I worked as a Dean of Students at a charter school where I spent the majority of my day handling discipline issues. It was rewarding work and surely made me a better life coach. Understanding children is key to understanding adults. While serving as a Dean, I observed that very small children (usually those 7 and under) have a difficult time expressing their feelings. Their limited language and emotional vocabulary makes it hard for them to communicate exactly how they feel. This is even more pronounced in children who come from families where they are not taught how to manage their emotions or are not allowed to express feelings at all. Such children often run, kick, scream, hide or fall out on the floor when they are very upset. To keep them, and other children safe we had to put these children in the "Calm down" room, a small colorful room with padded walls and a cushiony floor. There was a window in the door. It was a really special place.
While in the calm down room children would do all types of things. Some would kick the wall, others would roll around on the floor, others would hide in a corner so no one could see them, some would forbid anyone from coming in, a few would even turn off the light and sit in the dark. Whatever their process was, I would let them work through their anger, hurt, or disappointment until they were ready to stop hurting themselves. I always stood at the door by the window so that they knew I was still there. If they stayed in the room a long time, I would pull up a chair. I had learned not enter the room because I would not allow myself to be hit or kicked by an angry child (I learned the hard way after being kicked by a 6-year-old who was angry about having to leave the playground when recess was over even though she "wasn't done playing yet.") No matter what, I kept myself safe outside the door. It hurt me to watch children place themselves in the dark and curl up inside their shirts and announce how no one liked them. Some children would just scream. Periodically, I would open the door and calmly ask, "Are you ready to talk?" If the answer was no, I'd remind them, "I'm here when you are ready to talk. Let me know when you are ready." Every single child, no matter what they had done, eventually came out of the room on their own. No matter what it was, at some point, it stopped. Some would swing the door open, cross their arms and angrily announce, "I'm ready to talk Dr. Pinkney!" One would shyly open the door with her arms outstretched so that she could be held. She wasn't ready to talk but she no longer wanted to be alone. I would hold her, and then she would talk. Others would sweetly open the door and smile, "You can come in now" as if they had not just been clawing the walls. Each child eventually invited me to join them. It is only then that I would enter the room...I only came in when they invited me. I only entered the room when they were ready to talk and work through their problems.
Many of us have tied ourselves to self-destructive people and are being "hit" as they work to process their feelings. We experience heartbreak because our partner lied, cheated again, overspent, canceled at the last minute, shut down emotionally, or came home drunk. Other people's actions or behavior have very little to do with you...they are just working through their stuff. She lies to avoid feeling shame, disappointment or failure. He gets drunk because he cannot process any of his emotions, so he drinks them away. She is unfaithful because she doesn't know how to ask for what she really wants or needs and doesn't like to feel vulnerable. That's their problem. What's up with you? How do you continue to love yourself and others when someone is behaving in ways that are hurtful? As a Dean I learned to love and support others while keeping myself safe. It is okay to leave the room when someone else is hurting themselves to the extent that they might cause you pain as they work through their stuff. You have permission to keep yourself at a safe distance while still loving an supporting someone else.
Are you partnered with a self-destructive person and you are struggling to keep yourself well? Do you keep trying to help him or her just to find you keep getting hit? Or, are you the one behaving in ways that are harmful to yourself and those close to you? If no one taught you how to properly deal with your emotions while you were a child, it is difficult to do so as an adult. You very well might be the one curled in corner, kicking the wall, or screaming. Are you ready to talk? I'd love to support you in consciously creating something safe, stable and loving. You deserve it!
Dr. Adrianne R. Pinkney
Integrative Wellness and Life Coach