“I – MESSAGES”
We learned in previous chapters that in the I-message we explain to the child what we are really feeling and the thoughts, beliefs, expectations, fears and attachments that create those feelings within us. We communicate:
1. The various emotions which we are having.
2. The beliefs and programmings which are creating these emotions.
3. What stimulus or behavior on the part of the child triggers this mechanism.
4. How we usually act towards the child when we feel that way.
5. What we need and are asking from the child. (Perhaps some help or behavior change.)
6. Then we ask the child to explain how he or she feels and we exercise active listening.
Let us take an example. A child brings home low grades. This is the stimulus, the event which is perceived by the parents’ senses. Let us examine some of the emotions, which the parents might feel with this event. Parents will feel differently depending on their programmings and expectations. One may feel disappointment, insecurity, shame, doubt about oneself as parent, anger towards the child, anger towards the teachers, inferiority towards other parents whose children are doing better, concern for the child or even guilt. Some parents may be strongly affected. Others may approach the problem more rationally and effectively without panic and family crisis.
Now what are some of the programmings or beliefs which a parent may have which may create some of these emotions. It is important to examine these, because, we may be being controlled by false programmings which may cause us to express anger or rejection towards the child, which, in this case, is probably the last thing he or she needs. The child too is obviously having a problem. This is a time when he or she needs to feel support and help in understanding what is preventing him or her from using his or her abilities to a greater extent. Rejection or harsh words will only make the child react more negatively or close into himself or herself.
I-MESSAGES ABOUT LOW GRADES
So, why is the parent feeling what he feels? What are some of the programmings or beliefs which control his mind?
1. A child must have high grades in order to succeed in the world.
A parent who is programmed in this way will feel fear about the child’s future and failure in his role as parent to prepare his child for the world.
Thus his or her “I-message” would be something like this, “John, I would like to talk with you. I have a problem. I feel responsible for your future. I believe that it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to help you be successful and happy in your life. I also believe that high grades are essential for your survival and success and happiness in the future. Perhaps I am not giving you something which you need. I would really like to talk about this in detail. How do you feel? Is there anything which is bothering you or preventing you from concentrating?
With this kind of “I-message” which leads into active listening in which we help the child to open up to us, the child is less likely to feel accused or hurt. Thus he or she will not need to react negatively or close up. There will be a greater possibility of open, honest, effective communication.
At the same time, the parent would do well to examine those programmings which he has. It is true that success and happiness depend on high grades at school? Does this theory hold up? Are the highly educated and very rich really happy and healthy? Perhaps some are. Did those who are successful, dynamic, happy, productive members of society have high grades or are there other factors involved?
Perhaps higher grades can be had by one who knows how to memorize and be a robot at school. Does that mean that he or she can think, analyze and communicate with people? Does that mean that he or she is ethical or able to function in our society? Perhaps too much importance is being given to one of the many factors that may help our children survive and succeed in life. There are many others which may be much important in our child’s life such as morality, character, love for others, self-respect, self-confidence, enthusiasm, creativity, concern for others, and various other talents which the child may have.
When we worry and pressure our children on the basis of this one factor, we risk destroying all the others in the conflict that takes place. In general, the most creative and analytical minds cannot thrive in the mechanized uncreative school system.
2. A second belief a parent may have is that “I am successful if my child is successful and unsuccessful if my child fails.”
In this case we might explain this programming to the child. But do we have the right to ask the child to conform to some sort of behavior that simply fulfils our subjective programmings and expectations? Why should our children be forced to fulfil our expectations so that we can feel successful? That child may have been born to take a completely different road, to have other experiences that have nothing to do with our expectations or our definition of success.
We may be defining success with conditions like plenty of money, high professional position, or high social status. But will that particular personality who is now our child be happy in that role? Does money really bring happiness? Do people in high positions seem happier than others? Are they enjoying life? Are they healthy? Do they have harmony with those around them? What do we want for our children, success in the eyes of society or health, happiness and harmony? In some cases they may be able to have all that. In other cases, they may conflict. We cannot know. There is a small voice in the child that does know.
It is better for our children to decide what they want to do with their lives. Their inner voice will guide them sooner or later to the role that they as souls have come to play on earth.
If we believe that we are successful if our children are successful we need to examine the difference between efforts and results. As parents our responsible for our efforts and motives. Not for the results. Parents with many children can verify that although they treat the different children much in the same way, they react in completely differently. It seems that each child brings with him or her some already developed traits, which are independent of their childhood programmings.
How we behave towards our children and how we live our lives are extremely important factors in our children’s character development. But they are not the only factors. So we cannot judge ourselves based on the results of what happens with our children. We only evaluate our motives and efforts. Have our motives been pure? Have we always done what we have thought at that time was best for our children (regardless of whether today we see that we might have made other choices). Have we always tried to do the best of our ability with the energy and consciousness which we had at every moment in the past? Clarifying this point this will help us be at ease with our conscience, and will free us from the need to force our children to succeed in our terms, so that we can feel that we are successful parents. This is a great weight for our children to carry. We would not like to carry this weight and we have no right to place it on them.
3. Another belief, cause a parent feel upset with the news of the low grades is, “I must have the others’ acceptance, recognition and respect in order to feel self-acceptance and self-love”. If we need recognition from friends and society through our children’s performance at school, then we will feel shame, inferiority, failure and then anger at them for putting us in that position.
If we in such a case express only our anger and accuse them of being failures and useless, then we not being truthful. We are not expressing our real feelings, which came before the anger.
Something that we need to understand is that anger is always a second or third emotion. We feel anger when we first feel fear, insecurity, hurt or guilt. When we are angry we can be sure that somewhere behind that anger we fear something. It may be difficult to find but it is, without doubt, there.
Take the present example. We might have any of the following fears.
1. Fear of rejection or ridicule by friends and relatives whose children may be doing better than ours do.
2. Fear of failing in the role of the parent.
3. Fear about the child’s future of the child.
4. Fear of losing control over the child.
5. Fear of our belief system and expectations being rejected.
These fears cause us to feel anger. Thus, the “you- message” to our children that they are no good, is not the complete truth. We need to analyze our own needs for affirmation and approval from others, our doubt about our abilities as a parent and the various other emotions, which we may have had before we felt anger.
The problem is that these emotions work so quickly and usually subconsciously that we have difficulty perceiving these emotions which hide behind and create our anger. In such cases keeping a diary is essential. We can take ten to twenty minutes every evening before sleeping and write down the major emotional experiences of the day. We can analyze the programmings or beliefs that are causing these emotions. In this way we will gradually gain clarity. (Details about self-analysis are given The Psychology or Happiness.)
We can see that a great part of effective communication is analyzing ourselves. Without this we cannot communicate honestly.