles I pick to fight with her . . . and maybe that’s not very appropriate verbiage because I’m not fighting battles with her, really . . . but you know what I mean . . .

(Edward nodded his head knowingly . . . )

Edward: It is important that you set some boundaries with her, and that the boundaries you set are ones that are important and ones that you can maintain . . .

I think you are handling all of that very well.

Me: Thank you . . .

Edward: When we adults set healthy boundaries with the children in our care, it indicates to them that we care about them and about what happens to them. Children feel safer, and they feel more loved, when the adults in their life set reasonable and healthy boundaries . . . kids want those boundaries to be in place . . .

Me: I’ve heard that before but I hadn’t thought about it in connection to this situation . . . that puts a different energy into how I think about my interaction with her. That really hits home for me.

I know her mom is very permissive and basically sets no boundaries . . . Renee told me that she likes that freedom on the weekends after being so tightly controlled by her dad during the week, but I wondered if it really does feel good to her . . .

Edward: I imagine she likes not being told “no” by her mom, but over the long run, I imagine neither parenting style feels good . . .

Me: Yeah . . .

So, it sounds like my best bet is to keep my boundaries as minimal as necessary . . . but that it is okay to allow her to show up with the sullen attitude as long as it doesn’t get over into outright disrespectful behavior . . .

Edward: That sounds to me like an effective approach . . .

The message you give to her when you continue to be gentle with her and not give her harsh ultimatums is that, although she may not yet be able to fully participate in the relationship that exists between the two of you, you are still holding the space for the relationship . . . that you are not going to withdraw your availability from her just because she is pulling back or behaving unpleasantly.

Me: Oh, I see . . . that makes sense . . .

Edward: Something else that may cause her to feel more secure in the relationship is if the focus can be on her, the person, as opposed to her ability to play the piano . . .

In other words, your actions can say to her: I set boundaries because I care about YOU, my focus is on YOU, I see the music you create as an expression of and an extension of YOU . . . that puts the emphasis on her and not on how well her piano playing is progressing.

Me: Oh, yeah! You know . . . I already do that with my students . . . I’ve never thought about it, but that’s what I do . . .

In fact, I’ve already done that a little with Renee . . .

(I told him about how she and I talked about her favorite song, Welcome to the Black Parade, and how we had looked at how she might express with her own music what she feels when she listens to that song.)

Edward: See . . . you know what you are doing! You can trust your instinct!

Me: (Grinning) Yeah, I’m realizing that more and more . . .

(We paused so our silence could allow for a moment of acknowledgment, then Edward continued . . . )

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

Quotes 823


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