In Scattered a psychological function was introduced that I'd not considered before. Mate´ used it to explain the frequent oppositionality of the ADD child. He quoted a child psychologist in calling it "counterwill". (Gordon Neufeld)
Although ADD children have often been characterized as having strong wills, counterwill is actually a hallmark of a very weak will, weak sense of self. It is a normal developmental function which especially asserts itself in toddler years and teenage years. It serves to protect a child's fragile will behind a scaffolding of 'nos'. It is the psyche's way of protecting a person's Self from being overrun by another. It serves until the person's will does develop into enough Self to freely make choices or refuse options. It is not a reflection of the child's moral character and it is a mistake to treat it as such.
Friday afternoon in Salem, having spent the night with my parents, I prepared to leave. The boys had slept in late and thus had a late breakfast and I was hoping to get away without having to take them out to eat.
Scott was hungry; wanted a hot dog. I resigned myself to feeding them first, even though it was only an hour's drive to get home. I packed up our stuff to load once we got back, then prepared to walk across the parking lot to the restaurant affiliated with the hotel.
Connor got to the elevator first. The hallway was choked with linen carts and cleaning supplies for the vacated rooms. One of the carts appeared to be waiting for the elevator we were going to take. Scott rushed up, but Connor pressed the button just before he could. So Scott pushed it, several times and a contest ensued. It was starting to get physical with pushing away of hands and public with "stop it!" and "you're fat!" and I lost patience with the whole thing and marched them back to the hotel room. I very sharply told them that I couldn't take them into public if they were going to be behaving that way and so we needed to just put our stuff in the car and leave. "Nice going, Scott" said Connor. I said, "You were as much a part of that as he was, Connor. You kept it going by participating, by continuing to press that button! It's just a button! You're older, why did you keep it going?"
Connor glared at me and said that I was part of the problem too. At the time I was inclined to dismiss it as immaturity. He has not yet connected that the reason I am angry with him is his behavior; he is merely angry that I am angry with his behavior.
It did blow over. The boys apologized to each other, and to me, and so we loaded up the car and then went to get something to eat.
Yesterday when I was writing my post and looking through the book, Scattered, for quotes I realized something. Just as I'd written that I'd spent my growing years in service to adjusting the environment to suit the adults around me (that is, modifying behavior of mine that made them anxious), I realized I had just done the same thing with my sons. When I gave them the "That's it!" tone and roughly handled them to steer them back to our room, I had been anxious. I was anxious at their fighting in a public hallway, in front of my parents. I was anxious that this interaction between them would lead to a chain reaction of other escalating interactions. I wasn't sure how to negotiate this in a congested hallway, and then managing in a small elevator with a cleaning cart. I was anxious that it would continue at the restaurant. And I wanted them to change their behavior to turn down the heat for me.
So much for a stable sense of Self inside. In that moment my sense of Self did depend upon their behavior in my environment. There was a way I felt that my sense of Self depended upon them behaving well.
I thought, but, isn't it legitimate to try to contain two boys reacting with hostility to each other? No one wants to listen to them, and listen to the mother remonstrate. Yes, this is reasonable. But was my flare of anger? If my sense of Self really had been stable and strong, I wouldn't have felt a need to save face by treating them punitively, also in public. I could have simply said calmly, "We can't have this in the restaurant. No one wants to listen to it. I guess we need to go back to the room and then leave directly for Portland without eating first."
I had blamed the boys for the ferocity of their contest to be the last to push the button. I thought it was stupid. I think that looking at it through the lens of counterwill helps me to see it differently, though. In the moment that Connor saw Scott heading for that elevator button his counterwill was activated and he was determined to deny Scott the satisfaction of pushing it first. Scott's counterwill flared and he was determined that Connor not have the satisfaction of denying him. Though it seemed stupid to an outside observer (me) to them it was extremely important. It became about Winning and Losing--each child determined that the other not see him as a loser and have bragging rights. Neither of them had enough Self to be able to peacefully surrender and live with the idea that someone thought they'd one-upped them.
And apparently, neither did I.