Ep. 57 – Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – The 4 Horsemen Of The Relational Apocalypse
- Definitions for criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (The 4 horsemen).
- Antidotes to the 4 horsemen.
- The power and potential of unconditional love.
Did you know there are 4 communication habits that ruin relationships? Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. We often engage in these without knowing.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart is a pediatric specialist, a writer for The Gottman Institute, a parenting coach, and our guest this week on family360. She describes each habit and the antidotes to their ruinous reign in our relationships.
Dr. Ann-Louise LockhartDr. Ann-Louise Lockhart is a pediatric psychologist, a writer for the Gottman Institute, the Director of the New Day Pediatric Clinic in San Antonio Texas, and a wife and mother.
She also serves as a parent coach for families with ADHD, anxiety and behavioral concerns, and children who are experiencing racism.
Always an advocate for parents and children alike, Ann-Louise offers wise and practical advice for parenting in the midst of relational dysfunction.
Ep. 57 – Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – The 4 Horsemen Of The Relational Apocalypse
Rachel Cram – Good morning, Ann-Louise. It is so good to be face to face with you.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Thank you, Rachel, for having me.
Rachel Cram – I’ve been following you on Instagram for about a year now, and I marvel at your posts, the energy you put in.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Thank you. Thank you. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoyed doing it. It’s a really nice creative space to share energy as well as education and inspiration. So it’s a great platform.
Rachel Cram – Well, you look like you’ve got a little bit of an acting gene in you. You look like you’re having fun.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I do actually, I did a lot of acting as a child and as a teenager. And so being on Instagram and Reels has really tapped into a skill that I forgot that I had.
Rachel Cram – Well, good for you. I think by the end of this interview, people are going to be so in love with you, they’re going to want to follow you and there’ll be links on our website because people really should go and check you out. You’re very entertaining.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – Well, before we go into the depths of your work, I’d love to start with a question that I often use to open interviews just so that people get to know who you are. So are you ready to go into this?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I am.
Rachel Cram – Ann-Louise, Aristotle stated, Give me a child at seven and I will show you the adult. And I’m wondering, is there a story or experience from your childhood that you see as formative in who you are today?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yeah, I do. So, I grew up in the Caribbean, the Island of St. Croix, and we were hit with a category five hurricane. It was one of those 100 year hurricanes and so we knew it was going to be happening, but it wasn’t something that we had experienced. And this is like 1989, so we were like, “OK, let’s look in the encyclopedia. What does a category five hurricane? What does that mean?”
So it hit our island and it destroyed my home. It destroyed my family business. It ripped apart everything and it was 12 hours of this storm that ripped apart our home. So it was really devastating. And being my senior year of high school, I was like, “This is like ridiculous.”
It was martial law. There was looting. I got bit by infected mosquitoes and got dengue fever. So I told my mom, “We need to leave because this is not safe.”
Rachel Cram – Like leave the area or leave the country?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Leave the island, leave the island. Because I mean, it’s an 84 square mile island. There’s nowhere to go. The whole island was devastated and I was like, “We could go to Florida, it’s safer there.”
And she’s like, “No, we don’t run away from problems.”
And I’m like, “Well, that’s ridiculous, because this should be a time that we run away.” And I was really upset about that. But it stuck with me because we were told to write about our experiences. We wrote essays, we did presentations and poems.
Rachel Cram – This was in school that they were asking you to do this?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – This was in school. Yeah. They were kind of allowing us to process the trauma. I don’t know if they knew that’s what they were doing, but it was really helpful because I learned in the midst of that to persist. When things get hard to persist. And we were without electricity for months, we didn’t have running water, we had military food and red cross food. It was really, really terrible. But our family got really close because I didn’t have a home anymore. I had to live between two people’s homes. And we were able to bond and connect in the ways that were important. That was something that really helped me to know that even in the midst of trauma and horrible circumstances, I could thrive, I could persist and I could survive through it.
