The Influence of Family Trauma on Parenting: AIT Therapy
Sarah, who is in her 30’s came to my office confused, anxious and scared. She reported that she was the mother of two young children, 3 and 5 year old boys. She described how quickly she became frustrated — almost to a “boiling” point when they didn’t get into the car as quickly as she needed them to, screaming in the car while she was driving, refusing to eat what she fed them, and not going to sleep when she had asked them to stop playing.
She found herself yelling what she knew were mean and shaming words. Her body would shake and she would move toward them, barely physically able to stop herself from shaking them. This is in contrast to loving, responsible parenting skills she used throughout her daily routine. Her behavior when she was angry contrasted with her self concept of being a loving, caring and gentle mother. It shocked her because she had never experienced the intensity of these feelings before. She felt there was something wrong with her that she couldn’t stop what was happening and was fearful where this might lead.
When someone’s behavior quickly escalates in either self destructive or harmful behavior towards others which is in contrast to how they operate in the rest of their life, I want to explore the underlying triggers and possible traumas from her past. While the children’s behavior would often be seen more traditionally as the identifying issue, my 30 years of experience as a therapist has taught me that the underlying problem often stems from core negative beliefs emanating from both acute and chronic early childhood trauma.
During my initial evaluation I learned that Sarah’s father struggled with alcoholism throughout her childhood. By all reports he was a rigid and controlling in his parenting style, was verbally abusive and sporadically physically abusive to Sarah, her two brothers and her mother. She described her mother as passive and needy. She spent most of her childhood seeking her father’s approval. She garnered most of her validation by excelling academically at school and often taking on leadership positions. She didn’t have the opportunity to develop a tolerance for frustration; there was no healthy modeling for handling disagreements, conflict, fear or anger. She didn’t learn an internal sense of safety, of trust. And clearly there was no modeling for healthy communication and limit setting.
In preparation for the therapy I initially addressed any negative beliefs she might hold about her ability to healing, for example, “It’s not safe to be healed” and the belief “I need to be perfect”. The way we work in AIT is to hold the body’s energy centers while thinking of a negative thought or experience. AIT has the ability to transform traumas, traumatic patterns, negative beliefs and install healthy positive beliefs.
In the therapy we targeted events, emotions and physical sensations that she experienced growing up in her family. For instance, the time when her father was drunk and hit her is one example. What she remembered was his red face, the alcohol on his breath and her fear and helplessness. After using the AIT Trauma Protocol we moved into treating and healing the triggers she was currently experiencing with her children. The next AIT protocol we used was the 3 Step Transformation where we treated the connection between the originating traumas with her anger at her children. Once that was cleared we went back to all of her negative beliefs about herself that developed in her childhood. Because AIT is natural, easy to use, she was able to self treat at home when she recognized early irritation and frustration with the children.
Near the end of our work, she felt that she had an understanding of her history and why she had developed the conditioned responses that led to her anger. She learned and practiced new ways of calming herself, changed her perception and expectations of her children’s behavior, and incorporated healthier limit setting.
This treatment method not only allowed her to be less concerned about controlling her reactions but more present to enjoy her children. She became a healthier parent. It also allowed her to be less emotionally reactive in other relationships. She became more accepting and forgiving of herself, becoming a more patient person.
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