This is how brainwashing works.

There’s one aspect of indoctrination that people commonly understand, and one aspect that they mostly miss. The first aspect is repetition and relentlessness. The person or institution doing the brainwashing makes sure that you hear their central messages over and over and over again, every day or even every hour (repetition), while also working hard to keep you from ever hearing alternate viewpoints (relentlessness), especially ones that might support or confirm your independent thinking,  your sense of what’s real.

But the second aspect, just as central to how brainwashing works, is mistreatment. When someone is being indoctrinated, they’re not just subjected to constant lies, they also get traumatized, typically through tactics such as deprivation of food, water, sleep, and movement, brutal verbal abuse, scary threats to self or loved ones, and physical or sexual assault. This trauma tears down our defenses and makes us much more vulnerable to the lies; without the trauma, we would mostly see through the lies and reject them.

Survivors of abuse sometimes get criticized for having believed the lies told by a cruel parent or partner; judgmental people may say, for example, “Why would you believe someone who was so abusive to you?” At times this is also a voice inside the abuse survivor’s own head.

But it’s precisely because of the abuse that the lies get so powerful and so successful. If the abusive person weren’t messing so badly with your emotions, you’d notice that they were messing with your mind, and you’d be able to keep your clarity. Try to stop blaming yourself for having believed.

Thoughts from the 2nd Peak Living Network Training

Thoughts from the 2nd Peak Living Network Training

Fourteen people gathered at a lovely retreat center outside of Edmonton, Alberta for the weekend of November 15-17, nine Canadians and five Americans. We did “Co-Counseling and Community Building, Level 1,” the same training that I gave to 30 people in NY state in August.

This training had a key difference from the last one, which was that roughly half the participants were from the local area, and they had various connections to each other prior to the weekend. They had already started building a support network and were eager to bring PLN skills and principles into their approach to supporting each other. These folks will have the luxury of not having to go home and build a local PLN network from scratch; they already have their core group and now they’ve all had two full days of intensive training.

The training participants were such a lovely group of women; caring, outspoken, sticking up for each other, fiery, fighting for their kids, big hearts, willing to take risks. I am carrying these awesome people around inside me and feeling buoyed by them in the days that have passed since the training.

I want to share some specific thoughts I have as I reflect back on the weekend:

*   I’d like to see everybody in the Peak Living Network make a list of all the things you can think of that the world needs that you have to offer. Some things on the list might be skills or knowledge you could share, and others might be personal qualities you have that the rest of us could benefit from.

When you first start making the list you may have trouble coming up with ideas; most of us have been invalidated a lot over the course of our lives, so we underestimate what our abilities and positive qualities are. You might also run into a message in your head telling you not to say (or even think) positive things about yourself because that would be conceited. Try to push past those injuries and those negative voices and start building a list.

I explained at the training that it’s false to think of some people as “the leader type” and other people as “not the leader type.” Everyone has important leadership to share in some aspect of life, and one of the missions of PLN is to help everyone develop their leadership skills.

*   Learning to co-counsel is challenging, not because it involves any hard-to-attain skills but because it requires breaking a number of long-standing habits. The hardest parts seem to be: 1) Breaking the habit of switching the subject back to ourselves when it’s the other person’s turn, and 2) Breaking the habit of making reference to things the person said during their counseling turn after their turn is over. We’ll need to find ways to frequently remind ourselves and each other of these principles.

As happened at the August training, several people commented that they were already starting to feel the power of co-counseling. This is all the more reason to do it with commitment and discipline, because its power depends on those things.

*      People are reporting that they get messages in life, from a number of different directions, that say that it’s unrealistic to expect or hope for very much healing. Society seems to be rife with the outlook that things inside of us can only improve a little, and even that can only happen with a tremendous amount of hard work. Some people reported getting this message even from their therapists. So we need to put our passion into this movement and help people believe – and experience – what a huge healing potential we all have.

Photos from Unsplash, top to bottom:
Jens Johnsson, Greg Raines, Maxime Bhm


Successfully Healing Anger

Successfully Healing Anger

Today I’m offering a collection of strategies for successfully releasing anger. Anger, and more specifically how to work through it, is one three or four topics that I receive the most questions about. So I know that many people struggle with carrying a lot of anger and rage around inside them and don’t know how to relieve it.

