I remember when my son was about three years old, he refused to bath and when I coached him, he looked me straight in the eye and resentfully shouted, “I hate you!”
He usually loved to bathe because it soothed him and bathing became an enjoyable time to bond. But I was in the process of divorcing his father and he could not understand why his father was no longer living in our home. As traumatic as this event was for us all, it was especially so for him. His little world fell apart as he knew it, and he assumed that I had something to do with this change.
In that instance, when he shouted out his hatred for me, I saw the truth in his little soul. His anger was actually an incredible pain and insecurity. He was as vulnerable and scared as he would ever be. His words had nothing to do with how he felt towards me, but everything about his pain and fear. I picked him up and held him softly but firmly so that our eyes met, and told him with confidence and certainty, “I love you very, very much my son. This is a very difficult and confusing time for you. No matter how you feel, I will always love you.”
His little boy body melted spontaneously against mine as his tears spent freely over my face with each releasing sob. He felt heard. We held each other for a while until his psyche regained trust by my comfort. Fully recovered by unconditional love, he was ready to jump into his favorite bath to play and talk about his day.
I will never forget that day. My son never told me that he hated me ever again. From that day he always told me how much he loves me.
As a parent I realized that sometimes our children say hurtful things because they are hurt. They need us desperately in such moments even though it seems to us that they push us away. Their lashing out at us is not about us, but about their need for love and acceptance. I also realized that sometimes this kind of behavior can happen in our adult partnerships. There is always a little emotionally wounded girl or boy inside us that can act out when our buttons are pushed. It seems that some people reach out with anger and pushes others away when they really need love the most. They unconsciously believe that they are unworthy of love and attention or care. They fight and become aggressive, even abusive, when they are at their most vulnerable. I wonder what would happen if you and I could take them in our arms and hold them, reassuring them patiently of our love and acceptance. Could we communicate to the hurt, child-part, inside instead of perceiving them as abusive adults? Do we have the courage to do this?
The difference between an abusive personality disorder and a wounded person, who act out aggressively when they feel at their most vulnerable, is that the latter will crumble emotionally when they realize that they have hurt you with their behavior. They show sincere remorse. This distinction is important to differentiate between having to put up with abuse or be a conduit for change of a friend or partner.
We are always open and aware of how to support our children’s vulnerabilities. To be a conduit for change in an adult relationship is not always so easy. Here too we need to see beyond the words and behavior and go beyond the personal reaction, but at the same time not accept abuse when behavior originates form an abusive psyche. Adults support and encourage each other to grow and heal by expecting effort from the partner to be put to this change. Never accept or shield adults from their bad behavior but challenge them to grow.
Love and Blessings,