UPDATED January 12th, 2018
Yvette, a Manhattan mother of two, recounts a day recently when her husband accused her of being a negligent mother because she took one of the boys, who at the time was running a dangerously high fever, out in the rain to visit the pediatrician. “It was crazy the way he went at me,” she confessed. “And also very hurtful since negligent is far from what I am, and he knows it.” Upon further exploration, the couple realized that what Yvette’s husband experienced was a regression/progression moment.
“It’s the feeling of an event that is absolutely exaggerated. A serious distortion of reality and an interpretation of what is going on based on the past,” explains family therapist Dr. Juan Carlos Dumas. “The key here,” says the mental health practitioner, “is that the parent experiencing the ‘flashback’ is not aware of it; only the observer sees it.” In other words, it’s a serious blast from the past that takes you back to a traumatic childhood experience and causes an unconscious freak-out moment—one apparent to everyone but you.
Parenting can trigger a lot of different emotional and psychological deep-seated issues for parents, particularly around the issue of discipline, says Dr. Dumas. He explains the typical regression progression scenario: the husband comes in to family therapy accusing the wife of disciplining the children too harshly and blames the mother for victimizing the kids with her aggressive punishment. The father reacts with extreme anxiety, when in fact, his wife is just normally disciplining their child.
“In most of the cases when we look as the father’s history, we realize that he was a victim of parenting abuse,” he says. “What happens is that the father is reliving and trying to heal his childhood trauma.” Of course, it all takes place in a space where the father is completely unaware of his behavior, his wife is being unfairly accused of something and the child is smack in the middle, left totally confused. Of course, it’s not just fathers who suffer from repression progression, moms do as well.
“It’s painful for the child because it creates a sense of insecurity because (the child) observes their parent out of control and being inappropriate, and it doesn’t make sense,” explains Dr. Dumas. But it’s hard on the couple and family. The cycle can go on forever creating a highly dysfunctional and painful family dynamic that often leads to strains in the relationship.
The fact is that this unconscious problem may not only be the cause of unnecessary suffering for children and parents, but it may be also at the root of many divorces. Dr. Dumas says that 80 percent of cases that he sees with family conflicts experience regression/progression issues. In fact he says this problem is so prevalent that he created educational brochures for parents to read so that they can be informed, which is the first therapeutic step to overcome it.
But there is great news he says. “The vast majority of parents, once they become aware, usually want to explore their childhood and check their behavior.”
It’s like that Maya Angelou lesson to Oprah Winfrey that the TV host shared numerous times: “When you know better, you do better.”
|Are you experiencing regression/progression and not know it? Here are some questions to consider:• Check in with your mate. Ask questions about any “freak out” moments you may have around a parenting issue.• If you suspect your mate is the one experiencing regression/progression, gently broach the subject, butnot during any of the episodes. Wait a couple of days and gently explain that you became aware of this unconscious phenomenon and that it may be a possibility that your spouse is suffering from this problem.• Seek the help of a family counselor to explore the issue further.
Sandra Guzmán is an award winning journalist and the author of The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Family, Spirituality and La Vida. (Seal Press)