Two key opening points about anger release:

1) The release needs to be quite physical in order to work.

2) You need to be feeling powerful while you release it, or at least not completely powerless, or the anger won’t get out.

With respect to my second point above, many people spend hours screaming and yelling without feeling any relief from their anger, and that’s because they are feeling too isolated and too powerless while they’re doing it.

There can also be one other reason why they aren’t getting relief:  because they’re screaming and yelling at actual people, instead of working on releasing their anger. Running your anger at other people — which may be necessary sometimes in order to stand up for yourself — won’t ever relieve it. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it’s easy to observe in practice. For anger to successfully get out, you have to release it alone or, even better, with a support person accompanying and encouraging you.


As always when you’re trying to work through deep emotions, I recommend working with a partner if possible. You may be able to release anger successfully alone if you are feeling generally well-supported in your life in the current period. In other words, if you can picture a specific person being with you, someone whom you feel close to and whom you trust, that may work well enough if they can’t be with you in person at the moment. Having someone with you on the phone is another good option to pursue rather than being alone.

Here are some ways to help yourself feel powerful so that you can release anger:

1)  Stand up tall, take a powerful stance (feet at least shoulder width apart), hold your head high but your chin in, which radiates the most confidence.

2)  Use a voice that is strong and powerful, not screechy or whiny. Try to sound like someone who is giving orders, not someone who is pleading or begging.

3)  Stomp on a pillow or cushion, or pound cushions on a couch or bed. Another great device is a plastic baseball bat that you can hit things with (without harming anything). Speak loudly and forcefully while you pound, but don’t yell your loudest or scream — not because there’s anything wrong with doing so, but because ironically doing so tends to make us feel less powerful, not more so.

4)  If you are working with a co-counseling partner, take frequent quick breaks to make eye contact with your counselor and take in the fact that s/he is there. Keep absorbing the person’s support and caring.

5)  Ask for reassurance periodically if you need it. When we’re releasing anger, we often feel ashamed or embarrassed about doing so, or feel that it looks kind of ugly. These barriers can be even greater for women than for men, so keep checking in with your co-counselor to see that s/he is still approving of you and accompanying you.

6)  Imagine that the person you’re enraged at is present in the room, and direct your anger at that image. (It might be multiple people.)

You might also try spewing your anger at your co-counselor as if s/he was the person you’re angry at, rather than directing it toward an imaginary person in the room. I don’t recommend, however, having your co-counselor actually play the role of that person, which can rapidly become overwhelming for you (because then there’s no one in the room being your safe person). So it’s fine to have your counselor be a stand-in for someone else, but s/he should still continue to act like herself, smiling at you and encouraging you as you blast out your rage.

7)  Keep the words simple, and say them over and over again with great force. This technique tends to work much better for releasing anger than giving a speech about all the things you’re angry about. Choose one or two short phrases (perhaps things like “Get away from me!” or “Don’t even think you can get away with that!” or “F*** you!”) to use repeatedly.

8)  It often works best to use a phrase that goes against what actually happened; for example, you might try yelling “You can’t get away with this!” at someone who actually did get away with what they did to you at the time. This contradictory-seeming approach will tend to release anger more successfully, as it will help you feel more powerful in the present. Try it.

9)  Follow on into other feelings that come up. When anger is successfully getting out, it will commonly lead to moments of crying or laughing, or even of cycling between laughing, crying, and angry storming.

10)  Take pride in your outrage. You are right to feel enraged and bitter in the face of the injustices you’ve experienced. You of course need relief from your anger because it’s eating you up inside, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you for how angry you are; anger is only an unhealthy reaction when it’s used by violent or abusive people to frighten or control others. This tends to be especially important for women, who’ve been societally conditioned to feel that their anger is ugly.

11)  If you are doing this work by yourself, keep giving yourself encouragement (“Go for it! Don’t hold back! Fight hard!”) just the way a co-counselor would do for you. And keep picturing your close people — whoever they are at this point in your life — and imagine that they’re present with you and rooting for you.

12) As always when doing deep emotional work, take plenty of time at the end to bring yourself out of the painful feelings into positive awareness and into looking forward to the rest of your day, ideally doing so with the support of a co-counseling partner.

