What Drives Arguments with Your Teen?
- Friday, March 09, 2007
What is actually driving the arguments you have with your teenager? And the answer may surprise you: FEAR! Every person on the planet wrestles with fear. People may not like to hear that. They may try to contradict this notion, "But I'm not afraid of anything. I feel perfectly safe in my home. I'm not afraid of my teen." That's good, but that isn't the kind of fear we're talking about. We mean things like fear of failure or fear of not being loved or fear of being alone.
Fear is one of the primary motivators for all behavior. Everyone has typical and often highly developed behaviors they use to deal with their fears.
As the primary motivator for behavior, fear frequently colors the way we live and react to life. Our fears can take many forms, including such things as anxiety, worry, concern, stress, apprehension, dread, defensiveness, avoidance, etc. Our fears can often be irrational. Our fear-based behaviors will often lead to us reacting, developing life strategies, and coping behaviors that carry numerous unfortunate consequences. Many times we let fear stop us from doing what we want and need to do. While there are many core fears, some of the more common ones we've seen include fears of being: alone, helpless, controlled, worthless, rejected, abandoned, failure, and unimportant.
To deal with our fears, most people—consciously and unconsciously—fall into well-worn patterns of reacting when someone pushes their fear buttons. They'll do anything to soothe their hurt. They'll do or say anything to calm their fears.
More often than not, emotions and thinking result in behavior that damages relationships. When your fears are triggered, you react. You may fear losing control, so you try to seize control. You may fear losing connection, so you try to seize connection. Reactions are "strategies" we employ to get the other person to help us feel better.
This means that it's not merely your fears that disrupts and injures your relationships. It's how you choose to react when your son or daughter pushes your fear buttons. Most of us use unhealthy, faulty reactions to deal with our fear, and as a result we sabotage our relationships. We use these reactions in order to protect ourselves. We react to the person who pushed our fear button by getting angry, blaming, withdrawing, belittling, defending, or a host of other things. These reactions generally are an attempt to change the emotion or control the other person so that the fear goes away. Thus, the emotion of fear becomes an enemy to conquer or avoid. Unfortunately, in our protected state our hearts become closed behind our defenses and walls, which also inadvertently shuts the door to intimacy.
However, as an emotion fear can be a very useful source of information, and acknowledging and discussing fear can open the door to an intimate moment. Being willing to be vulnerable enough to share our fears with one another opens the door to sharing caring, compassion, understanding, and love; in other words, intimacy.
If you aren't connecting to the word "fear," an easier way to look at our fear is to see them as "buttons." Everybody has buttons. Our buttons are not the problem. Most of our buttons, we believe, have been with us from childhood. Even as a kid, I (Greg) remember fearing failure. I had a learning disability and my high school guidance counselor told me that I probably shouldn't go to college; he suggested that I pursue a trade instead. His words made me feel like a huge failure. So when he said, "Maybe trade school would be a better fit," it pushed my button—my failure button. Still, the buttons, in and of themselves, are not the problem. The problem is how we choose to react when they get pushed.
Many of the ways we attempt to react to or cope with our buttons are problematic. They're red flags. If you keep doing things this way, over the course of years you're going to put your relationship with your teenager at risk.
Remember, every one has buttons (fear). The Fear Dance happens when someone pushes a button and then we react in unhealthy ways. Let us illustrate the dance.
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