OK, last one on the Code book, I promise. Now that we’ve addressed the over-parenting argument, let’s look at where it came from: your childhood! Ding, ding, ding–that’s right, you win!
(Pull open door #1, Monty! What’s that? You just won a trip to the psychiatric ward?! Ha ha, me too! I’ll be seeing you there!)
So apparently, a lot of our stress (or anxiety) as adults can be traced back to our childhoods:
A child’s attunement and addiction to his mom programs him to be more anxious in life. It is this anxious, unresolved emotional attachment we have with our parents that creates the level of chronic anxiety we carry into adulthood. (To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, 64).
So, basically, if you’re the child of a somewhat anxious parent, you’re screwed.
And because attunement is a child’s training ground for how to interact with others, he will go on to replicate this anxiety-laden attunement in his future loving relationships….In summary, [attunement]…is the means by which a mother-infant bond that gets stuck then programs a child to become anxious and act out. This anxiety actually programs the child’s brain for overreaction as he grows into an adult (64).
I don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly starting to understand why my super-mellow friends are so mellow, and why the rest of us are not. Never mind what this says about most of my close relationships, much less my world view. Stay with me on this one–we’re going a little deeper.
What happened when we were kids, Code says, is that our amygdala registered any potential childhood mishap as a major threat to the mother-infant bond, then created an emotional imprint or amydgala memory of the event to keep us from having to experience the same pain twice. “The problem is that any little mishap or hiccup in a caregiver’s rapport with her infant may set off the alarms in the child’s brain (65).”
What makes this once-bitten, twice-shy amygdala memory a burden is that it essentially records a bunch of “misunderstandings” between caregiver and child back before the child could even speak. Thus, we all grow up with these wordless blueprints for how to react to others, but we don’t understand where they came from or how they got there. Small wonder we are often surprised by what pushes our buttons, and our emotional outbursts seem to come out of nowhere….
Unfortunately, the amygdala never forgets an insult, so we carry these anxious, hypervigilant, overreactive memories into our adult relationships. We then overreact to something our loved one says, and we can’t explain why. We simply can’t remember the original incident with Mommy that caused the amygdala to lay down its once-bitten, twice-shy warning in the first place, years ago (66).
(I told you this was frightening stuff. I mean, Jesus, it’s bad enough that we’re trying to tunnel through our own stuff here, and now I’ve got to worry about the fact that I’ve already permanent damaged my kids? God help me.)
So, we’re already freaking out from our childhood amygdala stuff, primed to fly off the handle with our spouse when s/he does something that sets off that deep-rooted memory. How do we respond?
Well, we like to think we respond reasonably or fairly, right? Not so, says Mr. Code.
We view the world through fight-or-flight glasses. These glasses have very thick, cloudy lenses–one lens is anger; the other is fear (85).
Hmm, I wouldn’t know anything about either of these. Hahahahaha! (Followed by the sound of my sobbing.) But at least I’m not the only one struggling with this stuff. When it comes to marriage, a lot of us are flailing in this area:
In a sense, many spouses are stuck in fight-or-flight mode and unconsciously seek someone to fight with (or flee from)…. Blaming Our Spouse is a vicious circle that can become a downward spiral that sours our marriages. It starts with anxious irritability that makes us trigger-happy with our fight response. Next, we either provoke, or feel provoked by, our spouse, so we unleash what we perceive to be a counterattack. This either simmers as tension between the couple, or escalates into open conflict. Either way, it creates an amygdala memory that leaves both spouses even more reactive to each other the next time around. (86-88)
I don’t know about you, but I actually felt better after reading that passage. Finally, an explanation for why Ken and I couldn’t seem to break the yucky ways we were fighting.
One last point I’d like to cover before I throw myself out the window over here: despite everything we’ve just read about above, fighting is still better than the alternative. Couples who don’t fight, Code suggests, often end up divorced or with a troubled child .
Avoiding our spouse, Code says, is worse than arguing. Here are some common ways we distance ourselves from our spouse without realizing it:
* The Silent Treatment
* Cell Phones and Laptops
* The Kids’ Activities
* Distancing From Our Own Parents
Avoiding our parents is a sure sign of high anxiety and reactivity to our parents, which indicates Incomplete Weaning…. This high anxiety probably affects how we relate to our spouses in our marriages as well.
* Emotional Divorce: Away from Our Spouse and toward our Child
But here is the danger of Emotional Divorce, and it’s arguably the most important thing you’ll read in this book: when we move away from our spouse in an Emotional Divorce, we never remain alone. We often move toward our children by becoming too attached, anxiously overfocusing on a child’s defect, or both. (107-110)
Which brings me back to the passage that inspired me to start writing about Code’s book in the first place:
In today’s society, Projection onto Our Children has become so common that few of us ever recognize it as a problem. In fact…most of us believe making our children the center of our lives is a normal, child-friendly thing to do.
It may be common, but it is not healthy.
Psychiatrist Michael Kerr describes the dynamics between the couples he counsels and their children. A child picks up on his two parents’ marital discord via his attunement with one or both parents. The child senses something wrong and he feels anxious but he is not sure why. The anxiety he absorbs eventually hits critical mass, and he develops a symptom. this makes him have a “problem,” which diverts the parents’ anxiety away from each other and onto their child. (111)
OK, I think we all need a break here. I certainly do. Tune in next week for something a little more light-hearted. In the meantime, try not to drink too heavily, will you?