How the process of Psychodrama can help develop self awareness.
Parenting can create the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It doesn’t matter what stage of development or age of your children, they will bring out the best and worst in you. Lately, I have been feeling I am a failure as a parent, and given the nature of my work, it feels even greater at times. In these moments, when I feel I am not adequately handling my own sense of self and ability to navigate the complexities of raising young people, I go back to the foundations of my training as a psychodramatist.
The Process of Psychodrama
If only there was a rule book we could turn to for the answers to every challenge we face as parents. However, as I am sure you know from your own experiences raising kids, every child is different, and what works for one child may not for the next.
Children love action...When we role-play with them, we are speaking their language.
I may not have a rule book with all the perfect answers, but I do have a process I can tap into to guide me, because one thing is certain, each child has a basic need to feel accepted, safe and heard. Don’t we all? So how do we do that as parents when we feel we are not equipped in these moments of uncertainty? What do we do, when their very behaviour is challenging our ability to hold them in that space; to truly be with them in the moment, when we don’t accept their behaviour, or we feel so frustrated we are not listening, we give in when we should stand firm, or need to leave the room because we feel we might do something we regret? Oh yes, I understand and know this all well.
The process I use is called #psychodrama. Psychodrama is the technique of using action such as role-play in the moment to explore challenges, obstacles or aspirations. The reason this process works with children so well is because children love action and role-play is a natural way for children to process information. When we role-play with children we are speaking their language. Hooray for that I hear you say.
Breaking the Cycle
Firstly, if you are aware of all your feelings, and the impact of another person’s behaviour on how it affects you, especially the sense of inadequacy you may feel at times, then give yourself a big hug. Self awareness is the biggest first step in parenting. The reality is that we can’t feel warm and fuzzy everyday raising our kids. It is certainly incredibly rewarding, and life affirming and enriching but it is also stressful, frustrating and exhausting. Often times when we are already stretched emotionally with other circumstances happening in our daily lives, will be the same time our kids lay down the biggest hurdles.
The next step therefore, is to extend this self awareness to reflect on whether your own responses to other life circumstances are having an impact on how you are acting towards your children. This can be a toughie because the reality is that we are not just parents, we are partners, employees/employers, friends, sons/daughters and siblings, to name a few. Each one of these social roles we play, affect us. And if there is stress in one for example, it can have a ripple effect on the other roles. Just as our children’s behaviour affects us, so it is true too for how our behaviour impacts them. We are in relationship with our children. Is their behaviour a response to what you are bringing home with you? It is important to understand that this is not about the blame game. In fact it is quite the opposite. It is about appreciating and valuing yourself. We cannot change another person’s behaviour in isolation, but we can change our response to the behaviour. This change in your behaviour may in turn then alter your child’s response. This is wonderful because you do not have to rely on anyone else, only yourself. It is a cycle affect. Can we break the cycle? But how do I do this? I have been asking myself this question lately.
I look at the physical representation of my frustration and see how big it has become. I find a fire truck sitting on the pile and move it around explaining that I feel I am constantly putting out spot fires every day and this gets very tiring trying to manage all the time.
The frustration before bedtime has become a cycle of one of my children acting out and pushing me to brink with my patience. She tests me, and when she gets the better of me and I lose my temper, I then sit with my guilt for the rest of the night after their room finally falls silent. I want to break the cycle as this is not healthy for either of us and I am keen to understand why she wants to push my buttons and for her to see what my intense frustration looks like. Maybe we can find a new response to this night routine. I decide to use a Psychodrama technique called #concretisation with my daughter.
Concretisation is the act of making a physical representation of a concept, object or feeling. In this case I am going to physically represent my frustration.
I am going to start with me rather than looking at her behaviour. I create my frustration. It is big, messy and high. I use dark cushions and blankets. I empty a container of toys by turning it upside down. Toys go everywhere and make a loud noise. Then I put the container on top covering it with a blanket. My daughter watches me. She can see my feeling as I do this. I talk to her as I create, expressing what each of the things represent. I look at the physical representation of my frustration and see how big it has become. I find a fire truck sitting on the pile and move it around explaining that I feel I am constantly putting out spot fires every day and this gets very tiring trying to manage all the time. My daughter can see this too. It makes me feel sad. I tell her this. I then get three more cushions to represent what I would like to have more of: clarity, joy and patience. I express that my frustration is stopping me from connecting to those things and from being able to connect with her. My frustration literally sits between the two of us like a barrier. I ask her what I should do? I also ask her what she would like more of. My daughter then proceeds to concretise her own kindness and meanness. She wraps up her kindness in a blanket, and says that if it gets unwrapped, meanness will get in and take over everything, spreading everywhere. I say that this seems sad to me that she has to keep her kindness wrapped up. She expresses that moments that should be happy and full of gratefulness, get taken over by meanness. The more she expresses, the more fully alive she becomes. She starts coming up with suggestions at to how to get meanness to go away, and how to help kindness open up and stay around. As she expresses I tell her that my frustration is getting smaller. I remove some of my frustration. She starts taking parts of my frustration and putting them away in a bag, so they can be taken care of by kindness.
She wraps up her kindness in a blanket, and says that if it gets unwrapped, meanness will get in and take over everything, spreading everywhere.
My daughter understands that our feelings are connected and that we can help one another. Her self awareness in this moment is high. She sees how her actions impact me. After a while the bag of kindness holding my frustration becomes really heavy. I express to her that holding onto frustration can be a burden. Your kindness can let go of that now. My frustration is now really small and I can physically move to my daughter and hug her. We sit and hug, and then she grabs her kindness bag and says she is going to take it to bed with her. She knows she will have good dreams tonight. This bag can be a reminder for her when she feels other feelings like meanness are becoming too strong.
I could never have gained such insight from her had we simply talked.
By working in this way with my daughter and not making it about her but about me, she could see what my experience was and as I expressed myself her empathy could grow. I wasn’t blaming her at all I was showing her through concretising my feelings (feelings we normally can’t see), so that we both had a visual representation. We now both had a relationship with the frustration and as a result could talk and play with it. Her clarity of thought and observation skills was profound highlighting the power of this process. I could never have gained such insight from her had we simply talked. But she could see, and therefore feel, and therefore express herself very eloquently in the moment, thus coming up in herself to find new responses for this well known situation. It was empowering for both of us, and yes we both definitely slept well that night.