One final point: Some people — and this is particularly common with men but is also sometimes true of women — don’t really need to be discharging anger at all, at least for the time being. For those people, the anger they’re feeling day to day is primarily a layer of deep frustration, which is different from true anger, and tends most commonly to be cover for unshed tears. These people need to focus much more on getting their laughing and crying channels opened up and then spend a lot of time working on those kinds of feelings. This is why it’s important to follow your feelings wherever they take you, and don’t try to control the process.

(* I put a shorter version of this post up on the PLN blog as well. *)

Photo credits from the top:

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

Photo by Egor Barmin on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Choosing and Working With a Professional Therapist

Choosing and Working With a Professional Therapist

Some people are fortunate enough, through private resources or through their health coverage, to have the opportunity to have an extended relationship with a professional therapist. A competent and caring professional can bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and creative technique to bear on assisting you with your personal difficulties. In times of severe emotional crisis or breakdown, a good therapist can be indispensable.

Choosing a therapist involves making judgments similar to those involved in selecting a physician. You need to find someone whose expertise you have confidence in and whose personal style works for you. Like physicians, therapists vary widely in their willingness to put your empowerment at the center of the healing process. Keep looking until you find a therapist who is willing to think with you rather than tell you what to think, and who is open to learning about the inherent releases and other healing principles from the Peak Living Network.

Here are some key characteristics to seek in a therapist:


*  Someone who respects you.
Avoid a therapist who seems to feel superior, for example one who assumes that his or her insights about your are more accurate or valuable than your knowledge about yourself. When the therapist disagrees with you about something, his or her tone should sound humble and kind, rather than arrogant  or condescending.


*  Someone who is warm with you, whose caring you can feel.
Therapy is not a technical process. Yes, a therapist’s skills are important, but they can’t substitute for the human qualities of warmth, humor, and ability to connect. Choose a therapist whom you will look forward to spending time with. Over time you should come to feel that your therapist loves you; otherwise the work you’ll accomplish with him or her will remain quite limited.


* Someone who values and recognizes your strengths.
There is so much that you’ve done well in the past, and that you continue to do well today, whether or not you feel like that’s true. A therapist may sometimes need to push you to examine issues that you’re avoiding, but that should not be the overall tone of the therapy. Frequent attention should be paid to your triumphs and abilities.


* Someone who respects the importance of having you in charge of your own healing process.
Be wary of a therapist who analyzes you whenever you don’t want to do what he or she recommends, perhaps calling your reluctance “denial” or “resistance”. Your therapist should value your sense of what will work and what won’t. (And if you decide to quit working with a particular therapist, do not be swayed if the therapist starts to analyze or pathologize your reasons for wanting to quit. Trust your own decision-making process.)


* Someone who respects the innate healing releases.
Many therapists have been trained to see the key discharge processes as trivial or even as unhealthful. For example, some view crying as “just a stage” that needs to be gotten past, or view anger as a sign of failure to accept reality.


* Someone who has a plan.
You are the ultimate authority in a therapeutic relationship — the therapist works for you, not the other way around — but at the same time the therapist should have a direction in mind, He or she should work with you collaboratively to make a plan of action for your healing. That plan should include steps you will take in your life, not just emotional work you will do in your sessions.


You may find it challenging to find a therapist who works in the above ways — or to re-train your current therapist if you already have one —  but you can do it. An increasing number of therapists are undertaking mental health work that recognizes our inner drive toward wellness, that sees our strengths, and that remembers that we live in our bodies, not apart from them. Consider alternative approaches such as expressive therapy (art, dance, music, and theater therapies, for example); body therapy; and wilderness therapy; to name just a few. (These are all established, respected approaches to emotional healing with a professional.)

If you live in a very rural area or just can’t find progressive therapists where you live, consider working with a remote therapist by phone or computer.

Finally, I encourage you to give a copy of The Joyous Recovery to your therapist, and ask him or her to work with you in a way that follows the book’s principles (but on a one-way basis; don’t ask your therapist to co-counsel with you, because that wouldn’t be appropriate for a professional therapist to do). For example, you could do all of the exercises for The Joyous Recovery with the help of a therapist, instead of doing them with a co-counseling partner or on your own.



