setting-a-positive-example-to-children

Setting a Positive Example

I haven’t had a parenting post in a while, so it’s time for one. If you are like me, and a parent with a chronic illness, thoughts of “how can I be a better parent” come up in moments of self-reflection. A constant concern I have is, am I setting a positive example for Jai? Am I being a good mother, especially in the moments my illness seems to take over?

I feel like there’s a lot of expectations placed on mothers, especially on how we project ourselves in public and private. When we have moments where we are vulnerable, we get frustrated. Coupled with a chronic illness, especially invisible ones where society forgets we are ill, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

For myself, in the moments I feel overwhelmed, I feel like I struggle to set a positive example. With my MS, I feel obligated to set an example about the importance of handling things out of our control in a positive way.

When we have a Little Clone

It isn’t always the case, but have you noticed being closely aligned with a parent in personality? More like your mother or your father? Or a nice blend of both? If you are a parent, you may notice your child favors you or your partner more in personality.

This may be frustrating because two strong personalities in the same home is a recipe for conflict. But it can be a wonderful bonding experience if approached properly. The parent whom the child favors is able to identify personality quirks and be sensitive to particular needs. Rather than being an adversary, the parent can be a valuable alley within the home.

When a child is similar to us, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see our own behaviors in their purest form. Children can provide a deeper insight to ourselves.

I find that Jai teaches me how to behave better. Observing his interactions on the playground, he does not get upset when another child steals his toy. Rather than getting upset, he’ll move on to another toy. It’s an opportunity for me to learn from his wisdom: focus not on the loss of the toy, but the opportunity to do something else.

I recognize his behavior is age/developmentally based. In a few months, he may not behave so passively in a similar situation.

In those moments of adaptability, I encourage his behavior. Likewise, I want to make sure he doesn’t pick up my bad habits. Rather than swooping in and letting Jai know that something negative happened, I try to be as non-reactive to keep the situation calm and under control. My instinct is a bad habit developed over the years: take the toy back while reprimanding the offending child for not knowing how to share. This teaches Jai to be aggressive in a negative way and I don’t want to encourage that.

If Jai is upset over losing something, it is better I show him how to ask for a toy back in a nice manner, rather than fight bullying with bullying.

Setting a Positive Example to Children

Children, even in their worst moments, provide us with valuable insight to our own behaviors. They observe our every moment, behavior, and style of speech. A few weeks ago, when I braked the car suddenly, I heard from the backseat, “what are you doing?” directed at the driver causing me to brake.

I knew in that moment I needed to be more aware of the language I used while driving around the city.

Consider this: next time your child behaves in a manner you find problematic, step back and see where that behavior was modeled for them. Was it from you? A co-parent? A secondary caregiver? School? If you find that it is a reflection or response to your own behaviors, consider finding a way to change it so you model the behavior you want your child to have.

This might be particularly difficult to achieve with a chronic illness, but it is still possible. Use your illness as a teaching moment: sometimes we cannot control our own behaviors because of an exacerbation, but we are doing the best we can with what we have.

When you mess up, rather than ignoring it, sit down with a child and explain what happened. Do not excuse it. Provide a reason to your thinking and behavior, or admit you don’t know why. Walk a child through how you plan to approach the situation in the future and acknowledge that you may not remember/achieve it the next time. Admit to your imperfection, and reassure the child that it’s okay to be human but not okay to hurt others. Finally, make sure you apologize to your child if necessary.

Treat your child, no matter their age, like the human they are with all the respect that goes with it. You’ll find that the example you set, no matter when you start, will eventually payoff with some patience and compassion on your part.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton

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Externalizing My Illness

Since my diagnosis, I’ve had days where I took my chronic illness out on others. Especially those closest to me. Ash has (and still does on my bad days) weathered my emotional storms. There are days where I cannot effectively handle my emotions, and he’s stayed strong for me.

I’ve gotten better, but at the beginning of my health journey, I would purposefully nettle or act in a manner to stir up trouble in my relationship with Ash. I recognize now that they were moments where I projected my emotions onto him: I was upset with life and I wanted to externalize those feelings by taking them out on someone else.

Misery Loves Company

It’s true. Those who are miserable love company.

We’ve encountered it at one point or another: people bringing us down because they feel miserable. Strangers driving badly because they are angry; customers yelling for the manager because of a perceived slight; or a friend undercutting our happy moments by inserting a negative non sequitur.

Personally, I dealt with colleagues who blamed me for their personal problems and close ones not invested in my personal success because of their lack of success.

When others project their misery onto us and we engage with it, we become miserable ourselves.

The Misery of Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is misery enough: fatigue, mental & emotional frustrations, and other painful physical exacerbations to name a few. Often times making it through the day is about maintaining our emotional fortitude. Some days we make it at the end of the day not feeling entirely awful and other days we give into our emotional misery.

When we have a day where our illness overwhelms us, it’s easy to feel miserable. There is a time and place for grieving, but when we externalize that grief beyond ourselves and at others that it becomes problematic. Venting to others is reasonable, we cannot keep everything in, but if we snap at a friend of family member; say something we know is particularly hurtful for the sake of hurting them; or try to manipulate the situation to make someone miserable, we go too far.