And interestingly, I was a really terrible student in high school. I really was not motivated for school. But that year I got all straight A honor roll, multiple rewards because I wanted to get the heck off the island first of all, and I knew that in order to get more opportunities, I had to apply myself. And so I got into college because I wrote a great essay about my experiences in the hurricane. So that really shaped me. And so when things happen, like the pandemic, I’m like, “I know how to handle hardship.” That really shaped it.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Well, as you were describing it, I was thinking to myself. You know, for people with experiences like yours, COVID shines in a different light, I think.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes. It does. It does. It was something that was out of your control. Worrying about it and fretting about it doesn’t change the circumstance. I can change it based on how I respond to it. And so that really shaped me and really shaped me in terms of how I respond to hardship and to things that are out of my control.
Rachel Cram – That’s an amazing story. And you probably wouldn’t be here today without it because what would have gotten you into college, which obviously you needed to become a doctor. So I’m always encouraged when I hear stories of people that didn’t do well in high school, and then it all came together later. I think as parents, that can be really encouraging as well.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes
Rachel Cram – As you were just talking, you used the word ‘respond’ a couple of times, and that’s an ideal lead into our conversation today, because you write about are relationally destructive habits that happen when we react instead of respond. One of the things that drew me to you was your work with the Gottman Institute, which I have so much respect for.
For listeners who aren’t familiar with the Gottman Institute, they’re based out of Seattle, I think is that right?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes,
Rachel Cram – And they have the most extensive research to date on relational stability. What makes intimate relationships work? And that’s couple relationships and parenting relationships and friendship relationships. And so I wanted to use a little bit of your work with Gottman, and because you’re a pediatric psychologist, we’re going to focus on healthy habits in parenting relationships. Can you start, though, by describing the work of John and Julie Gottman and their discoveries at the Gottman Institute?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes. So their work is really remarkable because they’re using research and evidence based practice to inform relationships, and specifically the marital relationship. And they came up with this really fascinating concept called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, because it’s like New Testament end times feel because there are four ways of communicating and interacting with your partner or your spouse that leads to the end of the relationship, kind of like the end of the world.
And they have found, I believe it’s a 90 percent prediction, that if you engage in these behaviors, it will lead to the end of a relationship. And that’s why they’ve introduced antidotes to reverse those effects.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, yeah. You have a quote, you say. “I often tell kids and parents in my practice that you get better at the things you practice. As you repeat habits or skills they become second nature, the healthy and the unhealthy stuff.”
And with these four horsemen, or these four reactions that wreck relationships, they are habits that I think we practice and they do end up wrecking relationships.
Can you maybe take us one by one through each of those horsemen or through each of those habits? Maybe explain what they are, and then how we stop those horsemen from riding roughshod over our relationships. What’s the antidote to their reign?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yeah, definitely. So the first one is criticism, and the criticism is where you’re attacking the character of the other person. It’s beyond just voicing a complaint, it’s saying that there’s something wrong with them. When you attack someone’s character, it’s different from saying, “You don’t wash the dishes.” That’s a behavior trait that you can change. But if you say, “You’re such a slob,” that is something that really can dismantle that person’s whole being. This kind of criticism really paves the way for all the four horsemen of the apocalypse to wreak havoc in your life and in your relationship.
Rachel Cram – Ok. I think these horsemen can seem like not a big deal, for partners or for parents. Maybe just an edgier way of talking. We can even make them feel like a joke or a bit of harsh banter, but when they rear their heads consistently I don’t think most of us are aware of the long term consequences. So, criticism is the first habit. What’s the second?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Contempt is the one that really ruins relationships. That one is the greatest predictor of relationship failure.
Rachel Cram – OK. Can you explain contempt?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes. So contempt is kind of this expression of superiority. You’re saying, “I’m better than you. I have got this figured out.”
And the person typically uses things like sarcasm, name-calling, being very cynical, like mocking the person, maybe a hostile kind of humor or ridicule. You’re saying, not only is your character flawed, which I criticize in the first one, but that I’m better than you because I’ve got it figured out and my character is better than yours. And so if that is in a relationship and it’s consistently practiced as a habit, that one will most definitely lead to the disruption of a relationship.
Rachel Cram – You mentioned that much of the Gottman’s studies have focused on partners in marriage and what leads to divorce. But I do think it’s pretty clear that it wreaks the same havoc in a parent child relationship. And I can see that as a parent, it might even be easier to step into that because you can, as a parent, feel that you do have a superiority over your child, which would be incorrect. But it’s more tempting because you’re bigger and you’re older.
