Saturday, May 10, 2008

Piranhas and Snakes

Awhile back, during one of those postless weeks I've been having, I was brewing up a post about Hurt Feelings, and The Importance of Not Having Them. It was going to go something like this:

  • My Dad is impossible to offend. You can insult him to his face and he'll smile genially, your insults rolling like water off a duck's back. This makes him exceptionally easy to live with.
  • Not getting offended - it's the gift that keeps on giving. It makes you happier (because you're not nursing wounded feelings over real or imagined insults), and it makes everybody else happy too (because they don't have to walk on eggshells around you).
  • Do we actually have a choice about how sensitive we are to feelings of rejection and hurt? Are there mental choices (such as giving the benefit of the doubt) that we can cultivate in order to become less easily wounded?

And so on and so on. You can see why I didn't bother posting it - because no matter how many anecdotes or theories I try to pack in there, the underlying smugness is unmistakable. I'm awesome! If only everybody were more like meeeee!

I thought of that yesterday when Bub started screaming in agony. I was reading Pie her pre-nap stories, but his wails of despair could not be ignored. I headed downstairs and found him locked in the bathroom, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. There was no open wound on his forehead, no signs that immediate hospitalization would be necessary. "What's the matter, Bub? Why are you crying?"

Bub drew a shuddering breath. "Because you said, 'Don't touch the TV, please, Bub'" - fresh tears breaking forth - "and it hurt my feelings!"

In some ways, Bub is startlingly like my genial, extraverted father. He has a friendly hello for everyone, even if he has no real idea of how to continue a conversation beyond that scripted greeting. He isn't a shy child, like the Pie; he doesn't hide under the piano bench when visitors arrive, but instead adopts one of two modes - cheerful attention or total immersion in his own activities. Either way, he is unperturbed. His new capacity for hurt feeling - one he has been demonstrating several times per day - feels like a form of growing pains. Not the dull, comfortable achiness of growing bones, but a snakelike growth, a raw new skin quivering in the breeze of his new social awareness. His old imperviousness has been stripped away, and he has not yet become used to his new skin.

We were at McDonald's the other night, hanging out at the PlayPlace while the buyers of our home did their inspection. Bub latched on to the only other child present, approaching her confidently. "Are you my friend?" he asked. "Are you my best friend?"

The girl gave him a quizzical look before responding honestly, "No."

Bub was not deterred. "Come on!" he prompted and dived into one of the tunnels. After a moment's hesitation, the girl followed right behind him. For half an hour, they stuck together like glue, chatting and squealing as they climbed up and slid down. We never discovered this new best friend's name; when necessary, Bub addressed her as "you." Their alliance lasted until it was time to go home.

Bub's skin is still thick enough that he can take some initial rejection. His pursuit is open and frank, difficult to resist. But when he comes home it's as if he's practicing for the ordeals that he dimly perceives ahead of him, toying with feelings of rejection before sticking his toe further into the piranha-infested waters of friendship. I am amazed, delighted, at his new capacity for social interaction. So why do I feel almost breathless with fear?


Bon said...

...because those of us whose feelings get hurt are forever vulnerable...and no matter how wise we know your teachings on Not Getting Your Feelings Hurt to be, we cannot seem to cover that new skin completely, or think it away.

that's why i'd be scared, anyhoo. :)

am i to guess you are like or unlike your dad? i would've guessed unlike...but the post left me wondering.

Bea said...

Bon - In all the most obvious ways - looks, interests, personality - I am like my mother, but the older I get the more I realize how much of my temperament I got from my dad. I have a pretty thick skin, I think, though I never would have thought of myself that way when I was younger.

Omaha Mama said...

It's hard to watch your child be vulnerable, even harder to see their small egos crushed. My B has had several interesting situations come up at school, each one hard to take, but a great opportunity for growth. That's the only way to look at it that doesn't break my heart!

Beck said...

My skin is like tissue paper, metaphorically. I can hurt MY OWN feelings, for example.
I think there IS something terrifying in sending this fresh, open little heart out into the world because WE KNOW THEY WILL GET HURT. And we can't protect them. It's the worst feeling.

