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January 21, 2020

8/5/2015 2:16:00 PM
Kids & Families First: Our Negative "Hooks"
by Judith Hatch Orme

As parents, we've experienced power struggles with our child at one time or another. We think we know best, that our agenda is what's most important. We can force that until our child finally digs in and says "no!" This scenario can also play out between adults. Sadly, this never becomes a gain, but rather a loss that may cost us compassionate support and friendship.

We hold onto "negative stories" that keep us stuck - with our children, siblings, friends, neighbors, and colleagues - our focus being what the other person is doing, or not doing. We are powerless to change the other person and can only change ourselves. Grounded in turmoil, anger, chronic frustration, we maintain a fixed lens on others, judging what each one needs to do differently. This view reinforces a belief that we're more competent, somehow better and above blame or ridicule. We persist, even though we aren't getting the results we want. We believe we're right, and everyone else should change his/her behavior.

Changing the "story" is powerful. Admission: "What I'm doing isn't working. If I expect others to change, I must first recognize the only person I have any control over is myself. It takes courage and insight to make the first steps and change my behavior and attitude." As long as we stay focused on trying to control or change others, we remain stressed, angry, and unhappy. This applies to our parenting and any important relationships.

When parents frame their child's behavior as negative, the same dynamic undermines any meaningful connection.

A mother recently shared how she changed her negative story with her children. She was chronically angry with her school-aged children for not picking up their things in the shared living areas of the house. She decided to start using humor, focusing instead on what her children were doing well. She began connecting to the root of their resistance in a playful, fun way. It shifted the dynamic, with her children feeling more love and acceptance from her, rather than constant disapproval. They responded more openly and cooperatively.

Humor is a powerful tool for easing tension, not with sarcasm or anger, but in a compassionate, caring manner. It brings people together rather than dividing them. Whatever changes you make, remember to keep them realistic, comfortable, and sustainable. As with any new shift, expect the change(s) will not be readily received with a positive response, as breaking a familiar pattern evokes anxiety in the other person. Something doesn't feel right, even when it's positive. Particularly with children, any change in parenting often brings more challenging behavior for a while. This is to be expected. The reaction is "change back," usually because the new approach isn't trusted. It takes commitment to stay with this until it's accepted.

So what happens with adults stuck in negative scripts? What makes the conflict so important? What is the message the script is trying to tell us? Conflict can be extremely personal, although we might tell ourselves not to take it personally. What resonates are childhood scripts we unconsciously recreate in our adult lives, both with our children and in our adult relationships. Without understanding our hooks, we project, react, and believe our negative "story" about other people, not realizing we must look within ourselves for the answers. If we're honest, we may either be creating or reinforcing conflict due to our own personal issues. Until those are identified and understood, we "spin our wheels" with the same blame, judgment, ridicule, and anger towards the other person(s). When we believe we're more right than they are, it gives us an inflated sense of self-importance.

Whether the power struggle or conflict is with a child or friend, try stepping away from how the other person is behaving, and consider instead what is triggering you to hold onto the unfavorable view. What haunts us most is that which feels threatening. To liberate us from the struggle, we must first attend to the reasons we're invested in the conflict. We can learn and grow from this if we're willing to replace our negative stories with honest evaluation of what's causing our discomfort.

"Anger or hatred is like a fisherman's hook. It is very important for us to ensure that we are not caught by it." - Dalai Lama XIV

Judith Hatch Orme, MSW, LICSW, is licensed in Maine and New Hampshire. A parenting specialist, counselor, consultant, and family mediator, she provides workshops, teacher trainings, parenting consulting, divorce mediation and counseling for children, parents and families. To schedule appointments, receive her electronic newsletter, or customize a workshop/staff training, contact her at 603-801-6382 or email

Related Links:
• To email Judith Hatch Orme

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