I don’t think anybody goes into a relationship with their partner or their child wanting to exhibit any of these traits, and we’ve talked about criticism and contempt so far, we’ll go on to the other two in a moment. But with contempt, what would be an example of how a parent might show contempt without even knowing that that’s what they’re doing? Because, again, I don’t think that you come into it wanting to be contemptuous.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I don’t think parents do, but I think that’s what has been modeled for them. So they enter the parent child relationship with that viewpoint already. When I’m doing parent coaching, they say things like, “I never would have gotten away with this when I was a kid,” or, “If I tell my kid to do something, they should do it the first time.”
So they really come in with this mindset that there should be immediate obedience and compliance. So when there is not, they go to criticism as well as contempt. So the criticism might sound something like, “You’re such a slob. You never make up your bed.”
So it’s not just the behavior, but you’re also saying you’re so lazy. I hear lazy a lot. I keep telling parents we should get rid of the word lazy, because that’s really saying that this is who they are. And if that’s who you think they are, why would they change that? That’s your perception.
And then the contempt may come in saying something like, “When I was your age, I always did my chores before even having to be asked.” So now I’m better than you, because at your age, I was holding down two jobs, walking in the snow both directions and then doing all my chores. How much better am I than you?
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Well, and we almost make that a joke, but there is a serious side to it because we know as a parent when we start to say, you know, “When I was your age, I walked to school uphill both ways,” We’re making it a joke because we want to be telling them that when we were their age, we were better. We showed up in a different way.
Dr. Ann-Marie Lockhart – Right. I’m superior to you, or I was always more motivated. I did so well in school. I was the best athlete. I was on honour for all semesters. What a lot of kids will tell me is that, you know, I’m finally doing the things that my parents want me to do. I’m showing up, I’m making up the bed. And then when I tell them they’re like, “Well, it’s about time you did something.”
So then they’re like, Well, why am I even changing my behavior? If you’re going to blast me every time that I make that effort? And so it’s really something that I tell parents, don’t beat yourself up and feel shame over this. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that we’ve learned because we have heard it the same, many of us in our own childhood, but it’s also because that’s what you think. There’s a natural hierarchy between parents and kids. So there’s already this superiority feeling. So then when a child does something they’re supposed to do or they’re finally doing something that you have been telling them to do, then you feel like it’s your place to tell them and beat them into submission even more. And it’s like, Well, that doesn’t work, because now you’re always on them for everything they’re doing wrong that when they finally do something right, they’re still getting blasted for it. And that leads to a lot of discouraging behavior and tension in the relationship.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. You mentioned our own childhoods incubate this communication style. And of course our parents want the best for us but understanding of parenting practices have evolved beyond this kind of communication style. We’re not there anymore.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Right. Exactly.
Rachel Cram – But it’s amazing, and alarming, how those early years of our lives create habits we slip into even though it’s not who we want to be.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes, it’s really easy to fall into those traps.
Rachel Cram – Yeah,
Musical Interlude #1
OK. So we have criticism, contempt as being two of the reactions that we can step into, that can wreck relationships. What’s the third one?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – The third one is defensiveness, and this is when the person who’s delivering the message, they are playing the victim. And it’s an attempt to protect themselves because it’s in response to criticism, typically. And it’s almost never successful because it’s kind of this underhanded way of blaming the other person. “Well, I didn’t clean up my room because you’re always yelling at me and you hurt my feelings and because I can never do anything right.” And so then they’re going on this kind of tirade of how they’ve missed the bar. And now I’m crying and it’s now all about me.
Or, you know, “Look at everything that I’ve done for you as a parent and I’ve always had your back and I feed you and I clothe you. And how dare you treat me this way by not cleaning up after yourself and being such a slob?”
“I’m the victim, I’m the one that’s being hurt by this. And so I’m going to blame you in an attempt to make it really about your fault, which is why I am character flawed in the way that I am.”
