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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Parenting: What Happens When Our Subconscious Gets it Wrong?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 26th 2011

brainMuch of the way we interact with life happens beneath our awareness. Whenever an event happens our mind reaches back into the history of all or our experiences and memories to make sense out of the present moment and to anticipate the future. Our subconscious mind is filled with all kinds of experiences from wonderful acceptance, to not belonging, to trauma and abuse. If or when we become parents we don’t always have time to consider what the best course of action is and so we rely on our subconscious to make the decisions for us. But what happens when our subconscious gets it wrong?

In the past I’ve discussed how our culture often relies too much on experts to the detriment of cultivating our own reliable intuition or finding the wise voice inside. In response to this one person wisely commented:

“Unfortunately some parents’ interior voice tells them that the only way to ‘correct’ children is through beating, that belittling your child is a way to feel superior yourself, that addictions aren’t a problem for children as long as you’re able to move around, or that refusing to educate their children about science or sex because of a commitment to an imaginary person in the sky is a valid choice.

In many cases, that is what their ‘experience’ teaches them, because that’s how they were raised, and they ‘turned out all right’.

I think that it’s very helpful when intuition is balanced with good information. Leaning too far to either side doesn’t help anyone, in my experience.”

In other words, as a child growing up in a dysfunctional household (as many of us have), it’s easy to hold the belief that “children should be seen, not heard” or “boys don’t cry” or “I’m the head of the house and physical abuse is ok.” Mix this in with deep feelings of shame, unworthiness, anger, anxiety or depression and it’s easy to perhaps rely too heavily on “unreliable intuition.”

One thing we can do is look up parenting classes in our area. Not to take as dogma, but to get ideas to try out and see from our own experience what seems to be helpful (These are often available within the area). Another thing we can do is practice becoming more mindful in our parenting. Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention with a kind and compassionate eye. It may be that when our kids get out of line that it lights a short fuse and with mindfulness we can learn to notice that earlier as it appears in the body, attuning to our own pain, and in the process activating the neural circuitry of the brain that enables us to attune to others, in this case our kids.

Cultivating a practice toward greater presence and compassion in my mind, leads to more reliable intuition because it begins to break down old beliefs that tell us we’re not okay. In my experience, you can’t have an unhealthy state of mind and a healthy state of mind coexist in the same moment.

Try and bring this into your parenting today or even in to your friendships. Start noticing your body more; is there tension, tightness, or just rightness there? When you notice this, you enter a “choice point” to respond differently; perhaps it’s a moment to bring some more kindness to yourself. Let down your shoulders, take a breath, take a walk, and practice playing with your kids.

Acclaimed physician and author of Touchpoints-Birth to Three, Berry Brazelton, said “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.”

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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