Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. This is Part 2 of a book analysis on the New York Times best-selling book, Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Dr. Becky Kennedy.
In the previous episode, I went into why exactly we're looking at a parenting book in this podcast on masculine psychology that has been largely concerned with issues and topics around dating and around relationships, and around masculinity. [00:49.0]
I mentioned my current recommended reading lists, which I'm planning to update by this year—hold me accountable to that—and how the best books in history on psychotherapy and clinical psychology, books like The Body Keeps the Score, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Healing the Shame that Binds You, Toxic Parents, not to mention the classics of psychotherapy, Freud and, especially Jung, and Karen Horney, and this is really just the tip of the iceberg that these great works in psychotherapy trace many, if not all, of our adult issues back to our childhood formative experiences, especially in our families, and this is what psychotherapist call our family of origin. Understanding somebody's family system and family dynamics can teach you a lot about how they are as an adult, including their difficulties or challenges with dating, and, especially with relationships.
One of the best questions I’ve been getting since I started teaching psychotherapy and clinical psychology, and relating it to men's issues with dating and relationships, one of the best questions I was getting since 2015 was, okay, we're looking at all of these examples of subpar or bad parenting, or imperfect parenting. What's an example of proper parenting or what could our parents have done instead? [02:13.1]
Because without knowing and understanding how it could have gone otherwise, how good parenting would have treated that situation or event differently, the natural conclusion and the one that we arrived at as children is that we are the problem, that we are bad, and hence the conclusion leading to shame.
Shame is different from guilt, where guilt is “I did something bad, but I'm not fundamentally bad.” Shame is that I am bad, “I am the problem.” and in the last episode, I pointed out how an important phase in the therapeutic process is reparenting, and, in fact, it's not even just a phase, it's an ongoing thing. Hopefully, you understand IFS therapy and parts, and true self, because I’ve covered that in a lot of different episodes, so I'm going to make use of some of that nomenclature, that terminology. [03:03.6]
One misinterpretation of the therapeutic process is we go and find our inner-child parts and then we just heal them, and then they're just fine the way they are and hunky-dory, and will never get triggered ever again. That's not how it works at all. What happens is that your true self or higher self relieves your manager or protector or firefighter parts. These are all protective parts. Your higher self or true self relieves the protective parts of the burden of this job of protecting the exiled inner-child parts.
It's not that the inner-child parts no longer need any protection. They still need protection, but now the protection is coming not from burdened, slightly older, maybe teenager or adolescent parts that are your protectors, your managers. They don't need to do this job that they don't enjoy anymore because you're here and you take over that job, and for you, it's relatively easy, but you still need to protect them. [03:54.3]
What you do with these exiled inner-child parts, and for your protector parts, because they, too, will be quite young, is that you now step in in the void that was left when they were children, and that's why the protector parts had to step up and do the protective job. It was because the good parent wasn't there or wasn't received. It wasn't interpreted as good parenting, and now your job as an adult going through, the wise adult, the healthy, wise, mature adult, going through the therapeutic process, accessing your higher self, your true self, your job is now to protect all of these parts. But, for you, it's relatively easy, because now you have accessed this higher self of you that is naturally confident and courageous and compassionate, and so forth.
A big part of that job is parenting these inner-child parts of yours, both exiles and protectors, and therapists call this reparenting, because the first time the parenting didn't do it, didn't do the job. Instead, you had to adapt to please or connect with or keep the approval or connect, or attention or love of that parent figure, which is mostly our parents, but it could also be grandparents or your aunts and uncles, or whoever raised you. [05:11.4]
Now it's not like you go through the therapeutic process and your inner-child parts no longer need any guidance or protection. They do. The healing is that you have now arrived. Your higher self is now here in leadership of your internal system.
Okay, so if you don't know what good parenting looks like, it's going to be hard for your protector parts to relax and trust that you know what you're doing, and that you will be able to guide these parts that they had been protecting so hard and working so hard at this job of protecting them. They need to trust that you’ve got this. But if you don't know what a better parenting response would have been, then not only will the protector parts be unable to trust you, but even worse, you won't know what you're doing. So, it's really important to now learn about good parenting. [06:01.3]
Since that time of the past several years and especially the last few years when I became a dad myself, I was much more incentivized to read all these parenting books, so I read dozens of parenting books. A lot of them are not ones that I'd recommend. There are a few that I would recommend and I will add a new category in the upcoming revised recommended reading list, and the category will be on parenting, and the top of that list for that category of parenting is Dr. Becky Kennedy's book, Good Insight, which I introduced in the last episode.
