From time to time I get articles emailed to me. What follows was written by a counselor I admire, Dr. Gene Kummerer, in Austin, TX. I received his permission to share it, so all that follows is from Gene. Email him at email@example.com.
MY daughter was about 14 at the time. She was “in a state”, upset about something, sitting on her bed in her bedroom. I was trying to help her and I was failing miserably. I was getting progressively more frustrated as each of my brilliant and wise suggestions was rebuffed. Finally I had reached my limit. I threw my hands in the air and said, “Fine! I am done!” and walked (or rather stormed) out of her bedroom. As I was walking down the hallway I heard my daughter’s voice call after me, “Daddy, don’t give up on me so easily!”
Those words stopped me in my tracks. I went back into her room, took a deep breath, and said, “You are right. I am not giving up on you. But I am really frustrated because you are not letting any of my help be helpful. I feel like I am doing all of the work, and this is about your life. I am going to go downstairs. I am going to get a drink of water and a snack, calm down, and come back to continue this conversation. But I want you to think about how you can let some of my help be helpful.” She agreed, I got my snack, we resumed the conversation, and with a few false starts and dead ends we were slowly able to make progress and come to some resolution. Another parenting crisis navigated.
Giving up on her was not what I wanted to do, but that is exactly what my words, my actions, and my body language communicated in the moment. It was as if I was saying, “It is my job as your father to fix your problems. You are making my job very difficult and I feel like I am failing as a father. In order to not feel like this, I am pushing you away and emotionally distancing myself from you. I am leaving you to your own resources. You are on your own.”
This is not what I intended to communicate and I am thankful that my daughter called me on it. But so often in our frustration these ”abandoning words” fall out of our mouths and we wound those we love. We say things like, “I am so done with this.” “This is not what I signed up for.” And we are surprised when our loved ones react poorly to our words. From an attachment perspective, a “loss of attachment alarm” goes off in our loved one, saying “Maybe this is the last straw, maybe this is what will finally push him over the edge and he will want not more to be involved with me anymore. He will leave me alone in my problems and I will have to solve them on my own.”
At a reflective, conscious level my second response was more accurate. I had no intention of abandoning her or abdicating my responsibility for her as my daughter. In retrospect I can see that at some level I may have been trying to startle her into common sense, but the result could have been disastrous if those words, spoken in the heat of the moment, had been allowed to stand unchallenged.
When the foundational attachment question, “Are you there for me?” is answered with a solid “YES,” the relationship, whether parent/child or husband/wife, is solid and can withstand a lot of turmoil. If the answer is “NO” (or if the answer leaves room for doubt), the relationship feels fragile and the participants feel threatened and insecure. They often react accordingly.
As we move through the challenges of the fall please allow me to encourage you to:
- Be supremely careful, when upset, not to let words fall out of your mouth that threaten attachment security. The thoughts may pop into your brain, but do not let them out. If they do fall out of your mouth, it is essential to ask for them back and repair the attachment breach.
- Speak attachment affirming words frequently (“I am here for you.” “We will figure this out together.” “I am not going anywhere.”)
- Never, never, never, ever try to “motivate” your loved one by directly threatening the attachment bond through your words (“I will divorce you if…”, “If you don’t straighten up I will put you in a foster home…”) or your actions (silent treatment, cutting off relationship). This never makes things better and usually makes things worse because your loved one thinks, “How can I trust you to work this out with me if you already have one foot out of the door?”
The attachment-threatening words and fears may come into your awareness, but battle them. Fight for love and attachment and assume that God is at work in both of you “to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 13) even when He seems to be taking his own sweet time.