The Monster in the File Cabinet


We just need to do something different.

I got a call from a mom who asked what she should do differently. She said, “we adopted 4 from the foster system and we just need to do something different”. When I asked, “different from what?”, she said, “I don’t know, just different from what we have been doing”. “Ah yes”, I answered, ‘”different from traditional parenting.” It breaks my heart to hear the desperation from the parents and professionals who call needing help with that monster in the file cabinet and a traditional parenting approach. Yet, many years after meeting Bryan Post, that monster still lurks even in my own mind.

What is that monster in the file cabinet? It’s that part of me that does things that I don’t really want or choose but just sorta ‘happen’ and most of the time not to my liking either. Bryan refers to it as “state memory”.

“The state level of memory is your earliest level of memory to develop. It’s associated with your personality traits. It’s where you store your personality. It is highly unconscious and it is typically your childhood. Traumatic experiences get stored at the state level, and when the state level gets triggered, and gets activated, it directs all the other levels of memory. So when that trauma becomes activated, then it starts to direct all the levels of memory above it.” This is where the worst of the worst behaviors that we deal with in our children come from. They just sorta happen and not to their liking or ours either.

I’d like to tell you that it is easy dealing with not only my child’s state memories but also my own that typically get triggered when dealing with my child. But really life itself isn’t easy, so why should parenting broken, disheartened, fearful abandoned and traumatized children be any easier?

Simple yes but for many of us is not easy. We are such complex creatures and need complex solutions. But it may be much simpler than that (Bryan Post calls it “choosing love”). I continue to hear our colleague Pat O’Brien founder of YouGottaBelieve saying to me, “if a child finally turns around by the time they are 35 or so, you are doing fine”. Yikes! What do we do in the meantime? For one, let ‘s not let that Monster in the File Cabinet ruin our day or our life.

Experience has shown me that there is always progress to be made, day by day, minute to minute, moment to moment (choose love, choose love, choose … etc). That one day dream of “normal-ness” may never occur, and truth be told, there may be much more to life than than the ‘normal’ we hope for. For example, we might become more interested in just who are these special children who are entrusted in our care. My wife and I just found out that one of our adopted kiddos at 17 is not only smarter than 85% of the adult population, but his problem solving, reasoning and memory skills were off the charts. Does that help him ‘work and play well with others’? No. But that is another story.

Maybe we could just stop ‘telling’ our kids things and start ‘asking’ them more things, out of interest – not investigation or an attempt to convince, control or teach them.

Who are they really? Find out what they are good at and what they are bad at. What to they like? What don ‘t they like and why? Why do they like what they like? What else do they like? This may just open them and our relationship into a whole new world where the goal is not simply to become normal.

Choose to Be Interested — David Durovy