The Diffident

If you hadn’t already guessed, my therapist is into family systems therapy. She’s encouraged me to write about all my different “parts” or personality components. She tells me that acknowledging and expressing gratitude are the first steps in reconciling and connecting the disconnected and warring portions of the psyche.

At 18-months my son is roaring into the “terrible twos”. He is rightfully frustrated at his lack of ability to explain and meet his needs at the same time as exploring his independence. The result is a lot of tantrums.

I’m not proud to say that I’m struggling to keep my cool. The bruiser (see last post) is at the gates and some of my other less attractive components are also coming into play. Not making excuses, but part of this struggle is exacerbated by interrupted sleep (hear my fellow parents moan about regressions). Another part is my own childhood had of a lack of understanding and compassion. In my more desperate moments it’s hard to give my son something that wasn’t modeled for me when I was in his position, with those needs.

But – I want to improve. I want to be better for my son, for my partner.

Today’s topic is the diffident.

In sharp contrast, but complementary, to the bruiser is a component of my personality that is almost completely devoid of confidence. She believes that I am incapable of taking care of myself and solving simple problems. In the face of adversity she freezes and floods me with doubt.

She’s front of mind this morning.

My son was up throughout the night, he’s congested and coughing following what feels like our 300th cold this season (yay daycare germs!). We’re past the bulk of the cold but the cough is interrupting my son’s sleep and at his age there is little over the counter medical relief. My partner was a superstar and got up with him giving me another couple hours of sleep as I also seem to have caught the virus and am struggling. When I got up, I started to make our son breakfast. He had a total and complete meltdown about sitting in his chair to eat – an event which has been happening with greater frequency of late. I froze, not trusting myself to take action. I think he sensed it: wouldn’t stay (screaming and fighting to get away) with me while his dad got dressed, had his own breakfast, got ready to take him to daycare.

The soundtrack in my head was a resounding “you don’t know what you’re doing”, “you can’t add anything of value to this situation”, “you suck”, “of course you can’t comfort him”…

I recognize the irony of my freezing in this moment made the event a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: I couldn’t add anything to the morning to make it better.

I think of the diffident’s role in my early childhood and it breaks my heart. She exists because for a long time it wasn’t safe for me to take action. My father is an alcoholic and like many alcoholics his disease makes him chaotic and narcissistic. Offering a solution or trying to fix a situation was not a safe thing to do around him as a child. The chaos and turmoil was the excuse to drink and standing in the way of that had consequences.

When I try to imagine what would happen if the diffident didn’t freeze, my mind tells me that people will get hurt, bad things will happen.

Like my relationship with the bruiser, I’m told the path forward comes from trying to find a new role for the diffident going forward. To gently show her that the circumstances have changed and despite the great work she did to protect me in my childhood, freezing isn’t the best reaction in my adult life.

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