Hitting is the Basest Form of Parenting

Spanking (physically punishing) a child is not illegal, at least here in the U.S. This type of physical punishment is not even always frowned upon, because of rationalizations like “this is for the kid’s own good” and “I was spanked when I was a kid and look how well I turned out.”

Physically punishing a child is the basest (lowest) form of parenting.

Hitting, kicking, pulling, pushing, whipping, and punching a living being who is physically smaller than you and whose sustainable existence is at your mercy, gets you immediate results for getting that living being’s attention and compliance. For sure. BUT ANYONE CAN DO THIS.

Hitting, kicking, pulling, pushing, whipping, and punching a living being who is physically smaller than you takes no smarts, no intelligence, and no thinking. It just takes a fist, a flick of your wrist, swing of your leg. It just takes making sure the living thing you are punishing is smaller than you, can’t or won’t fight back, and can’t or won’t escape (emancipate) himself or herself from your “care” and “guardianship”.

The only level of intelligence physically harming a smaller living being requires, is that you meter the level of force so you make your point without visibly injuring the kid.

Image by Matthew CherryHow about figuring out a way to get cooperation from a child at any age by using your intellect, including engineering the environment such that the child naturally “succeeds” more often than the child “fails” at doing what you want a child to do? THIS IS HARD. It takes tremendous mental and emotional/social intelligence on the part of the parent/adult. It takes tremendous conscientiousness to implement, and it takes ridiculous amounts of self-awareness and self-control/self-growth on parents’/adults’ part to continue developing these tools as children grow.

And small kids will grow into bigger kids, who will grow into teenagers, and soon into larger living beings who can hit you back, if they “dare”.

We take the long way instead of the short cut, because we believe that kids will end up actually LEARNING the cause-effect (consequences) of their choices and behaviors as a matter of course, without having to first get over any terror or trauma.

We take the long way instead of the short cut, because we are role modeling behaviors and approaches for gaining cooperation and agreement. We know kids will grow up to learn our behaviors and we’d like to show them sustainable and constructive ways of getting cooperation because the real world has laws against using physical force “because you can”. Our society does not allow physical assault between adults.

Sure, I can push my luck and take the short cut of using fear to force compliance and count on my kid developing a hardened form of “resilience”.

But then I don’t want him to grow up into an adult who assumes hitting kids is the optimal way of parenting, even if this is still considered “normal” in society.

I certainly don’t want the vicious cycle of base-form parenting revisiting our family tree, it’s taken me a generation (mine) to break this link.

***You can substitute emotional manipulation for physical violence; emotional violence is still violence.

Mental Strength and Emotional Resilience

I used to be one of those people who was extremely guarded to the point of appearing standoffish and antisocial.

I had many excuses — some are good reasons — for this:

  • I am an introvert: Dealing with people is hard for me to begin with.
  • I did not have an emotionally secure environment growing up: Of course I became closely-guarded.
  • I am too gullible and trusting: No wonder I have to protect myself.

I put my intellect and analytic ability to good use: I looked for ways people are trying to rip me off, take advantage of me, or deceive me.

If I didn’t protect myself, who would?

Here’s the problem:

What your head knows is very different from how your heart feels. Just because you have all the intellectual tools does not mean these magically transform into emotional reserves.

In other words:

Becoming Mentally Strong Does Not Guarantee Emotional Resilience.

I read enough “self-help literature” to know “What People Think of Me is None of My Business” and how I shouldn’t care too much about what other people think, and that hoarding other people’s approval is the quickest path to personal hell. I acted like the good conscientious student of life and I went to class and did my self-help homework.

I can tell you from decades of personal experience, through all this “self-help”, I did not feel emotionally resilient. I had all the intellectual tools at my disposal, and I consider myself pretty smart and mentally astute. But this did not magically translate into emotional strength.

Until one day I realized this:

Mental strength comes from cultivating brain-based tools. When I think of mental strength, I think about knowing how to deploy the right intellectual tools at the right time, in the right dose, for the right person.