Written by Lundy Bancroft



How To Stop Harming Others

How To Stop Harming Others

People who have patterns of behaving in ways that hurt other people can find it difficult to know where to go for help. Over the years, I’ve been approached by a fair number of people who report one of the following recurring patterns that they’re feeling bad about:

*  They keep behaving toward their children in ways that they had always sworn to themselves that they would never do. They really want to stop “losing it” and hurting their kids.
*  They have problems with an explosive temper, and end up damaging friendships or partnerships because of blowing up at people in nasty ways.
*  They get mean toward their romantic partners in ways that they don’t understand themselves, and that they feel their partners do not deserve.

If you have this kind of behavior pattern, I recommend coming at it from a few different directions simultaneously. Some of these efforts will feel more uncomfortable than others, but they are all important; in fact, the ones that cause you the greatest discomfort are likely to be the most important if you are serious about changing your behavior.

1) Stop allowing yourself to dwell on your complaints and criticisms regarding the people you’re hurting.

Although destructive behavior can feel as though it comes out of nowhere, it doesn’t really. One of the sources is habits you have of focusing on other people’s faults and judging them with unfair harshness. You need to stop feeding your own fury against people. Some ways in which you can do this include:

  1. When you start to get upset at the person, discipline yourself to think about his or her perspective. What’s their side of the argument? How might they have come to see things the way they do? Am I seeing their behavior as being terrible when it’s actually no different from things I’ve done many times myself? Can I accept that other people make mistakes, and that I do too?
  2. When you start to realize you’re focused on the person’s faults or their misbehavior, required yourself to think about something else. Focus instead on good things about them, or shift mentally to a completely different subject, such as one of your interests, your job, or something you’ve been reading.

2) Accept responsibility for your actions.

Another factor that contributes to destructive behavior patterns is habits of making excuses for your actions. Examine your internal messages regarding incidents where you have hurt someone. Do you mentally (or verbally) blame it on them? (For example, do you say, “Well, you pushed me too far, there’s only so much I can take, what did you expect” and similar blaming comments?) Do you blame it on how much stress you are under, or your lack of sleep, or how many drinks you had consumed?

Every time you make an excuse, that unfortunately helps prepare you to behave harmfully again. Change your internal messages so that you say to yourself, “What I did wasn’t okay, and I’m responsible for the choices I make. It’s up to me to commit to doing better.”

Take full responsibility aloud with the person you hurt. Tell them, “My behavior wasn’t acceptable, and it’s in no way your fault. I have to do better.” Making yourself answerable to the people you have harmed is one of the best ways to motivate yourself to change your future actions.

3) Stop asking people to forgive you.

Forgiveness is for people who make a mistake once or twice. Once hurtful behavior becomes a pattern, seeking forgiveness from people just helps you stay stuck in your pattern. Accept people’s right to be angry at you, and listen carefully to what they say about how your behavior has affected them. Never tell people that they are staying upset too long, that they should be over it by now, or anything else that allows you to escape the harm that you’re doing.

4) Make concrete plans, and hold yourself to them.

Deciding what you’re going to avoid doing is of course necessary, but it’s equally important to have a clear map of what you’re going to do instead:

“Instead of biting my boyfriend’s head off, I’m going to tell him that I’m taking a break and I’m going to go for a walk for ten minutes.”

“I’m going to stop putting my kids in ‘time-out,” and instead I’m going to tell them ‘Daddy needs a time out’ and I’m going to  require myself to go sit alone for a few minutes.”

“When I feel my blood starting to boil, I’m going to practice the skills I’m learning in my ‘Emotional Self-Management’ class and keep doing those until my emotions have evened out.”

5) Examine your attitudes.

Chronically destructive behavior is often rooted in disrespectful or entitled attitudes. This area is particularly important to examine if the targets of your destructive behavior are people who have less power than you have (such as a man who targets a female or an adult who targets a child). You can learn more in my book Why Does He Do That?.

6) Improve your listening.

If you require yourself to listen to people really well especially when they are upset with you and when you are upset with them, your destructive behavior will lessen. Being upset — including being furiously upset — is no excuse to stop hearing what the other person is saying to you (unless they’re doing all the talking and not letting you get a word in). When you make the mistake of deciding to stop listening, you’re just one step away from your next destructive act.

This principle also means that when you storm off because you’re upset, you have to come back and listen once you have pulled yourself together. Don’t use storming off as a way to get out of hearing what the other person is trying to express.

7) Keep working on your own healing.

Your past injuries are not an excuse for your current behavior, but processing them will help you succeed in your efforts to carry out steps 1-4 that we just covered. Practice all of the principles from The Joyous Recovery and work through the full program of exercises that go with the book, with the support of a co-counselor.


