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How Childhood Development Affects Us As Adults

Today, a wailing child drew my attention; I could hear her cries become angrier and more frustrated by the minute. I went over to see what happened. This little girl, not older than two, was standing in front of her grandma and kept saying “I want my mama, I want mama.” But all her grandma said was “stop crying!” The grandma stood 2 feet away from the distressed child. The child kept crying. Then the grandma proceeds to “wipe her face” really aggressively. She would make threats, “if you keep crying I won’t take you to your mom!” She also filmed the child crying, probably sending it to her mom to guilt her. My friend told me earlier she had slapped the child while the child was sitting on a motorcycle and the child fell down. My heart wrenched at this thought. This grandma attempted to grab the child’s arm and said “Let’s go!” But this made the child more distressed as she continues to cry for her mom. The grandma finally said “Fine, go find you mom by yourself!” Then the little girl runs off to find her mom. She only stops when the grandma yells “Car!” Five minutes later, I saw her mom came and the little girl stood in front of her mom stomping and pleading for her mom to hug her. “Mama baobao mama baobao!” The mom kneels down but before she reached out for the child, the grandma yelled “No hugs!” The child reaches out her little arms towards her mom and dives head first into the mom’s chest. Then finally her mom embraces her and pats her back as she continues to wail but slowly her cries become whimpers and soon she calms down.

If you couldn’t understand what was going on through the child’s mind then perhaps you thought one of two things 1) the child is having a temper tantrum and must be disciplined (what the grandma maybe was thinking) 2) this child is crying, and there’s no rhyme or reason but babies just cry.

Or...the child is really looking for her mom?
What does that really mean when the child is asking for her mom? What’s the hidden message? Children depend on their parents for survival, so when the parent leaves it really threatens the child’s sense of safety. So this is when she cries out for her mom. At this moment the child needs to be reassured that she is safe, and not in the hands of an aggressor who could harm her or end her life (in their tiny minds this is what it seems like). She needed someone to bend down and embrace her (physical touch) and acknowledge her feelings, then

reassure her everything will be ok and her mom is coming back. She needs to know she is safe, and loved. That she will not die. But as the grandma kept distancing herself and yelling at her. It became a power play because the child now believes the grandma is the aggressor, she is not the source of safety she needs. The grandma becomes the enemy. The child becomes frustrated and angry as her needs are not met. But now must fight for her life with the only way she knows how. She runs off but she stops when her grandma yelled at her to watch the cars. She’s still under the control of her grandma because although the grandma is an enemy, she knows Grandma is the only source of familiarity, her last chance of survival when it’s the little girl against the world. So even though she doesn’t like her grandma, staying with grandma would give her a higher probability of surviving.

I feel for the grandma as much as the child. Because it’s possible she was denied from expressing emotions as a child or even an adult as well. She’s internalized what others have taught her and is passing on what she knew best to do in situations like these. And it caused her to be more frustrated when she could not tame the child, it’s possible she felt embarrassed so she was acting out as well. It just became a powerplay for the grandma. But again she was doing what she knew best in that moment.

What I want you to take away from this story is that this little girl is all of us, we all have a little girl still living inside of us. Fighting hard to survive. When we feel unsafe we act out.

For so long, women have been denied their feelings. Stating we are too emotional, crying is ugly, emotions makes you weak, emotions are why some women are not fit for certain careers or leadership positions. Emotions cloud our judgment. If you cry then others won’t like you. Women are crazy. When we intuitively feel something, we are said to be “thinking too much” and our feelings are dismissed. Never talked about. We are too needy. Needy is ugly. No one wants a needy girl, we want a strong independent woman. Good girls don’t cry. Men don’t cry. If you’re angry that means you’re stubborn. You want to be cool as a cucumber, we want someone chill. “She never gets mad” “we never fight” she has a really good temper. She doesn’t fuss a lot.

Yes we grew up with people telling us all the above, there’s good feelings and there’s bad feelings. But I think there’s no good or bad to it. They just are that. Feelings. Informants, protectors sometimes, but fleeting.

I understand we may not have been handed tools to communicate, to accept and provide a space for others to share as well. We judge others for showing emotions because that part has been denied from us. So we dismiss it in others. We say it’s not acceptable behavior.

I think each and everyone one of us has the capacity to feel all of our emotions, the capacity to express fully how we feel and the capacity to hold a safe space for others to do so without the fear of judgment as well.

If we could create a world where all emotions are accepted, would there be less crime and violence and death? Everyone deserves to be heard even the “worst” of our kind.

Mission: I want to create a world where all feelings are welcome. A safe place where everyone is free to express how they truly feel and live a more authentic life. I want to equip people with the tools and vocabulary of emotional expression while guiding them to become more self aware. My hope is that in turn, they will be able to grow compassion and hold a safe space for others to be seen as well. As I believe this will heal generational trauma and improve the quality of relationships in our lives.

What I’ve observed are the steps for communication:
1) Acknowledging present feelings and reassure safety first
“Ooh I see you’re really happy!”
”Hey, I see this is upsetting you..”
“Do you want to talk about it? I’m here for you”
2) Ask what happened (listening)
“Tell me more.. “
”What is the feeling saying?”
3) Say what happened in your own words
check for understanding
“What I’m hearing is…”
4) Empathize with them
That must’ve sucked huh?”
”That sounds so scary!”
” That’s amazing ! I’m so happy for you!”
5) Ask what they would like to happen next (talk more, or distraction?)

”Is there something I can do for you at this time?”
”Would you like to go for a walk?”
”Do you want to go get a bubble tea?”

Illustration by Jenny Yen @jennyfeelsthings

Jenny Yen