I'm giving the preamble again, an abbreviated version of it, because in the last episode, the copywriter, and I agreed with him, said it would be better to lead with a headline and show notes that would resonate more with the current audience since they're generally not looking for parenting advice.
But I did have the graphic designer on our YouTube version of it stick the cover of this book on the thumbnail, so hopefully, that will be a way to reference that. But there was no mention of the book title at all in the podcast title or the show notes, so I can understand if it's hard to remember that the previous episode was actually the first part of the book analysis. [07:11.1]
If somehow you stumbled onto this episode first and didn't listen to the previous one, when you're done this one, hit that previous episode, because I share a personal anecdote of why this book resonated with me immediately and made a big difference already in my parenting in my relationship with my son.
I covered that in the previous episode and I go into more detail about the importance of learning about good parenting for your own therapeutic process, whether you have a kid or not, or even ever intend to have a kid. You once were a kid and you once had parents, and that is enough of a reason to learn about good parenting.
In the previous episode, I covered modeling frustration as an important point, and now I'm going to be sharing about another dozen or so points here that I pulled from the book, and, again, I highly recommend the book. I'm going to try to entice you to buy the book and read it yourself by reading out excerpts from it that might, hopefully, whet your appetite for the real thing, the book itself, so let's just dive in. [08:13.1]
By the way, you might hear a rustling of papers. This is because it's a book analysis and I have notes and the book itself, so excuse that on the recording.
Right off the bat, you might notice that the title, Good Inside, resonates with a major theme of this podcast, and I’ve done a book analysis on Richard Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, and there’s a lot of resonance between these two books and you can tell, hopefully, just by the title, No Bad Parts and Good Inside.
If you take nothing else away from the book, just get that main theme, which is right there in the title, of internal goodness versus internal badness, this fundamental. Are we fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? And your position on that will determine the way that you approach your child, and that unspoken attitude carries over in almost every interaction that you have with the child, especially in the challenging interactions. [09:08.1]
So, a lot of the most important themes are right there in the first opening couple of pages, so I'm going to just give some of this to you straight from the book itself. From the first page of Chapter 1:
“When I say good inside, I mean that we all, at our core, are compassionate, loving, and generous. The principle of internal goodness drives all of my work—I hold the belief that kids and parents are good inside, which allows me to be curious about the ‘why’ of their bad behaviors. This curiosity enables me to develop frameworks and strategies that are effective in creating change.
“There is nothing in this book as important as this principle—it is the foundation for all that’s to come, because as soon as we tell ourselves, ‘Okay, slow down . . . I’m good inside . . . my kid is good inside too . . . ,’ we intervene differently than we would if we allowed our frustration and anger to dictate our decisions.” [10:09.2]
“The tricky part here is that it’s remarkably easy to put frustration and anger in the driver’s seat. While no parent wants to think of herself as cynical or negative or assuming the worst of her kids, when we’re in the throes of a tough parenting moment, it’s common to operate with the (largely unconscious) assumption of internal badness. We ask, ‘Does he really think he can get away with that?’ because we assume our child is purposefully trying to take advantage of us. We say, ‘What is wrong with you?’ because we assume there’s a flaw inside our kid. We yell, ‘You know better!’ because we assume our child is purposely defying or provoking us. And we berate ourselves in the same way, wondering, ‘What is my problem? I know better!’ before spiraling into a puddle of despair, self-loathing, and shame.” [10:58.7]
“Plenty of parenting advice relies on perpetuating this assumption of badness, focusing on controlling kids rather than trusting them, sending them to their rooms instead of embracing them, labeling them as manipulative rather than in need. But I truly do believe that we are all good inside.
