One of the Last TaboosPosted: March 25, 2013 | |
In reading Edward Marriott’s article When a Bough Breaks – Volcanic feelings of love and hate are part of being a parent: it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise, I finally found a word for the frustration I’ve been experiencing – Ambivalence.
“What is distinctive of our times is how few parents — still, even in our post-Freudian age — will openly admit to feelings of ambivalence towards their children. In an age where very little — from sex to money — is left a mystery, parental ambivalence remains one of the last taboos.”
It is the unfamiliarity with ambivalence in relation to my kids that has surprised me more than anything. I really didn’t know that the feelings of conflict inside of me were normal, common, and have always been so.
As Marriott contends in the article, ambivalence is more than just mixed feelings. It’s the end-all-be-all of mixed feelings – nothing short of love AND hate. Loving is the easy part – it is the word “hate” that has caused the most distress for me. Actually more than distress. Shame. The “s” word.
I am ashamed of the number of days that I have completely resented making dinner for my family. If I am stuck in the negative sway of ambivalence I no longer want to be involved with people, much less care for them domestically. No laundry, dishes, cooking – I just want to quit.
I am ashamed of my thoughts of violence or abandonment of others – specifically my children. Left-brained rational thought says my feelings are dangerous and should be eradicated. Right-brained emotional thought wants to rage and scream and get recognition for the depth of my feelings.
The shame compounds itself because I feel powerless, completely immobilized sometimes, to do anything but sit in negativity, for the simple fact that I don’t feel I should be having these horrible feelings in the first place! I hold onto a common human/parent lie (that we must love without interruption), so each incidence of anger and the resulting shame grows into a mountain.
I have felt this ambivalence when someone will say “What a cute little guy!” about one of my sons. “Sure”, I say, “cute as the devil’s spawn!” Then I reply with something like “Yeah, but he’s cute so I keep feeding him!” I watch myself say these things knowing that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I could say something cute and cuddly, and deny the negativity, or I can make a negative comment that could get me into hot water. This culture seems unready for wholly honest responses that are less than loving and attentive. Responding to a stranger’s passing remark is probably not the best time to let the honest rage and anger out – best to keep the loving facade up – but finding ways to embody and acknowledge all of me is important.
Bradley Olson, Ph.D., also talks about ambivalence and its tendency to make us “supremely uncomfortable”. Many of us then turn that uncomfortable feeling into a soap box to lecture others what they’re doing wrong, or passive-aggressive games with family, or, blog posts about our kids that start out honest and raw and end up in a heap of hugs and love – but never giving full attention to the deep, inner feelings, other than socially acceptable positive ones.
Our culture has created a command that we always look like we love our children. The heresy, to use Olson’s term, of not buying into that command is supremely uncomfortable, but also exhilarating. Exhilarating because as I see it, heresy is essential to growth. We must step outside of convention if we wish to grow.
As Marriott talks about, the repression of the ambivalence can be “risky to others”. I agree, and I would point out that heresy of thought is not the same as heresy of action. I can have thoughts about my children that are not loving, but the moment I act it out, I have crossed the line. And, as Marriott also mentions, no one wants to be put in the same group as the abusive parents that we read about in the headlines. If I repress the darker parts of our myself, I am much more likely to try to repress the darker parts of my children, others, and myself. We in effect transfer our own negativity outward, committing heresy of action. I have found myself transferring that negativity outside of myself more often than I like to admit. I have put my children, husband, and most often myself at risk, more than anyone else, when I haven’t acknowledge all of the feelings caught up in my ambivalence. I rage not only about the feelings I have today, but all of the ones from yesterday that I suppressed.
Now that I can recognize that I have ambivalence, the full spectrum of feelings, toward something or someone, I have a stopping place for my emotions and breathing room to figure out how my actions can be appropriate and my thinking and feeling might come from a deeper place than before. The idea of a stopping place reminds me of Using Mindfulness Practice to Deal with Negative Urges by Shinzen Young. In a quick nutshell, we are to divide the components of the negative urge up into manageable pieces. Uncomfortable body sensations, memories, plans, judgments, beliefs are all bound up in us, getting stuck if we let them. I find that loud music and dancing, or taking a walk are two physical things that I can do to dissipate the negativity.
A friend of mine wondered if we would have less ambivalence if we raised our kids in line with the “it takes a village” concept. I don’t know that we would have less ambivalence, but I know I sure could use more loving support when the pendulum swings toward the negative end of ambivalence, and that might soften my reactions. The strength of having a village support us while we stumble through parenting could be found in the ancestral knowledge, experience, and stories of ambivalence. We would come to understand that ambivalence exists inside all of us. We might just create a moral fabric for our village that includes the depths of our being, thereby negating the need to commit heresy against the old repressed ways, for the old repressed ways would leave us.