It may sound crazy that a grown woman, who is relatively emotionally stable, confident, and capable, would be so tied up in knots about emotional “barbs” coming from three little children. You would think it would be easy to brush off their brutal words, death glares and looks of distain and to easily recognize each time that they were throwing the “barbs” my way because of their own pain and fear of rejection. Deep down, I knew this. Sometimes remembering those facts helped me not to take their hurtful words so personally. At times I handled well their constant put-downs well because I knew that they used their words as a shield to protect themselves from experiencing more pain. Rejection had become a defense mechanism for them.
At other times, however, the put-downs and jabs simply wore me down, mostly because they just kept coming. There were no breaks. There was no time to process anything said, because the waves of rejection were overwhelmingly constant. After being immersed in this type of circumstance, you begin to feel a bit beaten up, despite your best efforts to maintain your sense of confidence.
Especially in the beginning, all of the kids knew how to deliver a well-placed punch through their comments. Picking them up from a weekend at respite, the kids used their surliest voices to say things like “WE had FUN this weekend” (AKA: “WE had FUN without YOU”). It got to be so bad that I dreaded coming back home, knowing the hateful comments and behaviors that would ensue over the next few weeks. (I loved my husband’s response one day to the emotional “attacks.” He said, “Hmm….you wanna just take a knife and stab mom in the back instead?” He also made them come up with a few more jabs, so they’d have more “practice” coming up with good ones. You know…we like for our kids to be good at whatever they do. Might as well be the best they can be. We were just looking out for their best interest…)
There’s something about what abused kids go through makes them experts at reading people and finding their weak spots. Like a shark drawn to blood, they can spot your “buttons” a mile away, and they seem to go for the jugular over and over again. Feel insecure about your weight? They will hit that button over and over. Experienced rejection as a child? I can hear the music playing now…duuun dun….duuun dun….dun dun dun dun dun dun dun…
I used to feel weak when I allowed my kids’ words and behaviors hurt my feelings. I expected myself to be stronger than their jabs and barbs, wondering why words from children hurt so badly. After all, they were just little kids – kids that had been through terrible things, no less. I should have been able to take their blows with stride, right? Later, however, I began to understand that I had placed an impossible and unrealistic expectation on myself when I told myself that their words shouldn’t bother me. I needed to allow myself to be human and to understand how normal my reaction to their rejection truly was.
I remember a time when my husband and I were on the beach in Florida. I kept trying to stand up, but the waves just kept coming and coming and coming, each one knocking me down as soon as I would even begin to get my bearings. I’d just barely make the attempt to stand up when another wave would come crashing over me, sending me down again. I felt scared, because as hard as I tried those waves had full control over me, simply because of their size and frequency, regardless of how strong I tried to be to break free. I understood how easily I could have been pulled under by the force the waves had over me, simply in the sheer number of waves coming at me.
Just like those waves in Florida, the constant waves of belittling, jabs and rejection experienced while parenting wounded children make it difficult for anyone to not be knocked down with feelings of hurt and rejection. Just because the rejection comes from a young child doesn’t necessarily lessen the hurt. When we expect ourselves to be able to not be bothered by any hurts sent our way by a wounded child, we end up placing unnecessary guilt upon ourselves, which keeps us from being completely honest about our feelings and dealing with them in a healthy manner. Letting go of those expectations allows us to honestly face the hurt and process through it. What we feel is normal. We must allow ourselves to be human.