Marriage Advice

Who’s in Control?

I was a very young father who was coping with being a part-time church custodian, a full-time student as well as having our first toddler at home. At one point I became frustrated with my young son and yelled, “If you do that again, I’ll nail your hide to the wall.” When he heard my words he asked, “When can I get down?” I just had to smile for two reasons. First, I had never used that expression before in my life. Second, it was a word picture that I did not even recognize what it was. All I could think about was, “Where did that come from?”

My hard-drive has stored many things over the years

What I learned through the years is that our brain is like a huge VCR that records everything we experience. It records the sounds as well as the video, but it also records the emotions that are being experienced at the time. It is a very powerful machine. When surgeons do brain surgery they can touch tiny electric probes on the surface of the patient’s brain and the person will experience old events with shocking accuracy. The problem comes when an automatic response kicks in at the point when we get worn down or exhausted. Our brain is set up to skip the “thinking process” when we are tapped out and will instead pull one of the “old video tapes” out of the archives and play it in our current situation. Surprise! You just said something your father had said many, many years ago.

Back to my response:  My dad had grown up on a farm. Some of the animals that were slaughtered were skinned and the hides were nailed to the old barn siding until the merchant would come and collect the various hides to be turned into leather products. Keeping the skins nailed to the barn siding until they dried out kept them from curling up and becoming useless. Did my words fit my situation with my two year old toddler? No, I had simply “plugged in” an old tape recording that did not really work very well.

Your brain does the very same thing

Even though we never planned it, we each have a whole library of old history tapes stored in our heads. These were recorded with almost no editing because we were very young and lacked the judgment to understand the how’s and why’s of what was happening. Think about the “camera” being hidden inside the tiny baby sitting on the floor in the middle of the kitchen with the “record” button always turned on. What that small child-sized recorder is doing is learning how to cope just like the adults in his/her lives are coping with life. Twenty years later many of those same learned skills will come back out of the dusty library and be played out in current time, with little or no intentional modification. That is scary stuff!  But, it is true.

We call that part of us the “Parent”

Don’t get confused about the name I have given this personal library. Calling it the “Parent” throws some people off. What I am doing is giving this set of automatic behavior skills a name that fits the role they take on in our current place in life. There are parent looks. (You know that look!). There are parent sounds. There are parent gestures and body postures. There are parent tones of voice and inflections. And there are parent responses to unruly behavior! Isn’t that a nice way to say discipline choices! Many of these happen almost instantly and with little forethought.

Think of these instant responses as being a separate person inside of you

If we scan over the idea of who this person is that is buried inside our heads, we can find a normal pattern to the Parent responses. The Parent wants to be “in charge”. There are command tones to the voice. There are orders given and threats of punishments if those orders are not obeyed. Stand with your feet apart and your hands firmly placed on your hips for even a few seconds, and you will see that children take notice of the authority stance.

This Parent plays an important role in making us who we are

We need a healthy Parent within our personality. It is that part of us that warns us when we cross the line of what is right and what is dangerous. It is the part of us that scolds us (or in other words: takes us to the wood shed) when we have crossed the line. Without a healthy Parent we would constantly be in trouble with our bosses, friends and families. There are many very important reasons to keep our Parent in working order because it is like a governor on a gasoline engine. It keeps us from exploding or burning up.

There are Parent Patterns that show up in our lifestyles

Individuals who have a very strong Parent will feel very comfortable in jobs that require order and conformity to rules.  Teachers of math and science, grammar and language usually feel comfortable being “in the parent”. Managers, judges, policemen, accountants, lawyers, librarians, and pastors (those who spend a lot of time teaching about sin, judgment and rules of holiness) would all be miserable if they did not enjoy keeping the “order” required by the Parent.

The Automatic Parent Response cannot really show love

While our society needs people who are comfortable working with a strong personal Parent, there is no way an automatic response that has been recorded and played back can take in the full situation and really see what is happening behind the scenes. It can respond to the immediate, urgent need but it lacks the sensitivity and compassion that demands a focused attention to the people and their needs that may be driving the bad behavior. Love takes work. Love needs your full attention to that person. Love asks questions instead of giving orders. Love requires thoughtful judgment. The Parent just can’t pull that from the archives and replay wisdom.

So, we need a healthy Parent to be healthy people. We need healthy people with a dominate Parent to serve our community. But, if we spend too much time being the Parent we can become very cold and uncaring people. The Parent controls, it demands, it orders, it sets limits and makes rules.  All of those things are important.

But, the Parent in us is NOT the part us from which LOVE comes!

This is the first of three articles that explain how we are made up of three distinct parts of our personalities.  Please continue to read the next two articles about the Child and the Adult.

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