If Your Emotions Feel Unmanageable
Some people find that, despite their best efforts, they just can’t get their emotions onto a more even keel, and they tend to turn either mean or suicidal or both during their emotional extremes. If this is true of you, seek out “Dialectical Behavior Therapy” groups or programs, and work the skills that those programs teach. For destructive behavior that are rooted in explosiveness, these emotional self-management kinds of skills have been found to be the most effective antidote.


If You Are Being Abused
If you have a partner, a parent, or a boss that intimidates you, calls you names, controls your freedom, and in other ways repeatedly tears you down, it won’t help you to focus on what’s wrong with your behavior. Focus instead on getting your own rights back and finding places in your life where you can feel safe and supported. It’s important to read Chapter 15 of The Joyous Recovery and then pursue the additional resources recommended there.

Be aware that abusive people will often say that you’re the one with the problem. As many of you know,  I worked for many years counseling men who abuse women, and it was common for those men to say, “She takes my freedom away, she attacks my self-esteem, she intimidates me (for example, by saying that if he frightened her again she was going to call the police).” You will never succeed in convincing him that he is twisting everything around backward; in fact, people who reverse reality in this way are the most impossible people to reach in the world. Focus on your own well-being instead, while continuing to hold yourself to the highest behavioral standards you can.



Written by Lundy Bancroft



Using Peak Living Network Principles With Children

Using Peak Living Network Principles With Children

Are children a regular part of your life? Whether you are a parent, grandparent, daycare provider, or family friend you can apply the central principles from The Joyous Recovery and the Peak Living Network to enhance your relationships with young people and to facilitate their healing from the emotional wounds that life brings.

Most of the concepts from the book, in fact, require no modification in order to bring them into children’s lives. One of the central concepts of The Joyous Recovery is that children are already full human beings; they are not preparing to become human beings. Practice referring to children as “people.” Notice how unfamiliar and odd it feels, and reflect on why that’s true.

All Peak Living Network principles apply to children and teens. That means we need to talk to them with respect, as equals. We need to dramatically improve how well we listen to them. We need to stop flooding them with advice and “wisdom,” stop giving philosophical responses to their pains and discomforts. We need to recognize how deep their emotional pain is — it is every bit as deep as ours.  We need to recognize their need for emotional healing.

Perhaps partly due to my career in the human service world, I all too often hear adults saying, “Children are resilient. They can work through things. They bounce back.” Although these statements are true strictly speaking, they are also misleading and insensitive. Children suffer terribly when painful losses, invasions, and injustices happen in their lives. The above statements are often used as a way for adults to distance themselves from that suffering, to decide that it isn’t really so bad, to gloss over it.

Furthermore, children’s resilience is in no way guaranteed. As the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study showed so persuasively, children carry permanent harm from their emotional injuries unless they get the opportunity to heal from them. They carry those effects right into adulthood, with a toll taken on their happiness, their relationships, and their physical health. If you doubt it, read the study. Healing is not automatic and inevitable; it only happens when the right conditions arise in the child’s life – just as is true for an adult.



One of the greatest causes of misery in the life of a parent — perhaps the biggest cause of all for some — is the effort to stop children from crying. If we could make this one change in how we raise children, our experience of parenting would be as different as the change from desert to jungle — and the lives of children would completely change.

Here’s how a typical “Steven is having a bad day” kind of day tends to go. (I’m using a son in this example because boys tends to be denied crying even more than girls are, but even girls are barely permitted to cry.) The four-year-old boy doesn’t seem quite himself at breakfast, and after his bowl of cereal he announces, “I want a cookie!” His parents peer at him like he has two heads. “When,” Dad says with immediate exasperation, “have you ever had a cookie at breakfast? You’re out of your mind.”

But Steven’s mind appears to be made up, and he demands over and over again, and then starts to pound his fist on the table. Both of his parents yell at him to cut it out, and he bursts into tears. They ignore him for as long as they can, but five minutes later he is still crying and throwing things. Dad leaves the room furiously, leaving Mom to deal with the situation, including the two older siblings to get ready for school. She is at the end of her wits, so she tells Steven that he can have a cookie “just this once” as long as he promises to settle down right away. He squeaks out his agreement, grabs the biggest cookie he can find, and dives into it.

