I have an unhealthy fear of swimming in deep waters. I, like many others my age, saw the movie Jaws way too young. That movie, that music, constantly plays in my head in those moments in the deep and the murky. I can justify it as a healthy precaution, but I know deep down it isn't really that reasonable. I know that statistically, I am more likely to die by a falling coconut hitting my head than a shark attack, but this fear doesn't care about statistics. WHAT JUST BRUSHED BY MY LEG. (Oh, it was my other leg.) In those moments, I have to constantly tell myself that the water is safe.
Circle of Security International is an organization that helps parents become better equipped to raise healthy children. They often use an activity with parents called “Shark Music” to help them notice how their past pain influences how they are currently showing up as parents.
The group is shown a video. Calm, classical music is playing. There are scenes of wandering through a forest, eventually reaching a beach with a beautiful ocean. The video evokes emotions of curiosity, serenity, and peace. The parents feel relaxed.
Next, the exact same video is shown, but this time with ominous music playing. Tension is steadily rising. You fear a monster behind every tree and turn. When you reach the water, you’re convinced there is a shark lurking underneath. The shark music dramatically impacts your experience of the video.
All of us walk through life with background music playing in our heads. We don’t even notice it, hence the term ‘background music,’ but it is dramatically impacting the way that we experience and interact with the world. How you think shapes how you live. Our past experiences shape our expectations and perceptions of our present reality.
In their book, The Three Laws of Performance, Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan wrote, "How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them." When we hear Shark Music going off in our heads because this situation looks similar to that other situation, fear can kick in and get us to act in ways that aren't congruent with who we want to be.
Circle of Security shares that, for parents, this can impact how they respond to their children's emotions. Parents might perceive anger as 'pathetic,' fear as 'weakness', sadness as 'manipulative', and happiness as 'over-excited.' A healthier approach would be to see anger as a desire to 'help organize my feelings', fear as 'protect me', sadness as 'comfort me', and happiness as 'enjoy with me.' I don't know about you, but that really resonates with me, not only as a parent, but just as a human!
It would serve us well to learn to recognize when Shark Music plays in our heads and impacts the way we perceive and respond to the world and people around us. It might not just be past wounds that pop up for us, but our own insecurities and fears about what's going on in that moment. We might fear being hurt, or being taken advantage of/duped, losing control, looking bad, etc. There are a lot of possibilities. Sometimes fear is helpful, but more often than not it can hinder us.
Here are a few quotes to wrap up this idea-
"The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become." -Heraclitus
"Don't let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it:
Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test."
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Victor Frankl
"First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." -Jesus
"The one who fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18)