“And let me be clear: seeing your child as good inside does not excuse bad behavior or lead to permissive parenting. There’s a misconception that parenting from a ‘good inside’ perspective leads to an ‘anything goes’ approach that creates entitled or out-of-control kids, but I don’t know anyone who would say, ‘Oh well, my kid is good inside, so it doesn’t matter that he spit at his friend,’ or ‘My kid is good inside, so who cares that she calls her sister names.’ In fact, the opposite is true. Understanding that we’re all good inside is what allows you to distinguish a person (your child) from a behavior (rudeness, hitting, saying, ‘I hate you’). Differentiating who someone is from what they do is key to creating interventions that preserve your relationship while also leading to impactful change.” [12:08.2]
And I would say here as an aside, that is also the difference between conditioning toxic shame versus helping your child develop healthy guilt, because they've gone against their own standards or conscience. Skipping a couple of pages here.
“So many of us had parents who led with judgment rather than curiosity, criticism instead of understanding, punishment instead of discussion. (I’d guess they had parents who treated them the same way.) And, in the absence of intentional effort to course correct, history repeats itself. As a result, many parents see behavior as the measure of who our kids are, rather than using behavior as a clue to what our kids might need. What if we saw behavior as an expression of needs, not identity? Then, rather than shaming our kids for their shortcomings, making them feel unseen and alone, we could help them access their internal goodness, improving their behavior along the way. Shifting our perspective isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely worth it.” [13:12.5]
Hopefully, now, if you've listened to other podcast episodes, especially the one on No Bad Parts, you can see the resonance here and how important that attitude or approach of the underlying assumption of internal goodness or a kind of true self, how important that is.
Okay, skipping ahead to Page 6 now.
“Now let’s consider this: We all mess up. We all, at every age, have difficult moments when we behave in ways that are less than ideal. But our early years are especially powerful, because our bodies are beginning to wire how we think about and respond to difficult moments, based on how our parents think about and respond to us in our difficult moments. Let me say that another way: how we talk to ourselves when we are struggling inside—the self-talk of ‘Don’t be so sensitive’ or ‘I’m overreacting’ or ‘I’m so dumb,’ or, alternatively, ‘I’m trying my best’ or ‘I simply want to feel seen’—is based on how our parents spoke to or treated us in our times of struggle. This means that thinking through our answers to those ‘What happens next?’ questions is critical to understanding our body’s circuitry.” [14:22.5]
Skipping a paragraph here.
“Now, here’s the thing: no parts of us are actually bad. Underneath ‘Send my baby sister back to the hospital! I hate her!’ is a child in pain, with massive abandonment fears and a sense of threat looming in the family; underneath the defiance of taking that cookie is probably a child who feels unseen and controlled in other parts of her life; and underneath that incomplete school assignment is a child who is struggling and likely feels insecure. Underneath ‘bad behavior’ is always a good child. And yet, when parents chronically shut down a behavior harshly without recognizing the good kid underneath, a child internalizes that they are bad.
And badness has to be shut down at all costs, so a child develops methods, including harsh self-talk, to chastise himself, as a way of killing off the ‘bad kid’ parts and instead finding the ‘good kid’ ones—meaning the parts that get approval and connection.” [15:23.3]
What she's describing here is exactly how I’ve described how we come upon the three main coping strategies for getting or keeping that approval, attention, love and connection. They are the Pleaser, the Recluse, the Rebel. And she’s also describing how we exile or what we call exile parts in IFS, and how the protector parts show up to get and keep that approval, love and connection from our parent figures.
Okay, so back to Dr. Becky. [15:53.2]
“So what did you, as a child, learn comes after ‘bad’ behavior? Did your body learn to wire for judgment, punishment, and aloneness . . . or boundaries, empathy, and connection? Or, put more simply, now that we know a person’s ‘bad behavior’ is really a sign that they’re struggling on the inside: Did you learn to approach your struggles with criticism . . . or compassion? With blame or curiosity? How our caregivers responded to us becomes how we in turn respond to ourselves, and this sets the stage for how we respond to our children. This is why it’s so easy to create an intergenerational legacy of ‘internal badness’: my parents reacted to my struggles with harshness and ”
She’s got arrows here. In the place of arrows, I'm going to say “leads to.”