I think if we need a moment to vent, especially relating to our illness, we should find someone who understands and preface our venting with “I am not directing any of this at you. I am having a bad day with my illness, so I need someone to vent to…may I?” Not only do we provide them with a warning, but we also give them with the ability to say “no” as well. It is important to respect their decision should they say “no.” They may be having a bad day as well and they cannot provide adequate support without harming their own health.

When we take our negative emotions and energy out on others, we bring them down and we run the risk of alienating those we care about. A day may come where they recognize that they need to remove us from their life to stay healthy.

Acknowledging the Double Standard

When I recognized my bad behavior, I saw that I set up a double standard. It was okay for me to behave badly, but not okay for others to behave badly around/toward me.

I got so caught up in my MS that I didn’t take the time to recognize my expectations for others and how high they were. While it is important to have expectations for those who surround us, after all those expectations can protect us from toxic relationships, the expectations should be reasonable.

I put pressure on others, they were not aware of this pressure, where if they did not listen to me or acknowledge my pain in a particular moment, then they were a poor friend. These were relationships where it was weighted towards me, where I took a lot out of the relationship. So in the moment where they demonstrated some resistance to my one-sided behavior, I dismissed them as a poor friend.

Yikes.

Adding in a chronic illness, it’s easy to develop a built-in excuse for our poor treatment of others. We can have an (understandable) chip on our shoulder because our bodies betrayed us. We feel we’re owed something, so we take what we are owed by externalizing our feelings onto others. Should others treat us in a similar manner…

Once I recognized the double standard I set up for myself and those around me, I was able to take steps to stop engaging in that double standard. I have yet to reach out to those I’ve hurt, I am not at that point yet, but I know I can stop behaving in a manner that is toxic and harmful to others.

I can also take the steps to be more mindful of other people’s journey and respect that they might be going through something equally troublesome that causes them to behave a particular way. It’s never used as a means to excuse bad treatment, but as a means to be compassionate to their situation.

Resisting the Urge

I built up a pattern of bad behavior of taking my chronic illness out on others over years. It’s going to take a long time to unlearn the bad patterns and relearn healthy ones. I still have urges to take my emotional pain out on Ash, but I am quicker to apologize if I do, or I try to preface by saying I need a moment to vent.

I’ve been slowly pulling myself away from toxic sources that might cause me to backslide into negativity and making my peace with my MS. Recognizing that I was externalizing my pain was also a major step in the positive direction. Knowing what I am doing helps eliminate the desire to keep doing it.

Having a chronic illness is no fun, but it’s no one else’s fault that I have one. Not mine, not friends, not strangers, nobody. Taking my emotional pain out on them accomplishes absolutely nothing because I tend to feel worse afterwards.

I have learned to resist the urge as much as possible, but be gentle when I have a moment when I do give into it. Apologize when necessary and understand when others are in a similar space. It’s a way to lower my stress and manage my MS in a healthy way.


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Featured photo credit: Matt Hardy on Unsplash


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Frustrating Personality; Strong Emotions

I’ve often thought to myself, “Man, I have a frustrating personality.” My combative nature negatively impacted my personal relationships. For a long time, I wanted to change my personality, but I believed when I was told that personality is fixed. If I was a pushy person, then I would always be assertive and no deviating from that behavior.

I am discussing personality because it’s one of those things that I highlighted as a dislike in moments of self-reflection. I can imagine some introverts wish they were more outgoing while some extroverts wish they were more introverted.

Since becoming more self-reflective, I found my personality shifted without realizing it. It’s not a significant shift, but I am noticing that life is a little easier than it once was, despite the chronic illness. I would fight certain aspects of my personality, but now I accept them. I’ve found this openness levels me less stressed and more personally satisfied.

Personality: Inflexiable?

So is the personality inflexible? The answer is yes and no.

Often major life experiences can shift our personality one way or another, but there are core things about ourselves we cannot easily change. An introvert cannot become an extrovert overnight. They might be able to have more extroverted moments, but they may never reach the same levels of extroversion as someone else.

There are five traits to our personalities. These are the dimensions that help define and shape who we are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Each of these aspects is flexible in of themselves, but the degree of flexibility will vary from person-to-person. As I go through each trait, you may notice that you were once curious about a new venture that you are now extremely cautious. This is where the personality shift comes in and why they can be more flexible than you expect.

As I go through each type, I place no value judgment on the examples I provide.

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Redefining the Internal Narrative

When I recognized that I was addicted to my anger, I realized it was sustained by my internal narrative. I used a lot of nasty words to describe myself during my mental arguments. As Gary John Bishop said in his book Unf*ck Yourself, we are constantly having internal conversations whether we realize it or not. There was no escape from this negative internal narrative. When I recognized the hatred being spewed at myself non-stop, I knew I needed to focus on changing my internal narrative.