And really, it only escalates into conflict because if someone is criticizing you, you need to protect yourself. And so then you become defensive. And really, then it just becomes this blame game. And it doesn’t lead to any healthy conflict management because everybody’s just blaming one another in an attempt to try to get a need met, which is to feel safe in the relationship.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. OK. Excellent description. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and as I’m listening to you, I’m hearing that these reactionary habits tend to coincide together, one habit tends to push us into the other, is that right?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Exactly.
Rachel Cram – So, criticism, contempt, defensiveness and then the last of these horsemen is stonewalling.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes, stonewalling. This is really a tough one, and I see it so much in parent child relationships. It often happens in marital and partnerships too. And it’s when the listener withdraws from the conversation without a desire to resolve anything.
So because they’ve been criticized and they’ve been blamed and the other person is better than me, then I just, silent treatment. I just shut you out. I pretend like everything’s OK. And it becomes a habit because it’s usually in response to this contempt that someone is better than me. I don’t do anything right anyway. So why even try?
I remember years ago my family and I, we love movies and my husband and I even joke that even if we didn’t have kids, we would still watch a lot of animated movies because so many of them have really good messages. And we watched a movie, Zootopia, Zootopia was the name, about these evolved animals. And one of the relationships was between this fox and this rabbit. And the fox was always swindling and trying to cheat people from their money and their stuff. And he said the reason why he became that way is that he remembered when he was trying to get into these like Cub Scouts, when he was a little fox and the other prey humiliated him. And they’re like, “There’s no way we would ever allow you in this. You’re a predator. What do you think you are?”
And so he had said, you know, “If what I was was always going to be this predator who was no good, I figured, why be anything else? And he lived up to the expectation others had of him.”
And I was like, Wow, this happens so often in parent child relationships. When the parent expects a certain thing of the kid; you’re always lazy. You never do anything. You’re always dropping the ball with your homework. You’re always rude to me. So the kid starts to see themselves as that person. So then I tell the parent, Well, why should the child change? Because that’s how you view them anyway. And even when they make a change to do something different, they feel like again, I can never meet your expectations.
And so then that stonewall, that child then just gives up. They’re like, “Screw you, I’m just going to be the slob that you think that I am, I’m just going to be the bad student that you think that I am.”
And then when the parent tries to then finally talk and repair the relationship, they’re met with this stonewalling attitude where, “Nope, I don’t have anything to say to you.” One word answers because now it’s a habit and nobody is feeling anything because everybody is just physiologically flooded and feeling like I’m so furious at you, and then there’s no way to repair the relationship. And so that’s when there’s this disruption in the relationship and the parent and the child feel like they have nothing to talk about. Or whenever they do talk, there’s this big explosion.
So you can see how this progressively gets worse. And then why when they finally seek out help because it takes people, I don’t even remember what the statistics are now. It takes people a number of years before they even reach out for help and support. And so by the time they reach out, they’re so desperate. And they’re like, “Well, we’ve been meeting with you and nothing has changed.”
I’m like, “We literally met last week. This has been going on for years.”
Rachel Cram – You were saying that with the Gottman study, this started out with couples, and that these four reactions led most frequently to divorce. When you’re talking about it in the parent child relationship you don’t have divorce as a possibility. But what would be the equivalent in the parent child relationship?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I think it’s a rupture. It’s a rupture in the relationship where there’s no connection, there’s no delight and joy in the other. You’re just an inconvenience. There’s just this feeling like “I’m a burden to my family. I’m a burden to this parent.”
They don’t fit in or the parent just does not enjoy parenting. “This is not what I signed up for. I do not enjoy my child. My life would be better if this one were gone.” The things that you don’t want to say out loud, but they’re feeling.
And I always try to reassure parents that it’s OK to say that out loud, because that’s where it’s led to. But that’s why we need to repair that, because your child does want a relationship with you. And it’s so ironic because there are times when I’ll have therapy clients that are teenagers, I’ll always follow up with the parents and I’ll meet with them either before or after or in a separate session, just to check in with the parents, see how things are going. And the parents will often tell me things like, “My teenager hates me. They don’t want a relationship with me. They can’t stand me. They don’t want to be around me.”
And then I’ll meet with the teenager and they’ll tell me the complete opposite. “Man, I wish my mom would want to hang out with me. I wish my dad would just take me out. I wish we would all go out with a family and hang out.”
