About Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
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Entries by Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
Although less intense than it was in the past, I find that I often want or (more accurately) NEED to be right. Those moments have body markers like a flushed face, discomfort in my gut and an elevated pulse. What I have come to understand (based on these body markers) is that this is more a protective need for *certainty* than wanting to be “in the right” and “correct”. And I don’t think that this is unique to me.
So many of us find ourselves locked into debates and conflict not primarily because of our rational brain’s desire for “objective truth” but because of our lower brain’s craving for certainty – solid ground to walk on. The rational brain is merely a hijacked servant in those moments.
The way to tell the difference between a rational debate and a triggered nervous system that demands absolute certainty of beliefs and perspectives is the emotional intensity at which the discussion takes place and how “personal” it becomes.
If it is intense and personal, please know that this is not about the “truth value” of a particular idea, but a very deep PHYSIOLOGICAL need, the need to deal with the threat of uncertainty and the unknown. Our body (read- nervous system) is automatically REACTING to that stimulus as it would to a real physical threat to one’s survival (it does not take the time to distinguish).
I think this is helpful to know and monitor as we interact with fellow humans, especially those that don’t see the world through our eyes.
In speaking with parents and more importantly, in being one myself, I think about pits that we all unintentionally fall into. I say, “fall into”, because most parents are really, really doing their darndest and still often find themselves stuck, feeling incompetent and incapable.
The pit most recently encountered is seeing my child as
My Report Card.
Kid is happy and thriving I’m getting straight A’s.
Kid is struggling and unhappy, D’s and F’s.
This is so natural and equally not helpful to both parents and children
So natural because parents automatically identify with their children. It is actually this symbiosis that initially helps parents care for their little ones.
Not helpful, because parent goes “offline” into her own self judgment and shame the moment the child needs her most – When he is struggling in some way.
Not helpful because parent tries to FIX him when there is not a problem, just a need for support, compassion and love.
Understandable, YES, Helpful, unfortunately, no.
My hope is that the more we talk about these pits along the way of this brave journey we will be able to support, not shame one another.
I was recently supposed to do a podcast interview and the host did not show up at the agreed upon time. Shortly thereafter, I emailed to check in and see what was up and for a few days heard no response. During that time, I had no idea what had happened but my fear driven mind told me some pretty painful things.
My darkest thoughts were along the line of: “When did he discover the *truth* that I am not worth an hour of his time”? What (or who) clued him in that I am not important enough?
Yes, fortunately, this was quickly balanced out by other more plausible (and ultimately confirmed) explanations for why he missed the meeting, etc. etc., but my point here is:
When someone “ghosts us”, when they are absent, our thoughts can automatically go to dark places where we begin to question our worth, our value. And if this is true with regard to an adult, in relation to a podcast host who is more a less a stranger…
What might our little (or bigger) children think when we, as parents, are absent in all the many ways that humans can be absent today? When in *that* moment, I seem more interested in my phone than her popsicle stick project. When in *that* moment, I am lost in thought about something that happened in the office earlier or that I need to do later, when he is telling me about a new song he loves.
What does he think (about himself) in my absence? What does she tell herself when ghosted by the person she needs most in her life?
That thought is just about the most potent motivation for presence that I have been fortunate to experience.
So, we have a son that is just about to turn 18. And I, like many parents I know, will likely NEVER outgrow the urge to give advice. With elder teen and certainly adult children, a helpful approach (which still allows the parent to still give advice when it cannot be contained) is to acknowledge (in good humor) that the receiving party will probably not want to hear any of this. Something like:
“Warning label – parental advice coming, listen at your own risk..”
“CAUTION: Unsolicited parental advice erupting..”
This is even more effective when it is in the written form (email, etc.) which gives the receiver space to further brace himself for something that has more to do with the parent’s than the (grown) child’s need.
With another recent run-in with Covid, I was quickly brought back to the impact of fear on my life. What I noticed is the different reactions to it. Some of us activate and blame, others, minimize and dismiss. All of us confront the same fact:
At Best, Our Control is VERY Imperfect.
How does life change when you accept this fact?
Well, for one thing, you allow yourself and others to have their reactions and see them as valid (although ultimately ineffective) ways to deal with the unnerving nature of human existence. I don’t insist as strongly that my way is THE way to handle what CANNOT actually be handled. You smile a bit more at all of our best attempts to confront a very basic (unsettling) truth.
And then you find a little more space to breathe.
There is this plant on our back porch whose leaves start to droop when it is in need of water. Whenever I see it start to sag (as in the pic) I am happy that it tells me exactly what it needs with such a clear signal. Even more, I love how I am able to easily fulfill its needs with my watering can. It feels good to see how, in just a few hours, it starts to perk up once again. I feel capable and effective. How wonderful when SIGNAL and RESPONSE align so smoothly and effortlessly.
And I consider how challenging and helpless it can feel to be a parent and see signals – from someone you love so deeply – that you don’t understand, don’t know how to respond to and worse, that your typical response RAISES the volume of the confusing and alarming signal…..
We are all in this difficult spot together and the good news is that aligned signal and response is wired into the relationship. Humans are a bit more complex than a houseplant, but you have a pitcher, God gave it to you when you became a parent, and your child needs water. The need may not be expressed as clearly as saggy leaves, in fact, it may be downright distressing and off putting. But trust that it is there and you don’t have a solution you ARE the solution.
Inflation and Deflation are 2 sides of the same coin.
It’s actually more common (and possibly more damaging?)to be consumed by deflation as it can seem humble and even “righteous”.
Regardless, both are out of touch with my true worth.
I know a young girl that talks and talks. She started talking early and has not stopped. It’s almost like she is using language to make sure she is real, that others are there and she is connected to them. And this got me thinking…
Words are powerful and so helpful in managing the ongoing overwhelm of being human.
When experience is too much, the mind kicks in with all types categorizations, labels, judgments, predictions, analyses, rationalizations, etc., etc.
And what is the cost of all those words?
They can control and package experience prematurely. This provides an illusion of control that may serve us in the moment but can build up as a “film” between us and others, between ourselves and what we encounter.
A possible helpful takeaway from all this is:
While words are helpful in managing our experience, the ideal order is to remain open (to the best of one’s ability) to more fully feel and allow what is, and only then to use more fully utilize language to communicate (to oneself and maybe others) what is now a more direct take on the experience.
Otherwise the tool becomes the master.
It’s fascinating (and somewhat frustrating) that the vulnerable place within myself that I protect (and subsequently reject) is the most fertile ground for deep connection with my spouse.
Our rejection of this common (human) ground makes us strangers to one another.
Our embrace of this common (human) ground creates a bond of acceptance and safety that sustains us for a lifetime.
A child is angrily scolded into submission. Out of fear, he complies, he corrects his behavior, the authority figure is satisfied.
And there is a cost.
“Injury Becomes Identity”
The initial cost is the unseen wound of rejection wrought by the trusted elder’s anger (children inherently initially trust adults). And that cost festers. It festers into the child’s self perception that he is “bad”, unloveable, problematic, defective. it becomes “who he is”.
Suggestion: After you shout or express anger at a child, pick up the pieces, take responsibility for not communicating your feelings and expectations in a more respectful way.
Learn more about the deeper source of the anger (hurt, pain, etc.) so you don’t unnecessarily burden the child with feelings that are yours to own.
The issue (which triggered the anger) can still be addressed, but without a cost that can linger for a lifetime.
We owe this to ourselves and our children.