Today I was on Facetime with my daughter and her 14 month old baby boy. On the screen I watched him walk 3 steps, then plunk back down on his bottom. He has been taking only 2 or 3 steps at a time for the past month. But then a few hours later, she sent a video of her son walking (I counted them carefully) 16 steps in a row before stopping! He had such a look of excitement; even pride on his bright-eyed little face. I watched the video 5 times because I am the Grandma and that's what we do, we bask in each new baby milestone. Now, a whole new view of the universe (from upright at about three feet tall) just opened up for him to discover and explore.
In Developmental Psychology the average 9-14 month old goes through the stage of “normal narcissism” which imparts a new surge of energy and enthusiasm in the body that gives one the confidence to take risks and the capacity to recover easily from pain. The toddler (in this case my grandson) stands up, tries to walk, keeps falling down, gets back up and tries again. There is an inflated sense of confidence and pride, which helps him keep going until he conquers the task. If you observe toddlers at this age, you can see this undaunted, upbeat quality. One of my sisters who viewed the video of my grandson walking today said, “ he looks so confident.” Confidence is part of the normal, healthy narcissism of this age group.
Even though this is a natural stage we all go through, we all have different temperaments, some of us bolder, some more timid. We also come from different environments. Some of us had parents doing a good job of delighting in our exuberant explorations as well as supporting our needs for comfort. In some other households parents hold on too tight or do not hold on tight enough. These factors of temperament and environment contribute to our personality, which will have both strengths and weaknesses. What are you like at your best and at your worst? When at your worst, how can you move back toward your best self? What baby steps can you take toward reaching that goal? Here are four scenarios with steps toward improvement. Do any of these fit you?
BEING TOO CRITICAL OF OTHERS: If you tend to criticize or correct people, keep quiet or start with a positive remark, for example, “I like your cheerfulness, but I need you to be quiet in church”. Starting with a positive will soften your anger.
NOT BEING ABLE TO SAY NO: When you feel drained from overdoing for others, think of yourself as a parent helping a tired child and say, for example, “No, this is not a good time to talk”. Starting with the word “no” will help move you from guilt to a commitment to set limits for yourself.
NOT ALLOWING YOURSELF TO BE VULNERABLE: If you feel attached to your image of being strong, realize this is a fear of being rejected. Express your hurt and disappointment, for example, “I felt hurt by what you said to me”. Self-disclosing your true emotions allows people to see the real you and generally feel closer to you.
NOT CONTAINING AN EMOTIONAL REACTION: If you overreact emotionally to life, pause before responding and recognize what’s going on. It might help to write all your feelings down before expressing them to others. This brings your thinking brain back online. Take time to stay still, breathe and let the hurt, fear or anger be present. Visualize yourself slowly turning the dial down. Once you feel calmer, then you may confront the other person, for example, “When you criticized my daughter, I was very angry and I do not want to hear any negative remarks about her from you”. Slowing down with awareness and restraint helps you manage your response.
These are samples of baby steps in managing and communicating feelings, focusing on areas where we might have particular weaknesses. Like my grandson bursting with exuberance in discovering the joys of walking, may we each aspire to take the next step forward in deepening the joy in our lives.