The question A while ago, my son physically hurt a friend at school. He stopped when the teacher scolded him. The friend went ahead, forgave him, and even invited him to his birthday party, but my son still feels bad and really anxious about it. What happened was very out of line and he cannot explain why he did it.
Here it is my son’s letter to you: I am a nine-year-old boy. A couple of months ago, I hurt my friend by squeezing his neck tightly. I do not know why. Maybe he was too tired. Now I deeply regret this And I’ve felt guilty almost every day since. I apologized and continue to apologize. The boy I hurt quickly forgave me, but I can’t seem to forgive myself. What doesn’t help is that I’m not religious so I can’t talk to God and ask for forgiveness. After it happened, I was so distraught and quiet, but those feelings were repressed within me. Sometimes when I think about it, my stomach hurts. I’m writing hoping that teach me to carry on.
Philippa’s answer Yes, an almighty God, with powers of forgiveness, would simplify things, but you are not religious, so we will forget.
Nobody is good all the time. Shame and guilt are uncomfortable feelings but good enough because they tell us that we have done something that has made us feel this way and they remind us not to do it again. Sometimes we experiment, then the experiment is a disaster and then we learn that it is not a good way to do things.
You might think that humans have two brains. We could call them the animal brain and the reasoning brain. In emergency situations, like when you hit the road without looking, it is your animal brain that makes you jump onto the sidewalk before the bus hits you. We need our animal brains, as sometimes we need to act like this before we can think. When we are infants and children, most of us are animal brains and then as we get older we learn when to be in animal mode and when to be in reasoning mode. Sometimes the animal brain takes over. It gets confused about when we need instant emergency action to survive and when we need to have a more thoughtful response. Children are allowed to make these mistakes. Mistakes help us learn. So when we are younger. we have adults who take care of us because they expect us to have lapses. You and your friend were fine because there was a teacher to say stop And when they did, you stopped. You knew instantly, when the teacher reminded you, that you didn’t have to hurt your friend. I call that winning. I’m not worried, I think your teacher and mom will continue to help you learn when and when it is inappropriate for the animal brain to take over.
They are much more concerned about not forgiving yourself than about hurting people. It is important that you tell yourself that you are human and humans make mistakes and this is how we learn. Even adults inappropriately enter the brain of animals at times; I bet Mom had to apologize once or twice. When you realize that you are worried and worried, do not indulge in worry, but keep a part of yourself to see how you worry. The part of you that is watching, which is your reasoning brain, can tell the part you worry about that it’s okay to worry and feel guilty if you want, but it doesn’t have to. And it’s okay to cry and / or scream and let those feelings out.
When you say “tired”, I suspect this reason comes from an adult. Adults love that explanation when something more complicated may have been going on. Were you being teased? Or maybe you felt under pressure and the only way you could express yourself or find relief in the moment was by applying similar pressure to your friend’s neck. If you go over the incident, what do you need to say to your friend at the time, instead of doing what you did? Try yelling that out loud at maximum volume on your pillow and see if you don’t feel better.
It’s difficult, but a good idea is to put feelings into words before they start to feel like an emergency for our animal brain. Talking releases pressure. And you don’t need to have everything figured out before you start talking; sometimes we only find out what we feel by talking to others.
Dear Mama, Because we want our children to be happy, they may feel like they are letting us down if they are not. This means that it is more difficult for them to talk to us if they feel that they will not be taken seriously. Our rush to regain balance can make them feel unacceptable if they have uncomfortable feelings or strange thoughts and have no room to resolve them. Reassurance rarely works for long, instead encourage them to express their distress in words and be by their side as they cry or get angry. I really liked the way they both wrote to me together and it wasn’t behind their back.
Philippa Perry In Conversation With You, live at the Barbican, London, on September 7. For tickets, go to barbican.org.uk
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism