Overwhelmed Being the Parent

Do you ever feel overwhelmed "being the parent" and would it be so sweet for someone to understand, on a cellular level, exactly what your on-going experience is? Does your window of tolerance shrink? Does it get stretched so far you feel you will either burst in frustration or faint from despair? That's where I repeatedly found myself in relationship with my son when his nervous system would get so heightened, and the energy got really big. My nervous system would alert me that my cup was near empty and I was in dire need of some empathy!

While being heard and seen by others with care and resonant empathy was so immensely calming, sometimes we must find ways to give ourselves some compassion when we are all alone.

One time I recognized, in the heat of the moment, a part of me believed the pain of disconnection would last forever. Nothing would ever change, no one would ever want to hang out with us, we were too much, we were too different, it was just too hard for others to be around us. I remember feeling lost.

When words like “forever” came up, it was a key cue for me to observe and notice that I had fallen into what I refer to as the ever present past. Which is a trauma bubble of an experience we had when we were younger, yet it feels as if it is happening right here, right now.

As I sat in this experience, I could feel shame spread across my cheeks, I hung my head, weary to the bone. I felt hopeless. I can remember sitting with the question, "How can I keep my cup full enough to stay present with unconditional love and acceptance, especially in the midst of perceiving hard, forceful energy coming at me?"

Now I can see with clarity that I needed to develop the capacity to be present with myself with unconditional love and acceptance before I could offer that to my child.

One particularly difficult day I felt a sense of urgency to find some way out of my empathy deficit, and at the time I wasn’t able to reach out to others for support. I got out my deck of GROK* "Needs/Values" cards, sat down at my table and began to sort them, one at a time, into two piles; one pile of needs/values that resonate with my felt sense. Meaning, I noticed the sensation in my body while focusing on the card, and another pile of needs/values cards that had virtually no effect on me. Out of 54 cards, 33 of them resonated with me. Wow - this symbolized a lot of needs/values! I noticed as I sat with the acknowledgement of what is, that my body shifted and relaxed slightly.

Taking those 33 cards, I placed them into clusters of needs/values, under seven basic human needs (connection, integrity, play, peace, well-being, meaning and choice). I saw that the cluster under the need for connection was really big - 16 cards in that cluster; connection, consideration, compassion and empathy, to matter and belong, predictability, to be heard, help & support, trust, understanding, respect, dependability, shared reality, reassurance, to have my intentions seen, and for friendship. Going over them again I let out a long sigh and felt my abdomen released. The simplicity of actually taking the time see myself, hear myself, and matter to myself by this very act of taking time for myself - was such an unexpected gift.

Next, I focused on the second largest cluster of needs/values. I counted seven cards: peace, harmony, ease and comfort, hope, balance, order, and efficiency. Ahh...the tension in my shoulders let go as I took a deep breath. I realized how deeply I longed to live my dream of peace and harmony on earth, and for the experience to offer ease and comfort, especially in relationship with my son.

With a renewed sense of hope I picked up a smaller cluster; self-expression, appreciation, meaning and purpose, and mourning. Oh, mourning was a biggie. Mourning the lack of integration and self-connection to even be able to express with contingent communication. I longed for enoughness no matter what the environment held!

Then, I focused on the remaining cards. I noticed a couple of them stood out brighter than any in the stack - safety and choice. Oh yeah, when I perceived my neuroception of safety was threatened, my prefrontal cortex (where my ability to be present and make conscious choice resides) it dimed, becoming inhibited. At the same time, my amygdala lit up (my emotional alarm system) prioritizing safety above all else!

This automatic response had been conditioned into my nervous system by my previous life experiences. I understand now, that in those moments, unless I tapped into empathy first, I would quickly perceive myself as a victim of my environment.

A few days later I began to have a crisis of imagination, because my window of tolerance was being stretched beyond belief with strong, forceful energy. I was inspired to grab my deck of cards again, and guess what? Nearly all the very same needs/values resonated with me!

"Amazing," I remember thinking. Only this time, as I sorted them into clusters and sat with each cluster to sense my core needs/values, I discovered my longing had shifted subtly around the needs/values for safety and choice. The distinction was now, "How can I experience staying clear with my own intention, in order to offer myself and others unconditional love and presence? How do I keep myself and others safe while engaging with the big energy that comes up in life?"

What I've learned on this journey is how vital it is to have empathy support, especially when feeling overwhelmed with emotions of anger and fear. When you are held with care and compassion by another being while you process your experience, including tuning into your bodily sensations, then the pathways between your prefrontal cortex and amygdala, they are strengthened.

With repeated experiences of receiving resonant empathy, you may begin to experience an ability to remain present in environments where you previously felt overwhelmed. In these moments of clarity, you’ll be able to see yourself with compassion by guessing what your own needs/values may be (self-empathy) this broadens the neural pathway while strengthening your resilience from the inside out. I also find that journaling my self-empathy experience truly supports my ability to integrate and make meaning from my narrative.

As I am empowered to sit with, and hold my inner experience with compassionate understanding, there is a visceral shift that opens my being, it opens my eyes to perceive the beauty of consciously living in this radically different paradigm. In this space, a playfulness emerges that reminds me of warm sunny days, and the delight I felt as a child, awakens within me once more.


50% Complete