In the afternoon, Mom picks Steven up from pre-school after she gets out of work, and as they’re leaving the teacher take Mom aside to let her know that Steven has been a behavior problem all day. She balls him out on the drive home for misbehaving at school. Steven starts to cry. She tells him he’s not going to get out of this by crying, and that he’d better cut the crying out right away or he’s going to be in even bigger trouble. So he chokes himself off.

After dinner, Steven knocks down an elaborate farm scenario that his seven-year-old sister has created with toy animals. He starts crying when he gets yelled at, leading Dad to say to him, “What are you crying about? You knock Anna’s toys over and you’re crying? Get up in your room right now!”

Steven lies up in his bed miserably sobbing his eyes out for quite a while. He keeps trying to stop crying, but he can’t hold it back and he keeps bursting into tears again. When he can finally stop he emerges and manages to be a fairly normal part of family life for the rest of the evening.

Sound familiar? Many parents will recognize Steven’s Bad Day as one of many that they have lived. None of it needed to happen. Steven’s problem through this whole day was simply this: he needed to have a big, deep cry, while feeling loved and supported. That’s it, that’s the whole deal.

There could be any number of reasons why he needed this cry. Children need a big, hysterical, melt-down kind of cry at least once or twice a week, and sometimes more. (In fact, we all do, adults of all ages included.) During a stressful period or following a trauma, many children need to “fall apart” and cry hard roughly once per day. If this need is understood and supported, and the child is offered some physical closeness or holding and treated with kindness and respect, the needed cry will happen and then everything will be okay after that; both parent and child will enjoy their day.

Did Steven know that he needed a cry? Not exactly. A four-year-old is not likely to have that level of internal awareness. (Most adults don’t realize that their crabbiness is coming from the need for a good melt-down, so we can’t expect children to know.) But a powerful unconscious force is driving Steven to angrily demand a cookie precisely because on some level he knows the demand will be denied. He is trying, without realizing it, to set up an opportunity – an excuse, you might say – to have a good cry. Deep inside he knows he really needs it. If his parents had held firm in denying the cookie, but also had been loving toward him while he pitched his fit, he would have poured out the tears he needed to be free of, and the whole rest of the day would have gone in a much sunnier direction.

Since Steven got stopped from crying in the morning – by being given a cookie that he did not need – he felt driven to create other potentially cathartic situations throughout the day. He continued to try every few hours, not only making his own life miserable but taking a number of other children and adults down with him at home and at school.

He did finally get a little of the release he needed, upstairs alone on his bed. But children don’t cry nearly as much as they really need to if they are forced to be alone and unsupported while they do it, and furthermore when they have already absorbed a lot of shame about needing to cry. And on the long road to finally getting to have this (partial) melt-down, Steven has accumulated more hurt, shame, disapproval and criticism from adults, guilt about how he has treated others (because hurting other people feels bad), and painful loneliness. The cost has been too high.

Children need to be both permitted and supported to cry as often as they need to, as deeply as they need to, and as long as they need to. Supporting them includes looking at them in a loving way, and putting a caring hand on them unless they don’t want that. If they are crying hard, they will usually need and want to be held.

Not that it’s important not to give into the child’s unreasonable demands. For example, if a girl starts to cry because she’s told that it’s her turn to clean up the entryway to the house, and she cries about it for twenty minutes, be there for her and love her. But afterwards make sure she does her chore. This is crucial. By doing so you ensure that crying remains a path to healing and empowerment rather than having it get mixed up with hopelessness, victimization, or manipulation. In this way you also communicate to your child that you see her as a strong person, and that crying has nothing to do with weakness; in effect, you’re saying to her, “I know you needed a good cry, but I also know you’re a strong person and you can totally handle tidying up the entryway now.”

The result of proceeding in this way is usually that the child will have an extended cry or tantrum. These are essential innate healing releases that I explain in detail in Chapter 8 of The Joyous Recovery. These are actually by far the most important healing experiences in the child’s life. They may go on for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes, which will feel like an extraordinarily long time to the adult, but are actually entirely normal and healthful – in fact essential. Crying or tantrums may sometimes go on as long as an hour, although in my experience doesn’t happen often even in children who are facing serious trauma in their lives.