“→ I learned to doubt my goodness when I am having a hard time → I now, as an adult, meet my own struggles with self-blame and self-criticism → my child, when he acts out, activates this same circuitry in my body → I am compelled to react with harshness to my child’s struggles → I build the same circuitry in my child’s body, so my child learns to doubt his goodness when he struggles → and so on and so forth.” [17:11.5]
“Okay, let’s pause. Place your hand on your heart and deliver yourself this important message: ‘I am here because I want to change. I want to be the pivot point in my intergenerational family patterns. I want to start something different: I want my children to feel good inside, to feel valuable and lovable and worthy, even when they struggle. And this starts . . . with re-accessing my own goodness. My goodness has always been there.’ You are not at fault for your intergenerational patterns. Quite the opposite—if you’re reading this book, that tells me that you’re taking on the role of cycle-breaker, the person who says that certain damaging patterns STOP with you. You are willing to take on the weight of the generations before you and change the direction for generations to come. Wow. You are far from at fault—you are brave and bold and you love your kid more than anything. Being a cycle-breaker is an epic battle, and you are amazing for taking it on.” [18:13.0]
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Brilliant writing up to this point, and the image that I always have when it comes to intergenerational-cycle breaking, which I’ve mentioned and talked about in other venues, is Gandalf in the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, when the Balrog is coming at them, and he turns around and stops, and he says, “You shall not pass.” But in my mind, actually, I heard, “Thus far, no further.” [19:32.2]
But in a sense, that's what you're doing, and in a sense, too, you are willing to make that sacrifice for the good of the next generations. You're going to stop that cycle and it takes tremendous power, because if you look back deeply enough at this intergenerational shame and the sort of assumptions that are passed down from one generation to the next unconsciously, you could probably trace it back for hundreds of years, if not thousands if you can go far back enough, but for many of us, we’d run out of data. But you could definitely see it from your parents, your grandparents, and maybe if you knew your great-grandparents, and so on. [20:09.2]
So, it's actually a really incredible time in history for many of us that we now have access to these resources that our parents, let alone, especially our grandparents in earlier generations, it’s almost impossible for them to have had access to this knowledge and these experiences, and this healing that we now can give to ourselves.
Now I'm going to go more quickly through some of the remaining themes. It was most important to spend time on that fundamental internal goodness versus badness theme first. Okay, so Chapter 2 is called Two Things Are True and this is one of my favorite parts of Dr. Becky Kennedy's approach, and I think this sounds original to her. A lot of therapists just borrow from each other. This sounds original, so I love this, Two Things Are True, so let me give you a taste of that, starting in Chapter 2. [20:56.1]
“When Sarah, a mom of two boys, walked into my office, she expressed feelings of frustration, self-blame, and resentment. She had great kids and a loving partner, but she was sick of constantly disciplining her children at the expense of having any fun with them. ‘I wish I could be silly, but someone has to enforce rules and make things happen,’ she told me. What Sara and I worked on—what I work on with so many parents—is acknowledging the idea that she could be two things at once: fun and firm, silly and sturdy. And not only that she could be both, but that maybe she would feel better—and her family system would operate better—if she would be both.
“This idea underlies so much of my parenting advice: We don’t have to choose between two supposedly oppositional realities. We can avoid punishment and see improved behavior, we can parent with a firm set of expectations and still be playful, we can create and enforce boundaries and show our love, we can take care of ourselves and our children. And similarly, we can do what’s right for our family and our kids can be upset; we can say no and care about our kids’ disappointment.” [22:04.3]
“This idea of multiplicity—the ability to accept multiple realities at once—is critical to healthy relationships. When there are two people in a room, there are also two sets of feelings, thoughts, needs, and perspectives. Our ability to hold on to multiple truths at once—ours and someone else’s—allows two people in a relationship to feel seen and feel real, even if they are in conflict. Multiplicity is what allows two people to get along and feel close—they each know that their experience will be accepted as true and explored as important, even if those experiences are different. Building strong connections relies on the assumption that no one is right in the absolute, because understanding, not convincing, is what makes people feel secure in a relationship.” [22:50.3]
The “two things are true” phrasing comes in so handy, not just with parenting, but with life, in general, especially with people who are new to the therapeutic process, because, so often, what they're confronting are challenges to their long-held values or principles, or the way that they saw things or in themselves in the world, and so often, it's like they don't realize that it's a false dichotomy, what they were taught before.
Just try it on for size whenever you come to a place in your therapeutic process where it seems like the therapist or the therapy resource is suggesting that you hold the two things that you think are in contradiction or that there's some kind of paradox. You might want to consider whether it's possible that both are true.
