This was how Courtney felt too. The same dynamic was playing out in the next generation, though not immediately recognizable to Jill because the script was different. Jill never would have dared to be openly hostile or blatantly self-destructive and defiant like Courtney.

What should Jill have done in the first place and what should she do now? How can we tell whether our reactions are legitimate or coming from our own unresolved issues?

Clues that our own issues are rearing their heads

  • When our feeling reactions (anger, self-righteousness, shame) are powerful and require immediate release
  • When we are certain we are “right”
  • When feeling the need to “teach a lesson”
  • When taking our children’s behavior personally
  • When finding ourselves being repetitive or in a repetitive cycle with our children
  • When finding ourselves lecturing
  • (See also Guidelines for Parents (CALM) in Prom Primer: Know Your Limits)

Jill’s hasty overreaction caused her to miss an opportunity to get to know her daughter, be close to her and help her, which is what they both really wanted. Had Jill not come to rapid judgment and panicked, she might have been able to praise her daughter for expressing her feelings in an artistic way and been curious about the collage – how it affected Courtney to make it and what it meant to her. The collage could have served as a conversation piece to bond them. It offered a medium, as art, film, and literature can do, to talk about the images and feelings in displacement, and what led her into that world of darkness – potentially providing enough distance to buffer the topics.

Though at first Jill was certain and thought it was obvious that destroying the collage was the right thing to do, when she came to understand that the collage was symbolically a part of her daughter – an expression of her pain and struggle – she began to feel saddened by how she reacted and less entrenched in the struggle. She loved her daughter and did not want to hurt her or contribute to her feeling bad about herself. She was surprised to learn that although she and her daughter were different in many ways – a chronic source of disappointment to her – they may not be so far apart in some ways. Jill saw that her daughter was feeling how she often felt growing up in relation to her own mom. Something clicked inside her and she felt for Courtney in a new way. She understood what it was like to feel ashamed and exposed. As an adult this vulnerability from her past resurfaced both in relation to Courtney and when faced with disapproval or judgment by an authority figure whose opinion mattered to her.

Jill felt regret and sadness as she recognized that in an unconscious effort to banish shame inside herself she was unknowingly passing it on to her daughter. In becoming aware of this process, Jill was able to talk to Courtney with compassion, rather than blame her, and take responsibility for her own reactions. That allowed a healing process to begin between them.