Adults find it hard to listen supportively to children’s crying or tantrums, largely because the children’s releases are triggering our feelings of desperate need for the same releases. Our response to those triggers is typically to become angry or annoyed. Our perception of time also gets distorted, so that when a child has been crying for ten minutes we feel like it’s been half an hour.

I want to emphasize that children who are allowed and supported (the love and support are key for this to work) to cry deeply and at length become less whiny, less likely to fall apart over small things, and more cooperative. In other words, exactly the opposite happens of what adults tend to fear will happen. I’ve had numerous adults say to me, for example, “Well, I can’t have my child think that s/he can just go bursting into tears every time there’s the slightest disappointment or frustration in life, and that’s what s/he’s going to learn if I put up with that.” But that isn’t what actually happens — try it and you’ll see.

The confusion is coming partly from the mistaken belief that children want to fall apart, and therefore will constantly do so if we “allow it.” But children want to be well, just like adults. When they try to cry, they’re attempting to heal, they’re not trying to get away with something.



1)  Just as The Joyous Recovery discouraged you from analyzing adults, it’s best not to analyze kids — no one likes to be analyzed unless they’re requesting it. Avoid telling kids what you think they’re “really” feelings, and avoid telling them that you think what they’re feeling “is really about something else.” Kids, like adults, feel disrespected and controlled when someone else tells them what they’re supposedly feeling, and will often respond angrily, as they have every right to do. If their feelings are connected to other feelings, that’s for them to discover and express. If you have an agenda — namely, that you believe they are carrying another injury that you would like them to work through — I can assure you that you’re much more likely to get your wish by letting them feel what they need to feel now, and let them follow their own path to where those feelings lead.

Another way to think about this is:  If today is the right day for them process some connected issue, which may indeed be older or deeper than what their immediate feelings are about, their own feeling path will take them there. If you give them love and support, but they stay right in the feelings that are about today’s events, then that’s what they need to do.

When my daughter was three years old, a neighbor’s dog got into our yard, started playing with my daughter’s favorite inflatable ball, and popped it. She saw it happen out the window, and the cried absolutely hysterically for a long time, perhaps as much as half an hour. Then she shifted — with no lead from us — into crying about how much she missed a young cousin that she used to be in daycare with every day. Then, a little later, something quite remarkable happened:  she started to speak aloud to the dog, as if the dog were with us (but obviously understanding that it wasn’t), saying repeatedly, “It’s okay Serge, I crying I miss Sophie.” (She wasn’t saying the word “because” yet at that point.) She didn’t want the dog to feel bad about how hard she’d been crying about the popped ball!

We never interpreted her feelings for her at any point in the process of that evening. And if we had, our analysis would have just gotten in the way. Kids know, though it may be largely unconscious, what they need to do. Love them, respect them, avoid condescension, and stay out of their way. They’ll get to where they need to get.

2) Similarly, don’t tell kids, “I think you need a good cry.” A comment of that kind doesn’t help the cry to happen; all it does is make the child feel like they have no emotional privacy.

3)  When kids break into tears during the evening, it’s because they need to cry, not because they need to sleep. (After they cry, they may also need to sleep, of course.) Being tired is not causing them to need to cry; rather, it’s that being tired is creating a space where they feel the grief they’ve accumulated over the course of the day. Please don’t disrespect them by saying, “Ooh, someone needs to go to bed,” or similar comments, which make kids feel put down and belittle their distresses. After they cry, they may be ready for bed, or they may get a new burst of energy and want to keep going for a while.

4)  If you start to cry in front of a child  – especially your own – he or she may well need some reassurance that you’re okay. Adults generally avoid crying in front of kids, with the unfortunate result that when they do cry, kids assume that something really terrible must be happening. This is a chance to model for them that a person can be crying and yet solidly strong at the same time, countering the message that crying is a sign of weakness or crisis. Just say to the child, “I’m fine, I’m just getting some sadness out of me that needs to come out,” and keep on crying.

5)  Don’t talk kids out of their feelings (with reason, with philosophy, and so forth), don’t minimize their feelings, and don’t poke fun at their feelings. Children feel their distresses every bit as intensely as adults do, and often more so. And their reasons for being in pain are every bit as valid and important as adults’ reasons are.

I could write volumes more about this point, but I’ve already discussed it in detail in Chapters 2 and 18 of The Joyous Recovery. I hope you will read those if you haven’t already.