Karen said...

if it were me, I'd be dreading the day that initial rejection really did hurt those feelings of his, especially if that happened w/o me around.
I am categorized by both parents as too sensitive, by which I think they meant, I was wrong all the time for feeling as I did. This wasn't particularly helpful in developing a thicker skin for the wider world. I'd wish they'd taken a different tack and helped me form some strategies. The too sensitive label leaves me with nagging self-doubt as to what it would be normal to feel in any given situation (b/c clearly there is no way I could be normal)

Jenifer said...

I agree with both OM and Beck! It kills me when something happens at school and Papoosie Girl is hurt. It doesn't happen very often as she is pretty hard to flap most of the time, but when it did she took it hard and while I see why she must go through this, it still breaks my heart.

There will always be that kid that goes around deciding who can play and who can be friends and who can sit where and sometimes you are included and sometimes not. I tell Papoosie Girl to play with everyone she likes not just 'those' kids so that she has all kinds of friends to play with and doesn't get stuck with one bunch of kids.

As for me, my Hubby refers to me as a peach - very easily bruised. Although I will say I have learned to not be so easily offended...sometimes it really is the other persons issue and not mine.

Lady M said...

"be like meeee!" Haha! I understand what you're saying.

I used to have a close friend who was so highly sensitive that it was exhausting. She moved out of town, so it was a natural, gentle parting of ways, but eliminating the need to walk on eggshells made life much easier. During various hormonal swells during pregnancy, I got touchy at times too, but tried to remember to keep it in perspective. It'll be harder when my body returns to "normal" and I run out of excuses.

I try not to think about all the future opportunities for my children's feelings to be hurt . . . it's too overwhelming. One day at a time.

Niksmom said...

Such a pwoerful description of Bub's growing. I suppose the hurt is inevitable for all of our children. What counts, in the end (IMO), is how they learn to deal with that hurt.

And yes, I do think we can develop the capacity to choose not to be hurt. It's a tough balance though.

Happy Mother's Day.

KAL said...

Maybe because a thick skin is usually earned the hard way? That innocence that kids have is so heartbreaking because we know there is so much out there that can hurt.

Mimi said...

Oh god, my skin is so thin, I writhe in anticipatory agony of pretty much all social occasions. It's ridiculous: I thought I might be hurting the feelings of my current house by getting excited about my new house. It's anthropomorphic social anxiety!

But for Bub, this is really progress! It's fantastic! How wonderful that he'll be ... um, continuously wounded by the world? It's, urrr, a mixed blessing.


Silver Solo said...

i'm a first time visitor so, you know, i had to read this again before i realized that you were talking about your child. i thought this was about your husband.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I'm also incredibly laid-back about getting my feelings hurt. Which can actually backfire when I'm in Mom mode. When my children are crying over a perceived slight or a lip-quivering, "But he hurt my feelings," moment, I'm usually inclined to pull them close and say, "You know what? It's not that big of a deal."

And sometimes, I wonder if I should be more validating of their feelings.

Aliki2006 said...

Perhaps it's amazing we are all bloggers--us with these paper-thin skins of ours...or maybe blogging gives us the safety we need? I am thin-skinned--more so than I'd want to be.

This was a perfect, spot-on post. I can't stand to see my children's feelings hurt. One of the hardest parts about L.'s situation is just feeling powerless to stop him from being hurt yet knowing that he feels the hurt keenly.

Merle said...

Your fear, I think, is the same fear we all have as our children enter the world of school and increasingly important peer relationships. Even without a son with ASD, I am petrified. I was thinking last night that the best thing I can do, is hold him when he cries and convince him that he's strong enough to get through it.

kittenpie said...

Oh, it's always hard to see our babies hurt, to wonder how someone else could not love them and even be mean to them - but then, with most kids, there's give and take, and there are times when they will try out the mean behaviours, too. I'm not sure if that's true of Bub or not, but it does help me accept it in Pumpkinpie's case. And of course, use the hurt feelings to explain why she shouldn't hurt others that same way.

