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Some time ago I found myself watching a documentary on the discovery channel which was examining various initiation rites.  On it they were showing a clip of a girl, probably around 12-13 years old who was having her face tattooed.  The commentator made it clear that the rules of the initiation were that this young girl was to show no pain or discomfort (let alone shed a tear) or she would “fail” the initiation  – with severe social consequences within the tribe.

At the time, as a father myself I was shocked at the practice.  However in thinking about it more, I’ve started to wonder if there might not be aspects to such thinking that might be quite a good idea.   Before folks start reaching for the CYFS hotline number I am going to qualify that statement.  But first I need to tell you about Mary.

Mary (not her real name) was a client that came to me looking for help with how she was relating to her 8 year old daughter.  The problem as Mary described it to me was that her daughter was “impossible”.  Particularly when being asked to perform certain domestic responsibilities (sounding familiar yet?).

Mary described a range of behaviors her daughter exhibited when being asked to perform her chores, which we eventually put under the banner of being “upset” (whining, sulking, surly looks, yelling complaining – you know the drill).

Very aware that communication loops involve more than one person (or as Mum used to put it, it takes two to make a fight), I delved a little deeper.  Sure enough it transpired that when daughter became upset, mum became angry at what she perceived was lack of compliance.   And here’s where it gets interesting.

When Mum gets angry her behavior escalates (raised voice, sharper tone etc) – which of course upsets daughter, who, now feeling unjustly picked upon, becomes more “upset” which in turn makes Mum angrier.

And so we enter the communication loop – and I’m sure you can imagine how it might escalate from there.  Science has been searching for decades for a perpetual motion machine (one that requires no external energy to keep going).  If we can ever figure out how to harness the energy these kind of self replicating communication loops – that search will be over!

So what to do?

Well the first step was to get it down on paper so that Mary could step outside of the process and look in at what was happening.  Which looked  something like this.

The next thing is to realize that there are two places the loop can be changed.  Two strands that can be broken.

Daughter can choose not to get upset at Mums yelling (and just get on with doing what she’s told!).  Or Mum could choose not to get angry at daughters upset (defiance!).  Guess which part of the loop Mum thought should change?  That’s right.

Until we added in the crucial missing information to the diagram.


As we added in the different ages it became clear.  Mum is the adult, she must take responsibility.  For recognizing  that if she wants a different outcome someone has to do something differently.  And for recognizing that as an adult it was up to her to control her emotional state to drive that outcome.

Suddenly Mary realized that she had been drawn into a loop with an 8 year old and as such was playing an 8 year olds game.  When actually, her job was to model an adults game for her 8 year old to learn from.  By seeing the loop for what it was, and seeing her contribution to it she was able to understand how to change the dynamic.

Emotional control.

She chose to focus on remaining calm, clear and authorative in her instructions rather than angry and “scoldy”, no matter how her daughter was responding.

Now for those of you thinking that might be easier than it sounds – you’re right!

So we went through a couple of simple NLP and hypnotic techniques.  Techniques to help her to more easily access and amplify those resourceful states.  Specifically while in face of stress and duress!

She later reported much better results.  Her daughter wasn’t necessarily responding immediately to every request, but by being able to maintain a calm detachment she was able break the loop and get her daughter focused on the task much more quickly (and harmoniously!)

This is at the heart of resourcefulness.  Being able to control your state to drive the outcomes you’re looking for.  It’s not that getting angry is bad.  In fact I’ve had other clients who have wanted to work on the issue of not being able to get angry when it would be appropriate to do so.    And that’s the key.  The question is not can I get angry or not.  It’s can I get angry at the right time at the right person for the right reason and in the right amount.  In other words am I controlling and usefully using my emotions, or are they controlling and using me.

Which brings us back to our initiation ceremony.  While I am not a fan of forcibly tattooing young girls,  if I look to the intent behind the ceremony I see something interesting.  And I like the idea of saying, as a society, that this is our definition of adulthood.  If you cannot, even under extreme circumstances, exercise choice and control over your emotional reactions, if you cannot stay focused on the best outcome rather than geting hijacked by knee jerk reactions – then you don’t get to call yourself an adult.

So it’s worth considering, even if you don’t have a tattoo on your face – in times of stress within any of your relationships, how are you responding?

As an adult, or as a child?

Need some help staying in control of your emotions at critical times?  We can give you some quick and easy tools to keep you acting like an adult!  Contact us now

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