I view the development of brain-based tools as a “bank account”. You have to regularly add knowledge into your bank account to grow what you know, and you have to periodically “balance the checkbook” and ensure you haven’t let any unchecked assumptions let your overall knowledge balance “drift” and deviate.

Emotional strength comes from surviving pain.

I view the development of heart-based tools as a “muscle”. You have to be willing to exert it, to stress it, to put microscopic tears in it. And you know what? Just like a muscle, sometimes you injure it, push it too hard, and that muscle rips and tears, and you are out of commission. You feel a world of pain and sometimes even breathing hurts (just like physical muscle! I also know this from personal experience, through rock climbing or childbirth! …I digress). You then have to let yourself recover and HEAL, before you head back out and work those muscles again.

In other words, you have to believe in your capacity to SURVIVE the hurt and LIVE THROUGH the insults/injuries with your Self INTACT. And — this is important — You Have To Be Willing To Put Yourself Out There Again, and Risk Possibly Getting Hurt Again.

This is why I view emotional resilience as more muscle than smarts, all heart and some brain.

I didn’t get emotionally strong by withholding myself from hurt, by shutting other people out, by packaging myself in false bravado. At least, I tried this way and learned this way did not work. Have you seen people who have lost the use of a muscle? That un-used muscle didn’t get stronger from being protected: that muscle atrophies. SAME AS YOUR HEART. Hiding your heart causes your emotional resilience to atrophy –not to grow stronger.

I grew emotionally strong by opening myself up to others, letting people in, and admitting my vulnerabilities.

Of course, I used brain-based tools I have gained to be very deliberate about selecting people to get close to, but this is more of a due-diligence when creating friendships or partnerships than “guarding against all possible harm.”

If I get hurt, then I use my brain to look at what happened (did I ignore a red flag or a signal?), acknowledge the pain in my heart, permit myself to wallow and feel bad — cut out a toxic or one-sided or dishonest connection — then I choose to get back out there, with my heart, receptive. It is a choice to put myself out there, because reflexively I want to withdraw.

If you want to see the most accurate examples of “No Pain, No Gain”, you should see people who have survived the worst kinds of emotional traumas and pain.

They may not all be super-smart people, but they are so emotionally strong, they exude a depth of center and acceptance that is impossible for me to describe. These people have survived hurt, they have lived through insults/injuries/traumas AND THEY HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN WHO THEY ARE (their “Self”). They choose to keep trusting and keep opening up and keep connecting.

I am still an introvert.

I am an introvert who have put in more than a thousand hours of social skills practice, to the point where socialization has become easy — even enjoyable for me. There are people who told me, “No, I can’t believe you’re an introvert!” and I tell them I am indeed (“I am, I’m still not really into people”) only I had a lot of practice.

I still remember some childhood wounds.

I honor those wounds by practicing conscious parenting to my own child, to ensure he feels secure and have a safer environment to build his own emotional resilience. I am often rewarded by being a witness to how he processes hurts and fear and pain, because I then remember once upon a time when I was a little girl, how I was just like that.

I am still gullible and trusting.

I choose to believe people and trust people until they show me that they are not the kind of influence I want in my life.

In the end, I think I have learned to trust my self and the inner resources I have to draw upon through life.

Jane Chin’s piece was also published in Inc. online.

Emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience has less to do with “being more positive” and “cheering up self” and more to do with (a combination of):

  • how you have learned to respond to others’ behaviors toward you,
  • how you have been conditioned to view/feel about yourself, and
  • how you naturally are made to “feel how you exist”.

Why should we care about how we are wired or made? Because some of us can hear the exact same statement and have very different responses. For example, when a statement is made thus: “You are a piece of sh*t!” some range of responses may include:

  • “What the hell is wrong with that guy, must be having a bad day.”
  • “No, YOU are a piece of sh*t and if you keep this up I’m going to beat you down!”
  • “I am a piece of sh*t… who else knows?”

The above are generalized examples but you may be familiar with the self-perspective that goes with each type of response.

I assume that you as a self-aware and intelligent being already know the logic behind “don’t worry about what other people think of you” and maybe you have even heard of the quip, “what you think of me is none of my business.” I certainly have. To be honest, these clever quips combined with my intellect had ZERO effect on my ability to manage how my feelings work.

