Why our Intense Children Trigger our Suppressed Pain

Why our Intense ChildrenTrigger OurSuppressed Pain (1)

I remember lying in the bath with my daughter when she was just a few weeks old, feeling simultaneously exhausted and utterly overwhelmed by the intensity of my love. Tears began to flow, and at some point I became aware that I was weeping for myself. For what I’d never had.

My mum got pregnant with me when she was eighteen. Unsupported by her own parents, she made an unsuitable marriage to my father and descended fast into post-natal depression. When I was two she couldn’t take it any more. One sunny afternoon she took two photographs of me on London’s Turnham Green – and then she left. I lived with relatives for a year.  My mum later  told me that she didn’t know what love was until my half-brother was born when I was five.

As I held my newborn baby in my arms in the bath that day, letting the tears flow down my cheeks, I resolved that my daughter would always know the strength of my unconditional love for her.

newborn bath

As part of my work for PowerWood I’ve had the privilege of meeting lots of parents of intense and sensitive children.  Their children’s overexcitabilities all look quite different, but every single mother has told me she only discovered she had OEs herself as part of the process of trying to understand her child.

That was my experience, too. I went to a PowerWood workshop to find out what was going on with my son. Little did I suspect that within a few hours I’d be crying tears for myself, for the very first time feeling accepted and understood for who I really am.

Over the weeks following the workshop I got to thinking about how my own mother’s sensitivities, like the way she has to rush through the Ikea marketplace because she can’t bear the smell of the candles. And I thought about how her mother, my grandmother, used to complain constantly about her ‘nerves’ and was once addicted to tranquilisers.

Our children’s sensitive, hyper-reactive nervous systems are a product of their genes. Genes our ancestors carried down the generations, way further back than we can remember.

What this means is that most of us were raised by sensitive, intense parents struggling with their own OEs and without anyone helping them with the daunting task of bringing up a family of spirited children.

How did they manage? Our parents did the best they could with what they had. They taught us to suppress our strong emotions because they thought that would serve us best in the world – and to keep them sane enough to raise us. 😉

Many of us, especially if we were girls, grew up suppressing our anger, our anxieties and our idiosyncracies. Some of us learned to act like completely different people from who we were inside.

And then we had our own children. We felt that unconditional love and we resolved to do things differently. But when we resolve not to repeat the patterns of our own childhood we’re up against a couple of obstacles:

(i) Evolution. Like it or not, we’re programmed to repeat what our parents did. As far as our neurological programming’s concerned, it worked. We survived our childhoods and lived long enough to have kids of our own. Evolution doesn’t favour change.

(ii) We lack role models. The more challenging our own childhood, the less of an unconscious example we have of how to raise kids the way we want to. (And of course we also have a dearth of conscious role models showing us how to parent our non-average children.)

To overcome these obstacles and forge our own path as parents requires a huge amount of energy, time and practice.

We’ll make mistakes – they’re an inevitable part of learning. We need to take care of ourselves so that we have the energy to make the changes we want, and we must be gentle with ourselves when we stumble.

When our children get angry and upset, when they never stop talking or shouting, when they lash out and throw things, our OEs are triggered. We get angry and upset. We might even throw things too.

We’re shocked by the intensity of the emotions our children arouse in us – emotions we were told not to feel, were never allowed to express, and so never learned to manage.

But it’s not too late, for us or our children. Our kids need us to be their place of safety. They need us to be in charge of our emotions so that we can help them deal with theirs.

So let’s be kind to ourselves. Let’s meet our practical, emotional and intellectual needs. Let’s forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Let’s surround ourselves with people who understand what we’re going through. And let’s remind ourselves that what we’re doing is good enough.

* * *

Thanks to Simone de Hoogh for sharing the ideas I’ve talked about here, and for unfailingly reminding me to be kind to myself.

If you’d like support dealing with OEs in yourself or your child, contact Simone at PowerWood or join me at the PowerWood Facebook group.

* * *

How were strong emotions dealt with when you were growing up?

What have you discovered about yourself since having children?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on the Love, Laugh, Learn Facebook page.

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17 thoughts on “Why our Intense Children Trigger our Suppressed Pain

  1. Yet another honest, heartwarming, and eye opening post!
    I am starting to look at my reactions, senses, and actions. With this post, I am looking at my parents. My mom and I are not close. It is something I struggle with. It feels bad and sad to share, but we are very different people. In a way, I try not to be like her. I try to be more in control of my emotions and my decisions. Our differences have become more obvious by my decisions to be a stay at home mom, a homeschooler, and a traveler.
    Nevertheless, sometimes I catch myself thinking and acting like her. I tend to worry about what others think. I try to figure out what everyone’s “true” intentions are. I even become obsess about unimportant things.
    Thank you for reminding me that what I am doing is good enough. I will keep on trying to be the best mom I can be. I will keep on accepting my kids the way they are, and to give them the unconditional love they need. I will keep on trying to seek answers to help them be the best they can.

