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Language Log

Friday, May. 24, 2019 - 8:29 a.m.

Thanks for the notes regarding my mom. It’s such an uncomfortable thing. She makes us pie, cleans my house, when the kids are being chill she’s very good with them, all my cousins love her, she’s very caring in many ways. But then this bullshit, you know?

U— he responds to compassion.
He makes a big thing out of saying he’s glad someone is hurt, or that the fair thing is exactly the opposite of what it is.

By the fact that he says these things, I know that he has a sense of fairness and empathy. He just deploys it backwards. He notices when someone is hurt. Or when a situation is unfair. He just doesn’t want to admit he was wrong. Now I don’t tell him he’s a bad person when he says this stuff. I tell him I KNOW he knows what’s fair and unfair. “You KNOW it isn’t fair or you wouldn’t be trying to pretend it is.” He puts his hand over my mouth when I’m right.

He doesn’t need people worrying that he is really bad. Or outright asserting that he is an asshole, or mean. He doesn’t need that stuff incorporated into his sense of self like it’s something he can’t fight. He needs people to believe he is good, to see that he is good, and try to figure out how to allow him to be that way with others.

He hits E. I come, I comfort E. U comes to me for a hug. He wants reassurance that I’m not mad. I hug him. I tell him what he did was unacceptable. He puts his hand over my mouth. I tell him again, even as I hug him. I ask him what the problem was, why he is mad.

A lot of times it looks like he’s being aggressive for no reason. If you have the patience to dig, there’s always a perceived slight. He just can’t manage his impulses and emotions. And he desperately wants to feel right, so he defends them.

If he knocks something over or is careless, and it’s his fault, he will not pick it up. He will NOT no matter how big an issue you make of it. And many people try to make an issue of it. A character flaw. But again, he needs to feel right, like every action and every bit of fallout, however unfortunate, was part of his plan. He’ll take on some horrible motivations in order to retain his sense of agency.

But, again, quite often if someone else drops something, he’ll pick it up and put it back where it goes. One item. Here and there. NOTICE. I don’t make a big deal of it. I say thank you in a regular voice like I would use with J. Not an exaggerated “I am reinforcing this positive behavior” voice. And he is doing it more and more.

So you have 2 paths: dig in on making him clean up his own messes. That is the ultimate goal, yes. But working on that now directly is going to be a massive failure and even setback. Instead you model graciousness. Clean up for others. Clean up for him. When someone drops something, say, “oh can you hand me that?”. Do this other thing that isn’t your responsibility. Take up others’ slack. Maybe only specific others. Don’t make it a burden or obligation. Make doing the right thing optional. But that’s how you make progress on the main issue: work from the edges in. Eventually picking stuff up for others will become easier and easier. Maybe it will expand to picking up after himself. No, he may never be willing to put his own wrappers in the trash. But maybe he’ll clear other people’s dishes from the table. Is that a bad result? I don’t think so. Some people will always be blind to his progress, though, because it is sidewinding.

He snuggles me, sits on my lap and hugs me and pats my head, scratches my back, brings me things with hearts on them, and cooperates with me better than anyone. I defuse him by tackling him and snuggling him and smothering him with kisses, not by hitting. I do yell but have more success when I don’t. I will defend my approach forever.

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