Okay, so lest I come across as a total Dr. Becky fanboy, there is one and pretty much the only place where I take any issue with this book, but this is also sort of where I take issue with most of the psychotherapy world. It’s that they lack an understanding of what real logic and philosophy is, and they kind of pillory a straw-man version of philosophy, and she does that here and Two Things Are True. [24:06.0]
You might not notice this if you don't have training in formal logic or in philosophy, but it can be easily corrected with rewarding, and I just want to put this out there because I have these philosophy parts that are kind of a pet peeve whenever we get to the psychotherapy. For a few pages here in this chapter, she makes a point that there's no objective truth and there's only points of view. For example, on Page 14, she writes:
“We essentially say to that person, ‘I am having one experience and you are having a different experience. I want to get to know what’s happening for you.’”
And that sounds great.
“It doesn’t mean you agree or comply (these would imply a ‘one thing is true’ perspective), or that we are ‘wrong’ or our truth doesn’t hold.”
So, she's attacking this “one thing is true perspective”, and if you're a philosopher, then you can just easily turn this around. Two things are true. Is that true? Is it true that two things are true? In philosophy, we just bracket the “two things are true,” so that's the proposition. Then we question whether that is true, and then it's done. [25:05.6]
So, she doesn't have to actually attack objective truth here for her point to be made that there are valid perspectives. Instead of using the word “true,” actually, strictly speaking, or what a philosopher would correct this as, it would be “two things are valid,” because an argument being valid and an argument being sound are very different things in philosophical argumentation.
My philosophy parts just wanted that to be put on the record as a pet peeve. If anyone in the psychology and psychotherapy world resonates with philosophy or has had any kind of philosophy training, and just keeps getting irked by this sort of attack, this pillorying or straw-manning of philosophy, let me know, because we are few and far between.
But you can just put that aside. I mean, I'm just going to give a charitable reading, as is consonant with the Good Inside approach, and she doesn't need to attack objective truth here and just point out it would be more effective if you also take the time to understand the other person's point of view and recognize that it's just as valid, though it may be false from your perspective. [26:09.0]
Okay, so leaving that aside, it comes up again on Page 19 In that chapter, but I'm not going to dwell on that, because I really want you to read this book because it's ninety-nine percent of it is awesome. Now we're going to get into Page 43 of my edition and this is Chapter 4, The Early Years Matter, which is a fantastic chapter in an awesome book.
I'm going to pull out these examples that she gives, because I learned a lot from examples, maybe learn best from examples, so maybe you do, too, and I’ll just read this out, Page 43.
Behavior: A child is crying when his parents drop him off at school.
Okay, Parent Response No. 1: ‘Stop being such a baby.’
And the attachment lesson that comes with this is ‘When I feel vulnerable, I am ridiculed and unseen. So keep my vulnerability out of close relationships. It's not safe there.’ [26:59.4]
Parent’s response No. 2 to the same behavior: ‘It's hard to say goodbye today, I get that. Some days are like that. I know you're safe here at school and we both know that Papa always comes back. I'll see you at pickup.’
Attachment lesson out of that: ‘I can expect others to take my feelings seriously. When I feel vulnerable and upset, I get validation and support.’ Vulnerability is safe within close relationships.”
This was such an important lesson for me, because we were dealing with this, dropping off our kids at the play school. Okay, next behavior.
Behavior: A child is tantruming about wanting ice cream for breakfast.
Parent’s response No. 1: ‘I won't talk to you while you have a fit. Go to your room and come out when you're being reasonable.’
The ensuing attachment lesson: ‘When I want something, I push people away. I become bad. I'm left abandoned and alone. People only want to be around me when I'm easy and compliant.’
Parent’s response No. 2. Again, the behavior here is a child is tantruming about wanting ice cream for breakfast. ‘I know, sweetie, you wish you could have ice cream for breakfast. That's not an option right now. You're allowed to be upset about it.’ [28:13.3]
The attachment lesson: ‘I'm allowed to want things for myself. Wanting things for myself is allowed in close relationships.’
This is such an important example. Jordan Peterson, a man I have a lot of respect for, is well known for giving the parenting example of, if your kid is being uncooperative at dinner, you sit him aside at the staircase or somewhere away from the table, and you tell him he needs to compose himself before he can come back to the table and just leave them there in a kind of detention until he gets his act together.