6)  Treating someone equally does not mean treating them the same; this is a point about which there is commonly confusion. Children are of equal value to adults, and deserve equally to be taken seriously, but they have different needs in a number of ways. One need that children have is for adults to be in charge.

What I’m asking for is unfamiliar to many adults, and may take some practice. On the one hand, I’m asking you to listen more carefully to kids, to take their opinions much more seriously than normally happens, and to give their preferences much more weight than normally happens. I’m asking you to stop constantly teaching them things; just teach them two or three things a day, and otherwise just let them learn by watching and let them be kids. I’m asking you to learn from them; on a typical day, your kids should teach you as much as you teach them. (My children in many ways have made me the person I am today — I’m not exaggerating.)

On the other hand, I’m asking you to continue being the final authority, and thus not to turn decision-making over to children nor abdicate your adult role. Strive to increase your flexibility, respect, and responsiveness, but continue to remain at the helm. On a deep level, kids want that; they want to feel safe and protected, they want the sense that adults know what they’re doing and are running the show.

Unfortunately, many adults think we have to choose between being disrespectful and dictatorial on the one hand and being kind of wishy-washy on the other. This is a false choice; there’s no need to do either of these things.

Teenagers are in their own category. At this stage in life, they still need adults to be in charge, but many of their decisions do need to be turned over to them. You can’t just turn someone loose the day they turn 18 years old and expect them to be ready to exercise consistently good judgment; help them get ready for that day by letting them make more and more of the judgment calls the closer they get to their majority.



Adults in our times feel a tremendous responsibility to make their children smart and successful, and to impress everyone with how polite and well-behaved their kids are. There is one piece in here that does matter — children really do need to guided to be thoughtful of others, just as adults need to be — but the rest can largely be let go of. Adults spend way too much of their time with kids nowadays teaching them things, making points, improving the child morally, and just generally trying to make the child better. These efforts are largely failing to increase children’s well-being; in fact, they’re largely contributing to children’s stress.

Children and teens, like adults, are mostly fine. I would love to see you stop trying to fix and improve them. Most of what you see as a problem will take care of itself over time if the child is respected, loved, and permitted to heal, especially through crying and the other innate releases. (See Chapter 8 of The Joyous Recovery.) When children are behaving disrespectfully toward you or toward someone else, or are being insensitive about the effects of their actions, interrupt their behavior with firm authority, making it clear that you are setting a limit that isn’t negotiable; but do so without criticism or condescension, and then move on.

I find adults in general kinder to children and teens than they were when I was a kid, but not any more genuinely respectful than they were then. They still seem to feel that they have to talk to children in some kind of special voice (which communicates condescension loudly and clearly, and seems to say “I assume you aren’t very bright!”), when actually it works much better if you speak entirely normally but just avoid big words. Adults typically do better at not being scary than they did when I was young, so that’s a good trend. But it’s okay to be angry with kids; in fact, being angry is often more respectful than the kind of insulting tones that I hear adults take with kids in an exaggerated effort to avoid sounding angry. Your anger won’t scare kids unless you are intimidating them, which you can learn not to by watching your volume and body language.

Spend most of your time with kids, especially your own, having fun with them. Everything can be fun; breakfast, brushing teeth, driving in the car, getting ready for bed, the whole ball of wax. I made plenty of mistakes as a parent, but this is one area where I can say I consistently did really well; I kept asking myself, all day every day, “How could we make this fun?” And you know what? Between my contributions and my children’s contributions, we almost always found a way.

(Except maybe with homework. Don’t get me started on homework; we adults should consider ourselves lucky that, for most of us, our bosses don’t get to send us home with things we have to do for another hour or two in the evening after we’ve finally gotten off work.)

See if you can allow your children to influence your life as much as you influence theirs. They can help you learn:

*  How to live in the moment, focused on what you’re doing now
*  How to love everything you do, how to make things fun
*  How to be spontaneous and creative
*  How to be affectionate
*  How to be funny and how to appreciate other people’s humor (kids so often have great senses of humor, beginning at the youngest of ages)

Children and teens can also teach you specific skills and interests. Open yourself to learning about things that they’re learning about, and to getting excited about things that they’re excited about. Revel with them in the magic of childhood, and see how much of that magic can spill over into the adult world.

We adults really need it.


Written by Lundy Bancroft