So what can be done?

First, learn to catch the precursor to the feelings and begin to challenge the precursor (beliefs). Become extremely aware of how your feelings are tied to the responses to other people’s behaviors and then how these responses are linked to a specific message you have been feeding on “auto-play.”

If someone says you are a horrible person and you immediately believe this, become alert to this “automatic response” within yourself and the belief that you are horrible (usually as a function of “worthless”). After some practice you get adept at catching the automatic response.

When you catch this internal response, begin to challenge the beliefs. If the belief is you are a horrible person, challenge this: “Really? Am I a truly horrible person? Am I stealing toys from babies? Am I deliberately tripping old people and laughing at them when they are falling?” Get creative and think of all the ways you can be horrible and then listen to whether you are really doing these things. Chances are good that you aren’t stealing from children or tripping the elderly or doing actually horrible things on a daily basis. This way you get to see how biased and baseless some of your internal beliefs may be.

Second, deliberately surround yourself with nice people. People who are courteous and considerate in general. People who treat you nicely and give you genuine compliments. This is important to get some counter balance in outside perspective if you happen to have mean people or bullies in your life (that you cannot rid yourself of yet). Learn to say “thank you” to compliments and believe in these compliments because you can vouch for the quality of people giving you the compliments.

Eventually, you are looking to build a balance sheet of external feedback that are affecting your feelings. When you have as many people giving you positive feedback as you have negative feedback, at least you are giving your rational mind a fair shot at assessing the true picture of the way you are as a person. Again, unless you are stealing from babies and breaking old people’s bones, most of the negative beliefs you hold may be caricatures of mean-spirited remarks from mean-spirited people.

Third, set yourself up to make progress. I think we are fed a lot of bullsh*t about what it means to become more emotionally resilient, even those of us who may “suffer” from empathy. I am not a person who will ever have a thick skin, and if I set the goal to “grow thick skin” I am setting myself up to fail.

Instead, I have learned to look at whether I can “bounce back sooner than I used to.” I look at whether I have learned to fall down “smarter” (maybe bracing my feelings so that I don’t let myself get completely destroyed, but still feel bad because I feel intensely to begin with). I look at how my speed of catching negative beliefs have improved, and the tools I have developed to deal and manage those. Progress like this is as valid as “success” in personal growth as a very sensitive person.

A final word: If you think that you may be suffering from a medical condition like clinical depression that makes worse your response to “ordinary insults”, please seek help.

Depression and Shutting Out People

Can you imagine trying to enjoy a poolside party
when you are drowning in the pool and
all you can hear is people having a great time and laughing
while completely oblivious to the way your body
keeps submerging into the water
getting heavier by the second
water filling up your lungs?

Depression is like that.

People who are suffering clinical depression are spending so much energy trying to get through every second of a deeply painful existence, and spending almost equal amounts of energy persuading themselves not to give up bothering to try — that they don’t have energy left for “other people.”

My most preferred description of depression came from Andrew Solomon’s book, Noonday Demon, where he explains that depression is not about lack of happiness, but rather, lack of vitality — lack of life.

Depressed people often shut others out because they spend every ounce of life force they have trying to stay “alive” when the alternative seems…. so much easier — more appealing — more peaceful.

Depressed people may shut others out because they don’t want to deal with ignorant comments from well-meaning friends or family members, hearing for the thousandth time that they should “cheer up” because they are so {smart / talented / whatever}.

Herein lies the irony: Depressed people can’t tolerate being with people, but depressed people most need the Presence of People as a self-reminder that the depressed person has a need to exist.

Depression is not an “Attitude” problem

If this is clinical depression, then trying to “get over” depression by changing attitude about life and yourself is like trying to “get over” diabetes by changing attitude about sugar and insulin.

Depending on the type of diabetes, you need serious help with all aspects of lifestyle including metabolic habit modification — or you really need insulin itself.

Same logic with depression: you need serious help with depression symptoms — or you really need biochemical intervention to manage the biochemical aspects of depression itself.