Overcoming Parenting Impulses

Overcoming Parenting Impulses takes some work, but it can change our family dynamic quickly.

Photo Credit: Pete Char

With my oldest child, being a gentle parent was easy. We were like gears of a well-oiled Attachment Parenting machine.

I thought I had it all figured out, and then life handed me a whole new deck of cards and I didn’t recognize any of them.

My New Hand

My middle child has a developmental disability.

He becomes dysregulated easily. When this happens, he can’t be reasoned with. He often can’t understand me, though he can understand all of the words I use. He can’t understand euphemisms, figures of speech, pleasantries, or even the concept of time.

Furthermore, what he can understand varies by the hour. Just because he knew certain rules earlier today does not mean he can access that knowledge right now. He’s also prone to yelling, hitting, kicking, threatening, screaming, and breaking things.

He’s not a bad child; his brain is injured.

Survival Instincts

He’s strong and loud. When he’s dysregulated, he will attack me.

Just as my maternal instincts urge me to be gentle, my survival instincts urge me to fight or take flight when I am being assaulted or threatened.

The question that tormented me daily was, “How could I possibly feel like lashing out at or running from my own child?!” I questioned my adequacy as a mother. It didn’t matter that I usually chose not to act on that instinct.

The impulse tormented me and suppressing it made my entire body ache.

I have a friend, Chris, who teaches Neuroleadership classes abroad. He has no experience with children like my son, but the fact that he’s been my friend for nearly 30 out of my 36 years made me listen to his advice.

It transformed my life.

Your brain is wired to survive…”

He told me that in these situations, I have an automatic and habitual reaction. It stems from a time when early humans had to respond to life threatening danger on a regular basis from predators like lions. My amygdala was causing the fight or flight reaction in me. “Stop judging yourself,” he commanded.

Chris explained that I didn’t have to just suppress what my amygdala was telling me. I had a right to challenge it… Call my amygdala a liar. “My son is not a lion.”

From that moment on, it was easier to feel my maternal instincts again. It was that simple for me.

In accepting that my impulses were normal, I was able to stop being so hard on myself. In calling my amygdala a liar, I challenge it, instead of suppress it. My Impulse was natural, but it was not necessary: My son is not a lion.

His brain may be damaged, but he’s my child. We are in this together. Imagine being seen as a lion by an adult you have come to trust…

Chris’ goal was to help me stop suffering when my son became aggressive, but the result went much deeper than that.

When I called my amygdala a liar, and nullified my own brain’s survival impulse, my child also responded. I don’t think he wants to be a lion either, but he has an amygdala too…

Dawn Papple writes regularly about natural parenting, natural healing and midwifery topics for Everything Birth. Her friend Chris attributes teaching her to “call her amygdala a liar” to methods he learned from studying: You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life.

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3 Replies to “Overcoming Parenting Impulses”

  1. Fantastic post. I wonder how many of our impulses and challenging moments can be solved with that simple tool to “challenge our impulses, rather than suppress them.” Suppressing our primal brain, rather than using our evolved thinking skills, is bound to leave us frustrated and full of despair.

  2. I love this article. It comes at a time when I am not liking my son very much lately. Not only can he be verbally abusive towards me and his brother, he has also been physically abusive and destructive. So much so that I resorted to calling the police on him recently. By the time the police arrived an hour later, he had calmed down, and they just talked with him calmly about hurting me. My husband was out of town and he is very disappointed in me for calling the police. What do YOU think I should have done?

    • I guess it’s so situation specific. How old is your child? What specific difficulties do you deal with? What exactly was happening. I mean, if you feared for your safety or your other child’s safety, I don’t know what else you could have done. Do you have a back-up person you can call in those situations?