The waiting area of the hospital’s clinic lab was nearly full. A sea of blue masks spread across the room; each person seated six feet apart. Two rows over was a young mom and her toddler. The girl, only three to four years old, was tall for her age. Someone had taken the time to braid her black hair. Each pigtail sported neon-colored blue and pink ties.
Like a quiet mouse, she hung around her mom’s lap. It wasn’t until a lab technician called the family’s name that I noticed her. Holding her mom’s hand, she followed the tech out of the room, bright-eyed and curious.
I returned to reading my book while I waited my turn. I didn’t give the two of them a second thought until five minutes later when I heard a child’s blood-curdling screams.
“All done, all done, all done!” she screeched so fast that the words ran together. It was as if the little girl was pleading a desperate mantra or a prayer. Breathless sobs accompanied her shrieks.
Someone murmured to her. Their voice low and comforting. “It’s almost all done. Soon it’ll be over.”
Then her cries pitched higher. “Take it out! Take it out!” she yelled, over and over.
My heart clenched. A mom myself, I’d recognized the scenario since I’d been in the same situation with my three sons. The toddler was getting her next round of vaccinations against childhood diseases — a necessary life-saving evil.
But the little girl didn’t know this.
She wasn’t prepared.
Her mother hadn’t prepared her for the appointment. How did I know? As a psychologist, I’m trained to draw hypotheses from such interactions. The toddler’s calm demeanor as she followed her mother back into the room told me so.
I wondered how her mom had explained the need to stop at the hospital clinic. Maybe the two of them never discuss that day’s schedule. Whatever was or wasn’t said, the toddler had believed that that day would be a good day. That no harm was coming to her.
She then pleaded, “I don’t wanna it again!”
I agreed. I didn’t want to listen to this again either, I thought irritably. The racket made it difficult for me to concentrate. I tensed and clenched my jaw. The skin on my scalp felt stretched tight.
Just get this over with, please, I grumbled to myself.
Suddenly tearful, I realized she received a painful surprise. She had just a loss of control over herself, her body, and her situation. She’d been hurt and probably felt violated. Though done for valid reasons, what she’d experienced was traumatizing.
The Development of a Predictable World
Early on, we learn the rules to the world, and based on trial and error, we develop a template. These enable us to make fairly accurate predictions based on our experiences.
We assume grocery stores will sell us edible food. That the label on the jar accurately shows the inside content. We expect the construction of the chair we’re sitting on will support our weight.
Our expectations are derived from thousands and thousands of previous experiences and provide us with an internalized template of how the world works.
The Rise of the Psychological Self
Likewise, this same process occurs regarding our psychological self. We learn we have a physical body that is our own, and thoughts and feelings. A separateness, also called a boundary, exists between us and every other person, which gives rise to the development of Self.
How this separateness is treated teaches us how to care for ourselves as adults. Are our wishes and needs attended to and valued? Are we encouraged to explore who we are? Our sense of self-worth develops from this early care.
It also prepares us for what to expect later on. Was our personal space respected? Were we treated like a person rather than an object? Were our needs for predictability and safety prioritized?Regular invasions of our children’s boundaries teach them to expect others to do the same.
Early childhood experiences create a template.
I grew up in a culture that believed children were to be seen but not heard. My childish melt-downs were not tolerated. I remember pleading the toddler’s same words, “all done,” “take it out,” and “I don’t wanna it again,” but was told to hush up or I’d be punished.
Minor and major physical intrusions to my body were regular occurrences. The message was obvious; my right to personal space was conditional, and I didn’t even have permission to protest.
My prior experiences have had devastating consequences.
Over the past four years, I have survived horrible emotional abuse. I lost control over my circumstances, my safety, and even the integrity of my physical body. I naively made a commitment to a dangerous person because I didn’t know I deserved better.
I’ve faced the same situation as a mom.
Am I saying this toddler shouldn’t have been vaccinated? No, absolutely not.
I think back on the number of times I’ve done the same thing to my children. All three have had to be hospitalized for various reasons.
One son was dying of dehydration brought on by the flu. The medical team wrapped his weakened, thrashing body in a sheet so they could draw blood. It slowly trickled out, thick and sludge-like.
I’ll never forget the wild, scared look in his sunken eyes and how he fought against the restraints.
Or his thin cry as he pleaded for me to save him. Yes, I have hurt my children in the same way — each time to save them.
The Importance of Being a Boundary-Sensitive Parent
But how many times have we pushed our agenda or needs onto others without their consideration? Without warning?
I wished this mom had told her daughter they would go to the clinic for a health visit. That she would get her vaccination against nasty sicknesses. It would feel like a bee sting or a pinprick just for a quick second.
No doubt the little girl would have protested. Maybe sharing the details of this would have ruined their morning. It’s doubtful that the toddler would have been so pleasant in the waiting area.
But she would have come prepared.
Like it or not, the trust between mother and daughter just suffered a breach. This incident wounded it. Those painful shots have made this child physically safer, but she will now be ever-so-slightly less sure of her mother. She will be less comfortable walking into hospital-like settings. And when her mom tells her it’s errand day, she may ask a few more questions to gauge its impact to her.
We rarely breach another’s trust maliciously. It often out of expediency or carelessness. We want to save ourselves the trouble of dealing with their emotional reaction.
But doing this comes at a cost. And if it happens too many times, we eventually lose trust.
Let’s love one another better by informing each other of our intentions and the potential effects. Let’s not just run roughshod over another person’s rights, especially our children’s, whether it’s regarding their feelings or their body. Let’s do a better job of getting informed consent.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Ольга Simankova on iStockphoto.com