We are dealing with a chronic illness, so we are busy fighting/managing our bodies. For some of us, we are also fighting our minds which makes our journey to wellness that much harder. When our bodies betray us via exacerbations or normal symptoms, it’s easy for our negative internal narrative to rise up and leave us wanting to give up. I wanted to share my experience with my negative internal narrative and how it led to moments of self-defeat. At the end of this post, you’ll find more detailed suggestions for dealing with your own narrative.

Content warning: there will be talk about self-hatred and self-destructive behaviors. In the section “Using the word ‘Hate'” you will find adult language as part of negative self-talk. If you find this discussion triggering, please do not read any further. If you or someone you know engages in self-harm, please know that you can get help

When the Internal Narrative is Negative

From childhood, I had a negative internal narrative. I was taught from the very beginning that I was fundamentally flawed as a person. Every time I did something “wrong,” it had to do with me being irredeemably bad. Thoughts were not separate from actions, so if I had a negative thought it was the same as though I acted out on it.

As a child, I learned to mentally flog myself. While I was taught that I had the means to get out of my “badness,” I still had to follow a strict code of behaviors, thoughts, and actions. Deviation from that code meant I regressed into “badness,” and I was to prevent that at all cost. Mentally berating myself helped me manage any external conversations about my behavior because I pre-empted the impetus of the discussion. I took the power out of the other side by mentally hating myself and regained a sense of control.

What I was doing in those moments was setting myself up for a lifetime of self-hatred that I am just now starting to unlearn and heal from.

An example: as a child on the playground, someone would say something mean to me. If I had a thought of “well, I hope you fall over and hurt yourself” as a means of coping with my hurt feelings, this was considered a moment of being naughty. I wished harm on someone, and this was wrong by the code taught to me.

Because I wasn’t allowed to have a “bad” thought, I had no way to manage my hurt feelings. Desiring for a bully to get hurt, provided I didn’t actually retaliate, wasn’t a bad thing. It was a healthy way to acknowledge they hurt me and I wanted them to feel the hurt back. It may have naturally led to understanding why the bully was mean: they were already hurting and taking their pain out on me.

Instead, when they said something mean and I thought about them getting hurt; I realized that my desire to see them get hurt was “wrong;” and therefore, the bully was right about me: I was whatever horrible thing they said I was. So it wasn’t just the bully picking on me, I was picking on myself. If I told anyone about the bully and my thoughts immediately after the incident, it was reinforced that these thoughts were wrong.

The internal voice I developed over my childhood was angry and reflected the judgments I heard by adults. Often the judgments weren’t directed at me, but at others in similar situations as myself. I would compare myself to the people in these judgment scenarios and recognize a lot of similarities in myself: “that person claims to be following a specific code of conduct, but look what they are doing. It’s so hypocritical.”

Oh, I would think to myself. I always wanted to do that thing they are doing. I guess that makes me bad because I feel/act that way in private. In those moments, my shame increased and my internal voice would get louder about how bad I was as a person.

This angry, negative internal narrative turned me into a bitter, anxious, and stressed-out person. I burnt out fast. This lead to a deep depression in my early twenties where I struggled to get anything done in my life. Every missed opportunity was not a learning experience but a personal failure. Every failure was fuel to my “I feel worthless” fire. Rather than persevering in the face of self-doubt and failure, I gave in and wallowed in the thoughts of how I was a bad person.

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I Want to Make Personal Changes

We all reach a moment where we say “I want to make personal changes.”

That moment comes when we are unhappy with our lives, or our relationships, or how we manage our chronic illness. When we say “enough,” we self-reflect. But when we self-reflect, we realize that there’s a lot of changes that need to happen to become our ideal self. And that’s where the desire for personal change can stop.

We should acknowledge that we don’t like making these changes, but that they still need to happen.

I Don’t Like This

Humans are complicated creatures, so there isn’t one source for what frustrates us. While I can point to specific influences in my life as the reason why I think a particular way, there is a lot more going on in the background. Many times, I am unaware of these background influences. I just know that I think I am inadequate.

Rationally, I know these thoughts are false. But these thoughts and actions have a hold of me and make it difficult to see past my flaws.

I am lucky that I can point to some situations in my past as the source of what I need to change. That isn’t always the case. There are reactions I have, and I don’t know where they come from. In these situations, it makes it more difficult to want to make the necessary changes.

Knowing the source of my anger makes it easier to acknowledge it and be mindful of it. I may not always successfully deal with it, or even attempt to deal with it, but I am more likely to try and do something when I am able to say “oh, that reaction stems from when the kids in the neighborhood wouldn’t play with me.”

In cases where I don’t know the source of my behaviors, I am more likely to be resistant to making positive changes. It’s stepping into an unknown, and I don’t like that. I don’t have control over what’s happening or what I am thinking. But I know I have to make a change because continuing behaviors that are unhealthy aren’t helping me manage my parenting or my MS.

Hopefully, this resonates with you. You may feel similar: I don’t know why I behave this way, and I don’t want to take steps to change because the idea is discouraging. Know that you are not alone, especially in your chronic illness, and you can make those changes because I know you can. You want to achieve your goals and the only way to do that is to make changes to the unknown and what you don’t like.

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