    1. Silvana,
      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your compassionate, insightful comments. I cried as I wrote this post (healing tears, I think) and felt quite vulnerable as I hit ‘publish’. Reading your thoughtful response was just what I needed.
      It sounds like your choices – to stay home, to homeschool and to travel – have been authentic and aligned with your deeply-held values. Some people who try not to be like their parents deprive themselves of freedom by having to do everything differently for the sake of it, but it doesn’t sound as if you’ve done that.

      The examples you give (eg worrying about what others think) are good examples of how I experience emotional OE, too. It is a gift, but being very aware of and sensitive to what those around us are feeling can also be quite draining, can’t it?
      I love your intentions. Hear, hear! It’s good to know we’re in this together. 🙂

  2. How often have I said, “I never knew I had a temper until I had children”? Loud children, uncompliant children of a sort to which I had never really been exposed–in short, boys, trapped in a small house in town, after being the youngest of three girls in a quiet household in the country–because my mother needed a quiet place.

    1. “I never knew I had a temper until I had children”

      Yes! Such a familiar sentiment.

      And oh my goodness yes, what a difference between the two family situations you describe. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      1. I absolutely identify with this. I thought I was a calm, patient person til I had my daughter! She triggers such intense feelings in me. PowerWood, and your blog Lucinda, are helping us on a journey to learn how to understand and manage these feelings in a healthier way. Thank you.

        1. It’s a very positive journey, isn’t it? And it makes a huge amount of difference having people who understand at my side – so thank you!

  3. I shed a few tears for you whilst reading this post. I wanted to come round and give you a huge Claire hug (similar to a bear hug but from a Claire instead 🙂 ) You write very intelligently on a topic which is so obviously close to your heart. I feel like I am watching a beautiful butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and it is a huge privilege. At the risk of sounding twee and condescending (which is not how I feel at all), I am really proud of you. I just know that, at the end of this journey of yours, there will be a pot of gold xxx

    1. Ahh thank you, Claire. Your words have wrapped me up in that Claire hug. 😍

      It’s such a privilege to share my journey with such compassionate friends.

      I feel like the whole way is strewn with gold, really (and connecting with kindred spirits like you is one of the nuggets). At the risk of sounding egocentric, one of my very favourite things about parenting is the opportunity for personal growth. Children are wonderful mirrors! 😀

  4. Lucinda! Your brave and intelligent posts hit me over the head (in the best possible way!) every time. Keep writing, the world needs you. You have no idea how many times I’ve seen this post shared by parents who needed to hear your words. Thank you. <3

  5. “Many of us, especially if we were girls, grew up suppressing our anger, our anxieties and our idiosyncracies. Some of us learned to act like completely different people from who we were inside.”

    ^YES, to all of this. I think of this often. We are charged with stopping a cycle, of treating children like people and not just people in progress, of loving them despite their quirks.

    (And being kind to ourselves in the process.)

    Thanks for this!

    1. Cait,

      “We are charged with stopping a cycle, of treating children like people and not just people in progress, of loving them despite their quirks.”

      Absolutely. Maybe even loving them because of their quirks?

      I do sometimes wonder, though, what my kids (especially my daughter) will want to do differently when they’re parents? 😉

      Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Hugs to you, Lucinda!! Everyone seems to be carrying a lot of burden in their own ways. I’m so glad for you that you’re embarking on a healing path that is so profoundly meaningful to you in so many ways, while reaching many others who share a similar journey but who may not realise that it is more common than one realises.

    Also a quick thank you for the wonderful chat the other day. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope we’ll have a chance to do that again at some point.

    1. Thank you, Hwee!

      It was so good to meet in person at last, wasn’t it?! I really enjoyed our chat, too. And yes please to doing it again sometime! I’ll be thinking of you over the next few weeks, hoping all goes the way you want it to with the exciting changes in your life. 🙂

  7. My mum & I are not close, I realised my people pleasing personality comes from her expectation that I suppressed who I was in order to appear ‘perfect’ in everyone’s eyes. She used to be so proud when others would comment on our appearance or beautiful behaviour. “yes” she’d say ‘street angels, home devils’. Now, in my late 40’s I have been blessed with a son, 5 & a Daughter, 3. I didn’t want to be like my mum, I don’t want to feel like her, I don’t want my children to suffer…I went on an emotional journey and I discovered Pyroles through an integrative GP/naturopath….a nutrient deficiency in Vit B6, zinc etc. Passed down through generations. addictions, perfectionists, anger, anxiety…many, many traits. some people have only a few, some people have many of the traits. I’m amazed at the difference from taking a daily, individualised supplement. so much more ‘in control’. I wish everyone luck in their own journey.

    1. Lee, I hadn’t come across Pyroles. Thanks for making me aware of it. I’m so glad your supplement is making so much difference. Sadly I don’t think your mum was unusual for her generation. I find it difficult enough nowadays to treat my children in a way that allows them to be their authentic selves rather than what society says they should be like. It must have been even harder back then! I wish you luck on your journey, too. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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