Cyndi said...

It is hard when their little feelings get hurt. The hardest thing around here, though, is deciding whether they are really hurt or she is just upset that she got in trouble. More likely it is the latter.

niobe said...

My mother the psychiatrist taught me that shen another child did somethimg I didn't like, I should say "It hurts my feelings when you do X."

I seldom tried that at home, though, because my siblings' response inevitably was "But, Niobe, you don't have any feelings."

Karianna said...

I know that I am very sensitive. And so I usually stay silent when I feel offended. But then sometimes I wonder if I end up being treated like a doormat because I don't want to admit hurt (or hurt anyone else) so I don't stick up for myself. 'Tis a vicious cycle!

Meanwhile, my son goes back and forth between being much too sensitive and yet clueless when his classmates are making fun of him. It is tricky to teach him self-esteem, confidence, and yet empathy, too while I know that my balance of all of these is out of whack!

Bea said...

Mimi - Yup. We had three showings the first day, and the offer came by 7:00 that night. Of course, now I wonder if we should have asked for more. :)

Lisa b said...

I cannot count the number of times I have been told by the girl recently that I have hurt her feelings. Often all I have done is say 'no' to something such as hitting her sister.
I am hoping this is just a phase.

Janet said...

Hailey's feelings are perpetually hurt, like tonight, when her brother accidentally crashed her random sand tunnel. And she wailed and thrashed about as if he had sliced off her toe. Oy.

I think it was once my kids hit school, I truly realized the enormous potential for hurt and started holding my breath. I'm not sure when I will exhale. Perhaps never.

On an unrelated note: your house sold! Congratulations.

Kyla said...

If you're like me, the fear is because Bub is a tiny bit different than other kiddos, and as long as he isn't emotionally affected by their reaction to him, it doesn't matter. But now, he's keying in on that and it is frightening to see your child be vulnerable in that way, especially when kids are not always kind about quirks. Or maybe this is what they call projection, LOL, because I've been thinking about it in terms of KayTar a lot lately. She's been trying on lots of emotions lately.

Mad said...

I too am becoming hardened with age. It's a relief, really. Still, the skin could be thicker.

Glad to hear about the house.

Piece of Work said...

This is puzzling me. I'm trying to figure out where I fall on the skin thickness scale. On the one hand, I very rarely get my feelings hurt, always assuming that the words weren't meant the way they sounded. On the other hand, I don't really connect with people very well, I'm pretty isolated in fact, and I am sure that's a defense mechanism--this way I don't have to hear any hurtful words.

Anonymous said...

"Why do I feel almost breathless with fear?"

Maybe because you have been through your share of rejection as most adults have by the time they have kids. I always found it so much worse watching my children go through it but rejection apparently didn't kill me and it won't them. When my kids were sick I used to say, "If I could take the hurt from you and give it to me I would". Same principle. It is tough to watch your children go through many rites and passages of life but they must.
The good news is Bub is getting better and better at navigating social stuff.

Stimey said...

It's so hard to see your kids have hurt feelings. It's bad enough if you do it, but to see a peer do it is more difficult. It is really scary to look ahead to those things. Especially for a child who may need a little more positive feedback to keep approaching kids.

But hooray for the increasing socialization!

wheelsonthebus said...

Because once they venture out in the world, we cannot protect them anymore.

Zach went through a phase when he said anything we said that was not to his liking "hurt his feelings." Is it possible Bub is trying out the power of those words?

Christina said...

My own skin is rice paper thin. Despite all of my efforts and desires to not wear my emotions on my sleeve, everyone can tell when I'm hurt no matter how hard I try to hide it. Some have taken advantage of this and used it to hurt me more, knowing that it affected me.

I'm grateful that Cordy has yet to reach that stage. At this point she thinks the best of everyone and no matter how mean another child is to her, she doesn't seem to notice the social lashing. She's starting to vocalize her emotions more, but when it comes to recognizing emotions from someone else, she interprets every non-verbal cue as happy. I often think that's not a bad world to live in. ;)