Gabor Maté has attacked him for that as an example of toxic parenting, and I don't know if this is strawmanning a Jordan Peterson reality to actually get them in conversation, I think, but that actual approach to dealing with the situation of a child tantruming about food at the meal, or at the breakfast or dinner table, is a great illustration of a much more effective response. [29:07.5]
Okay, the last example.
Behavior: A child is hesitant to join a birthday party, clinging to his mom.
Parent Response No. 1: ‘You know everyone here. Come on, there's nothing to be worried about.’
Attachment Lesson: ‘I can't trust my feelings because they're ridiculous and overblown. Other people know better than I do how I should feel.’
Parent Response No. 2: ‘Something about this feels tricky. I believe you. Take your time. You’ll know when you're ready.’
Attachment Lesson: ‘I can trust my feelings. I'm allowed to feel cautious. I know what I'm feeling and I can expect other people to respect and support me.’
So, there are so many examples throughout this book. I just pulled out three of those for you. In this same chapter, in Chapter 4, there's a whole section on Internal Family Systems, IFS, and of course, I would love that. [29:58.8]
By the way, there is a free IFS therapy parenting course. It's like it's a free course on YouTube and it's organized as a playlist, and if you google “IFS and parenting,” you should be able to find it. It's got 15 videos and it’s a playlist, and it was produced by IFS Canada. So, go check it out on YouTube, IFS and parenting. I loved that playlist and free course.
I want to read out one excerpt from Page 48 on IFS and this is from-- Oh, I’ll just read it out.
“As psychologist Richard Schwartz, the creator of IFS, writes, children have a developmental tendency to translate experience into identity. ‘I am not loved’ becomes ‘I am unlovable,’ and ‘A bad thing happened to me’ becomes ‘I am bad.’ In other words, kids take experiences with their caregivers and infer larger messages about who they are. The emotions parents connect to, meaning, the ones we are interested in and will stay present for, tell children that the parts of them feeling these feelings are manageable, lovable, and worthy, the emotions we shut down, punish, reject, or try to make into something more pleasant.” [31:10.1]
“Well, children learn that the parts of them feeling these feelings are destructive, bad, unlovable, or too much. This is why it's so important to distinguish behavior from underlying feelings and experience. When your child says, ‘I hate my baby brother. Send him back to the hospital,’ and you yell, ‘Don't say that about your brother. You love him,’ the lesson they learn isn't that their words were inappropriate. The lesson they learn is that jealousy and anger are dangerous emotions, ones they shouldn't have at all. This is why it's so critical to separate what a child does, which may be bad, from who a child is, good inside.
“Of course, we don't want our kids to hit, which is behavior, but we do want our kids to have the right to feel angry, which is a feeling. Of course, we don't want our kids to have a meltdown at a store, which is behavior, but we do want our kids to maintain access to desire and the right to speak up for themselves, which are feelings. Of course, we don't want our kids to eat only cereal for dinner, which is behavior, but we do want our kids to believe that they have sovereignty over their bodies and can sense what feels good inside them, which are feelings. [32:17.4]
“If we don't explicitly recognize the feelings underneath our kids’ behaviors and show them that we love them, even when they're acting out, they will collapse behavior and feelings into one. They will learn that attachment security depends on disavowing the feelings under the behaviors, leading to longer term problematic relationship patterns. So, yes, the early years matter.”
Okay, now moving to Chapter 6, Resilience over Happiness, and on my version, Page 62. [32:48.5]
“It's not just that the difficult feelings themselves prompt our bodies to feel unsafe. We also feel distress over having distress or experience fear of fear, in other words, assuming there's no actual physical threat, but simply the threat of uncomfortable overwhelming emotions. As we start thinking, Ah, I need to make this feeling go away right now, the distress grows and grows, not as a reaction to the original experience, but because we believe these negative emotions are wrong, bad, scary, or too much. Ultimately, this is how anxiety takes hold within a person. Anxiety is the intolerance of discomfort. It's the experience of not wanting to be in your body, the idea that you should be feeling differently in that specific moment.”
“Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. The wider the range of feelings we can regulate, if we can manage the frustration, disappointment, envy and sadness, the more space we have to cultivate happiness. Regulating our emotions essentially develops a cushion around these feelings, softening them, preventing them from consuming the entire jar.”
This is referring to a metaphor she used earlier. [33:59.0]
“Regulation first, happiness second, and this translates into our parenting. The wider the range of feelings we can name and tolerate in our kids—again, this doesn't mean behaviors—the wider the range of feelings they will be able to manage safely, affording them an increased ability to feel at home with themselves. Do I want my kids to experience happiness? Without a doubt, yes, I want them to feel happiness as kids and as adults.”
This is why I'm so focused on building resilience, and you might notice this anxiety, this fear of being overwhelmed by emotions could easily come from a childhood in which it was unacceptable or you were made to feel uncomfortable, if you felt certain so-called negative feelings, like anger or sadness, if you didn't feel allowed to feel those.
There were so many great passages on toxic shame in this book. I'm not going to dwell on those and it’s a theme I’ve covered before, but I do want to point out Chapter 7: Behavior Is a Window and Chapter 8: Reduce Shame, Increase Connection are great chapters on the topic of toxic shame. [35:06.1]
I'm going to skip now to Chapter 9: Tell the Truth. There's a really great passage here a couple of pages near the beginning of this chapter that I wish that many of my clients’ parents had read and understood because now we're working through those problems, and it's so pervasive for guys especially who have trouble with women or facing, or which is everyone facing death with their own mortality. Okay, so Page 96.
“Parents often fear that telling their kids the truth will be too scary or overwhelming, but we tend to have it all wrong when it comes to what scares children. It's not information so much as feeling confused and alone in the absence of information that terrifies them. Children are wired to notice changes in their environment. ‘Why is everyone suddenly saying earthquake?’ ‘Why did my parents look worried?’ ‘What did that conversation I overheard about Grandma mean?’ And they register fear when they don't understand those changes. They perceive a threat until an adult helps neutralize that threat and determines they're safe. Blame it on evolution.”
I’m going to skip down. [36:07.0]
“The child registers fear until an adult is present. Then even if the parent confirms the worst, a child will feel safer knowing an adult is protecting them.”
Again, my point about the true self or higher self moving into the protective role, not that the child or inner child no longer needs protection.
“Our supportive, honest, caring presence is what feels safe to our children. When kids have this, even difficult, truthful information is manageable. And if an adult isn't present, if a child is left alone with a perception of change and the feeling of fear, without an explanation of what's going on, well, there's a fancy term for this: unformulated experience. It’s basically the feeling that something's not right, without a clear explanation of what's happening. [36:51.8]
“Unformulated experience is terrifying to a child, because that ‘something's not right’ feeling free floats around the body without an anchor of safety. Plus, when kids are left to make sense of a scary change on their own, they usually rely on the methods that give them control, self-blame, ‘I must have done something to cause this. I'm bad. I'm too much,’ and self-doubt, ‘I must have misunderstood the tension around me. I'm not such a good feeler of things. If something really was different, my parents would explain it to me.’ What's an alternative to leaving a child feeling alone? Clear, direct, honest information shared while connected to you, your child's loving, trusted adult. This is what helps kids feel safe and build resilience.
“Now, please note, I am not a proponent of unnecessarily scaring children. Quite the opposite. I'm a proponent of empowering children, and empowerment often comes from learning how to cope with stress. This requires having a parent who is willing to approach rather than avoid the truth. The path to regulation starts with understanding. In other words, watching a parent confront hard truths will help a child learn to regulate his feelings.” [38:01.3]
Skipping to Page 99, now we get into a section that's super important for the reparenting phase of the therapeutic process—and this is when I discovered that a lot of people, adults, don't actually know what could have been done better, because they don't know what good parenting looks like where they haven't thought about it very much. So, when they get to the point where their child wants to know why that bad thing happened to them, they don't have much of an explanation, and so that doesn't give any peace or calm to the child. Here we are on Page 99.
