Word Of The Day: Projecting

Okie Dokie.

Let me start by saying I’m not a “helicopter parent” (I hate that term) in the sense that I sometimes forget my kid’s teacher’s names and I let them play out of sight pretty regularly. I even periodically leave them home alone for 20-minute increments while I run to get something at Publix 1 mile away.

(Or maybe sometimes run to grab a rare Pokémon when the local Twitter guy says one has popped up nearby.)

BUT! There are a few things I do which tend to have that similar “over parenting” effect. As I was talking to my therapist (DRINK!) this week about Wesley’s plan, I casually kinda referenced how we do one-on-one dates because when he misbehaves so terribly he often reflects back that he doesn’t think we love him. To which, of course, I panic because THAT IS A TERRIBLE FEELING, to think your parent doesn’t love you.

And my therapist stopped me DEAD in my tracks and gently said, “Now, Kim. You’re projecting your own childhood feelings of fear of abandonment onto Wesley when he says those things.” She went on to expound that him saying ‘You guys don’t love me!’ is not the same thing as 8-year old Kim worried she wasn’t loved. 8-year old Wesley’s family is not the same as 8-year old Kim’s family. When he says those words, I am unknowingly projecting the feelings I had thinking the same thing as a child. But I had a childhood that actually produced legitimate doubt, he does not. He has two very loving parents at home. I’m basically trying to console 8-year old Kim’s fear of abandonment when I am responding to 8-year old Wesley.

HOLY SHIT, GUYS. She is right. And then I thought of another one he does that triggers the same response from me. He tells me he’s scared and I immediately drop everything to alleviate that fear. We’re actually embroiled in some really frustrating sleep issues due to me allowing him to “be scared” for months which meant he never slept alone anymore.

But here’s the thing. 9-year old Kim had an incident where some pervert thought it would be great to take off his clothes and walk down the hall where I was sitting watching TV in a building where my Dad worked. I had to talk to the police about it and I got really scared for awhile that he was going to kill me for ratting him out. Then 10-year old Kim had her house broken into. And also, young Kim lived on a busy street in sight of the interstate with the housing projects on one end and things like meat-packing plants on the other end. It was not a “safe” feeling neighborhood. It wasn’t even a neighborhood.

So when young Kim was scared? She had very concrete fears and traumas she was dealing with. She heard gunshots periodically. She called 9-1-1 once on the phonebook guy because no one should be at her door in that neighborhood. Wesley lives in suburbia with very minimal crime and deer periodically in his front yard. He’s never experienced a crime close to home. Essentially? I’m projecting 8-year old Kim’s VERY real fears onto 8-year old Wesley when he says he’s scared, so I’m responding to him as a way to comfort her which basically means: He’s playing me.

When Wes’s pediatrician asked him what scared him he said, “My sister told me this story once…” and I stopped him right there because I’ve heard him blame her before. She evidently told him a scary story a few months ago and it scared him that one night and I got onto her for doing that. (It couldn’t have been too scary, she doesn’t even like scary movies when Wesley loves them.) Well, ever since (because he heard me get onto her about it) he’s trying to blame her and that story every time he’s scared. So part of me knows he’s just trying to get what he wants by throwing his sister under the bus. But the other part of me just feels the legitimate fear still that young Kim felt growing up and gives into his requests anyway.

So basically I learned that I sometimes respond to my kid’s tactics to get attention, as a way to comfort young Kim. Projecting her feelings onto them when, in reality, they’re no where near as scared as she was, and no where near as fearful of being unloved as she was. They don’t have abandonment issues, that’s all me. But I’m consoling them like they’re worried they’ll be abandoned.

BOOM.

So last night Wesley started one of his episodes where he got angry and tried to play me for attention and I just ignored him. We were driving home from Soccer so it was easy, but I just kept driving and then when we got home I said. “Are you still hungry? Do you need something else to eat before bed or would you just like your bath?” I didn’t even address the tactics earlier. And do you know what he said, “Well, the first thing I want is to tell you I’m sorry.”

I’m not saying that everything is going to be perfect from here on out. Wesley definitely has issues we’re still investigating, but I’m learning that maybe I’m compounding some of his tactics at getting attention by projecting my own very real fears from childhood onto him when he says the words I used to say. When I feared being unloved? Or feared bad guys? I had very real experiences in my childhood that triggered those things as actual possibilities. And like the therapist said, if he had similar situations? We’d start by counseling those traumas. But since he doesn’t? We can kinda just can safely assume he’s playing me like a fiddle.

So last night we started a new thing. Before bed I told them I was going to try to get in the habit of telling them things I love about them or things they did that make me proud. So that no matter how much trouble they get into during the day, they know they’ll have that coming before bed. That way it kinda appeases my need to be like, “OH NO! HE WORRIES I DON’T LOVE HIM!” when he’s in trouble. I can ignore those jabs knowing I can reassure my love for him before bed and instead focus on whatever it is we’re addressing in the moment.

My therapist will be gone for my normal Thursday session next week so I’m super happy she left me with so much to think about this week. 🙂