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The Train (part 4)

A recurring sound woke Angie up at 5am. It was her alarm telling her it was time to rise and shine in order to start another awesome day. She packed her stuff, took another cold shower, went through her papers, made sure she had her online ticket on her phone, brushed her teeth, and did a tour in the room to make sure she had everything ready. She then locked the room and went down the stairs to the reception room to hand in the key. She found an employee half-sleepy in his chair, she woke him, give him her key, and asked him how to arrange for a taxi. He asked her to wait for a few minutes, went out for a few minutes, then returned with a tuk-tuk.

She asked him how much he’d want to drive her to the airport, she asked about the time needed to get there, and after agreeing on a price, she climbed in. It was still dark at 5:30am. A fog was felt amidst the lights on the streets. It was chilly and the cold morning wind hitting Angie from the tuk-tuk made her wish the road was shorter. She also wished she had something to cover herself…

The ride took about an hour and a half and she managed to get to the airport about two hours before her flight. She went through the security check, got her luggage weighted, got her passport stamped and her ticket issued. She then walked slowly to the waiting area to wait for her flight.

Luckily she had brought a book with her to entertain her and to educate her while she watched the time pass. The book she had was on Emotional Intelligence, a topic she really loved. Here is what she read:

“The Family Crucible

It’s a low-key family tragedy, Carl and Ann are showing their daughter Leslie, just five, how to play a brand-new video game. But as Leslie starts to play, her parents’ overly eager attempts to “help” her just seem to get in the way. Contradictory orders fly in every direction.

“To the right, to the right—stop, Stop, Stop!” Ann, the mother, urges, her voice growing more intent and anxious as Leslie, sucking on her lip and staring wide-eyed at the video screen, struggles to follow these directives.

“See, you’re not lined up… put it to the left!” Carl, the girl’s father, brusquely orders.

Meanwhile, Ann, her eyes rolling upward in frustration, yells over his advice, “Stop! Stop!”

Leslie, unable to please either her father or her mother, contorts her jaw in tension and blinks as her eyes fill with tears.

Her parents start bickering, ignoring Leslie’s tears. “She’s not moving the stick that much!” Ann tells Carl, exasperated.  

As the tears start rolling down Leslie’s cheeks, neither parent makes any move that indicates they notice or care. As Leslie raises her hand to wipe her eyes, her father snaps, “Okay, put your hand back on the stick… you wanna get ready to shoot. Okay, put it over.” And her mother barks, “Okay, move it just a teeny bit!”

But by now Leslie is sobbing softly, alone with her anguish.

At such moments children learn deep lessons. For Leslie one conclusion from this painful exchange might well be that neither her parents, nor anyone else, for that matter, cares about her feelings. When similar moments are repeated countless times over the course of childhood they impart some of the most fundamental emotional messages of a lifetime – lessons that can determine a life course. Family life is our first school for emotional learning; in this intimate cauldron we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings, how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears. This emotional schooling operates not just through the things that parents say and do directly to children, but also in the models they offer for handling their own feelings and those that pass between husband and wife. Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious.

There are hundreds of studies showing how parents treat their children – whether with harsh discipline or empathic understanding, with indifference or warmth, and so on – has deep and lasting consequences for the child’s emotional life. Only recently, though, have there been hard data showing that having emotionally intelligent parents is itself of enormous benefit to a child. The ways a couple handles the feelings between them – in addition to their direct dealings with a child – impart powerful lessons to other children, who are astute learners, attuned to the subtlest emotional exchanges in the family. When research teams led by Carole Hooven and John Gottman at the University of Washington did a microanalysis of interactions in couples on how the partners handled their children, they found that those couples who were more emotionally competent in the marriage were also the most effective in helping their children with their emotional ups and downs.

The families were the first seen when one of their children was just five years old, and again when the child had reached nine. In addition to observing the parents talk with each other, the research team also watched families (including Leslie’s) as the father or mother tried to show their young child how to operate a new video game – a seemingly innocuous interaction, but quite telling about the emotional currents that run between parent and child.

Some mothers and fathers were like Ann and Carl: overbearing, losing patience with their child’s ineptness, raising their voices in disgust or exasperation, some even putting their child down as “stupid” – in short, falling prey of the same tendencies toward contempt and disgust that eat away at a marriage. Others, however, were patient with their child’s errors, helping the child figure the game out in his or her own way rather than imposing the parents’ will. The video game session was a surprisingly powerful barometer of the parents’ emotional style.

The three most common emotionally inept parenting styles proved to be:

  • Ignoring feelings altogether. Such parents treat a child’s emotional upset as trivial or a bother, something they should wait to blow over. They fail to use emotional moments as a chance to get closer to the child or to help the child learn lessons in emotional competence.
  • Being too laissez-faire. These parents notice how a child feels, but that however a child handles the emotional storm is fine – even, say, hitting. Like those who ignore a child’s feelings, these parents rarely step in to try to show their child an alternative emotional response. They try to soothe all upsets, and will, for instance, use bargaining and bribes to get their child to stop being sad or angry.
  • Being contemptuous, showing no respect for how the child feels. Such parents are typically disapproving, harsh in both their criticisms and their punishments. They might, for instance, forbid any display of the child’s anger at all, and become punitive at the least sign of irritability. These are the parents who angrily yell at a child who is trying to tell his side of the story, “don’t you tall back to me!”” (Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence, why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam books. 1997. P. 189-190-191).

Angie took a break from the book she was reading and felt overwhelmed with her ideas. She didn’t know where to turn to or what to do. It was as if suddenly someone opened the door of hell and memories submerged her consciousness, her vision, her clarity, her ideas… She was drowning in her sad childhood memories.  She had been around one particular employer for a long time who failed to show any respect for her feelings. That employer treated her as if she didn’t matter or existed. She was hard on her in the smallest mistakes Angie ever dared to make. She would criticize her harshly and blame her often for small trivial mistakes. She wouldn’t listen or talk or share or anything. She was very impatient with Angie and of course, Angie felt weird around that woman.

Angie’s parents belonged to the first type of emotionally inept parents. They believed (and still believe) that each one should solve his problems by himself. They would ignore feelings altogether. They would simply wait for the storm to pass without ever attempting to see what is happening, why it is happening, or even if they can help in any way.

Drowning in her memories and suffocating in her painful flashback, Angie heard her name being repeated many times. “Angie Smith, Angie Smith, Passenger Angie Smith flying to Vadodara please proceed immediately to gate A1. Angie Smith, please proceed urgently to gate A1…”

Note to Angie: Pull yourself together, you are going to miss your flight. Breathe kid, breathe. You are having painful flashbacks, just observe them, try not to get too much attached to them, watch them pass, they are only memories. They can’t hurt you anymore. They happened long long time ago. They made you the strong woman you are right now. Breathe kid, breathe. We are fine. Come on, let’s walk to the gate. This way to gate A1. Breathe, breathe, it will pass. Everything will pass. As Professor Sarkees, our beloved teacher, once said:

“1. whatever happened (child abuse of any sort)- is not, is NEVER the fault of the child.
2. The adult survivor needs to nurture the child within, forgive self, love self, care, befriend and nourish self. This is a big priority.
3. Admitting to trusted others the above and asking them for help is a sign of courage and strength.
4. Time might not miraculously heal the wounds, but work, patience and love will.
5. Develop self love and try to harvest it from everywhere safe.”