Last Friday I wrote a post about Tara Kelly's debut novel, Harmonic Feedback. I mentioned that one of the things I loved about the main character, Drea, is that many of her "weaknesses" are also her strengths. Over the weekend, I read another book, Cryer's Cross, by Lisa McMann, which had a similar theme. I'll be posting my thoughts on that book on Friday.
This double-edged nature of most human qualities really fascinates me. I talk to my clients about it a lot. Sort of. See, many of my actual clients are children under the age of six. Which means the people I'm actually talking to are their parents. Just a note: I'm going to use masculine pronouns below. Over two-thirds of the kids who get referred to me are male--but the following is certainly just as relevant to my girl-clients. Anyway, here's why I talk about the double-edge in session:
Most of the kids I work with are intense. Seriously intense. I don't see laid-back kids in my office. The kids who get referred to me are showing behaviors that scare the adults around them. The child is defiant. Stubborn. Willful. Aggressive. Has tantrums. Major ones. Throws things. Slams doors. Hits and kicks. Spits at people. Falls to the floor and flails and screeches when he doesn't get his way.
That's the average referral. Not even an extreme one. And most of the parents who come to me are really discouraged and frustrated. They've tried a lot of stuff and nothing's worked. Once they realize my office is a safe place to be honest, they often admit they love their child, but they fear for him desperately, and they don't like him very much at times. And they just don't know why he's like this.
In the first session, I listen. I get a complete history. I ask a lot of questions. Really detailed ones. And then often, really often, I say something like the following, depending on the child's presenting problem:
"It sounds like your child is strong-willed. It doesn't take much to set him off because he's sensitive, and when he goes, he really goes. It's intense."
The parents nod.
"Guess what? Your child is legitimately harder to parent than other kids. Many, but far from all, parents have an easier job than you do. And strong-willed kids are at higher risk for certain problems than children with milder temperaments."
I can almost hear their hearts sink. But then I say:
"Being strong-willed is NOT a bad way to be. Think of the CEOs of the world. The professional athletes. Or just think of some successful people you know [aside: often, it's the parents themselves]. Are any of them strong-willed? Intense?
They nod again. They are realizing the future isn't so doom-and-gloom after all.
"OK. So. Your child goes for what he wants. He stands up for himself. No one is going to step on him, because he won't let them. He speaks his mind, even when you don't want to hear it. He wants to win. He wants to succeed, and God help anyone who tries to stop him. Does that describe your child?"
"Then what we have to do is help him meet his potential by being who he is, which means helping him use his strengths and manage his emotions. So he can go after the things he wants and get them, because he knows how to handle himself, how to cope, how to problem-solve, and how to get along with other people."
And usually, by then, the parents are ready to get down to the hard work of it because I've just helped them remember everything they already knew but had forgotten in the daily grind and anxiety of having a kid with intense behaviors. They remember that half of strong-willed is strong.
What's your double-edged quality? Is it being strong-willed and intense? Or is it something else? Being "obsessive" and detail-oriented? Being easygoing?
What about your characters? How do you go deep into their temperaments, showing both the advantages and disadvantages of being the way you made them? Can you think of any qualities that don't have a double-edge? That are all good or all bad? Are you sure?
Be sure to check out Lydia's Medical Monday post, and Laura's Mental Health Monday post!