“Imagine you and your partner are arguing in the kitchen while your child is eating lunch. Things escalate to the point of loud voices, nasty words, and visibly-angry facial expressions. Naming what's true might sound like, ‘Poppy and I just use very loud voices. You were right to notice that.’ When I say this, even if my child kept eating his lunch looking as if he didn't need an explanation, I absolutely would. I know that children are wired to notice and perceive, so I would assume that even if my child appeared calm, feelings of fear would be living inside his body and I wouldn't want him to be alone with them. [39:09.8]
“Keep in mind, the beginning of my ‘loud voices’ explanation was quite simple. I mentioned the voices and I validated my child's perceptions. This is really important. Telling the truth often involves delivering the simplest, most straightforward version of events. I often have to remind myself, ‘Only say what happened. Name what's true and nothing more complicated.’ This allows me to give my child what he needs in the moment, my presence, plus, a story to understand. From there, depending on the situation, I might do more. I might assure my child that he wasn't at fault, especially powerful when kids notice your big emotions or an argument between adults. But all of this comes second to confirming a child's perceptions as accurate.
“One reason why it's so necessary to confirm our children's perceptions is that when we don't name what's true, when we assume ‘That wasn't a big deal’ or ‘He's so young, I'm sure he didn't even notice,’ our children learn to doubt their perceptions. They might think, ‘Huh, I guess there wasn't anything that changed in my environment. I guess I was wrong,’ and over time, that message sticks. It's as if we're training our kids to tune out what's happening around them and that training will stick with them into adolescence and adulthood.” [40:21.7]
“Want your son to stand up to his friends and resist peer pressure? In order for him to say, ‘Hey, guys, this doesn't feel right. I'm not doing this,’ a child needs to believe in his perceptions of his environment and in his own feelings. Want your daughter to stand up for herself when she's uncomfortable in a hookup or dating scenario? If when she was a child, her parents validated her perceptions and wired her for self-trust, she'll be more inclined to say, ‘No, I'm not comfortable with that,’ or ‘Stop. I don't like that.’ Confirming our children's perceptions, sets them up to recognize when things don't feel right later and it will empower them to trust themselves enough to speak up.” [41:00.4]
“Disability doesn't develop on its own in adolescence or adulthood. It's wired into our bodies in our earliest years. And for those of you thinking, Oh, no, my child's a teenager and I totally didn't do this, I've missed the window, let's come back to the all-important principle of ‘It's not too late.’ We can always rewire. Talk to your adolescent about your parenting, about what you've realized, about how you want to do things differently. Try phrases like, ‘You're allowed to feel that way’ and ‘You're the only one in your body, so you're the only one who can know how you feel and what you want. You've got this.’”
Okay, so far, we've covered fundamental or internal goodness versus fundamental badness. We've covered the importance of and how the toxic shame is created, and what to do about it instead. We've gone over the very useful “two things are true” approach, and we've looked at the importance of building emotional resilience rather than just trying to force happiness, and how it's so important to distinguish between behavior and the underlying feelings, and to affirm the rights of our child to allow them to feel however they feel, and the effects of what happens if we don't. [42:14.0]
Okay, so in the last episode, I got feedback that I made the right decision of not plowing forward and creating an hour-plus-long episode and just making it a Part 1. And guess what? I looked down at my notes and I realized I had skipped an entire chapter. I looked at the content of that on boundaries and it is so important. It really deserves its own thorough and unrushed treatment, so I'm going to make another executive decision and make a Part 3, and this will definitely, I’m pretty sure, be the final part of this book analysis. But these concepts are so important. I really want to make sure we take our time and address each of these in detail. [42:51.6]
So, in the next episode, the final part, hopefully, of this book analysis, I will not only be covering boundaries for the child and the adults, but also the process of repair, the issue of tantrums, and learning to think for yourself, and how parenting reinforces or conditions that or teaches that. How to regulate your own body and the emotions that are coursing through your body, and how to deal with rudeness or defiance in disciplining your child—and that's a huge topic that's so important that leaves such a mark on us, as adults—and how to parents for internal validation so your child can develop their own self-esteem and self-confidence, and perhaps the issue that hounds achievers the most, perfectionism and toxic shame, and what good parenting can do to ameliorate that. That's going to be in the next part of this book analysis, so look out for that coming up next week.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode, and I look forward to welcoming you to Part 3 in the next episode. Thanks so much for listening. If you have any feedback whatsoever, please let me know in the comments, or send us an email, I'd love to get feedback. And if this helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it. [44:02.8]
Thanks so much for listening to this episode, and I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out.
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