And I’m like, “But you’re not really showing that to them. You’re showing things in such unlovable ways that they don’t know that’s what you want, because it’s all the stonewalling that’s going on. Everybody’s assuming the other person doesn’t want a relationship.”
So there’s this big miscommunication and rupture in the way they’re interacting with one another. And it’s really sad. No, this teenager literally wants to connect with you. Of course they want to connect with you. And when I meet with adults who are dealing with depression and anxiety, many times it goes back to this rupture in the relationship with their parent. Even as an adult, they still want to repair it.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, we always want our parents to love us, I think.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Always, always.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, it never ends. I know even for myself in midlife now, hearing my mom is proud of me means so much. It still means so much to hear that.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lochart – Yeah, definitely. You know, I had an experience recently too Rachel, that ABC News had contacted me for an interview and I told my mom about it and she’s like, “Like as an ABC news, like the national. I said, Yeah. And it’s live?, I’m like, Yeah, she goes, I can tell my friends about it so they could watch it wherever they are? I’m like, Yeah. And she’s like, “I’m so proud of you,” and it’s this feeling like, I’m not a child anymore, and I don’t need her to be proud of me, necessarily. But it feels good.
Rachel Cram – It does.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – It feels good.
Rachel Cram – It’s very grounding, I think. And I think in a marriage relationship, when it’s moved to divorce, often that’s at a point of no repair. But I would like to think in the parent child relationship, there’s more time for repair because you can’t move on to get another parent or child that will ever replace the one that you had.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yes. And I’ve had parents ask me, is it ever too late to repair? And I said, I don’t think it’s ever too late to repair. I think it takes more work and effort if you’ve let it go on for too long, but I don’t think it’s ever too late to repair. It does take work. But it’s worth it.
Rachel Cram – It is so worth it. We even see this play out in movies, back to your movie example. How many movies are there that play out this theme of parent-child divide and the torment that that creates. I’m just thinking even movies like Despicable Me. He wants to hear that his mom’s proud of him. The guys that Steve Carrell plays. Roy, who’s, who’s the main character?
Dr. Ann-Marie Lockhart – Gru.
Roy Salmond – Gru.
Rachel Cram – Gru. Right. Or, Ironman. A lot of those Marvel movies have the same theme, where he just wants so badly to hear that his dad’s proud of him. He wants his dad’s attention. Ironman does. Whose name escapes me. Who’s Ironman?
Roy Salmond – Tony Stark.
Rachel Cram – Tony Stark. It’s an archetypal storyline. And even when we’re not superheroes, we all want the praise of our parents.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Right.
Musical Interlude #2
Rachel Cram – With these four horsemen,
what happens in our bodies, in our brains, to move us into these forms of divisive reaction?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Humm, that’s a great question. I think the brain dislikes a few things. The brain dislikes things that are uncertain, unpredictable, unknown and uncomfortable. So when we don’t know what to expect, when we are uncertain about events, we don’t like that. It makes us dysregulated. So we’re like guarding ourselves, waiting for the inevitable because we don’t have a script for ‘how to interact when.’
I don’t know how to interact when my child starts to insult me or calls me names or rolls their eyes. Sometimes they want to cuddle with me. And that’s the hardest part. When parents have a child who’s so sweet one minute and then so horrible to them the next minute, it’s so unpredictable. The brain wants to be relaxed, but it’s also on guard. So then when you get that reaction, you have a reaction. So then you in turn become dysregulated because of their dysregulation and then you react.
Also, when things are unknown and uncomfortable, when it doesn’t feel right, like it’s not supposed to feel this hard to be a parent, it’s not supposed to be this hard to love my child. I’m supposed to like my child, and it feels uncomfortable to have bad thoughts about them.
I’ve had parents tell me, “Oh, I have two kids. One is such a joy and one is like, Oh, if we didn’t have this one, I’d be good.” And then all that feels so uncomfortable to say. But, that’s a real feeling and it’s something that your kid is probably picking up on. And so it’s about, again, not shaming yourself into having these thoughts, because the thoughts are there. But we are becoming dysregulated because our brain needs to feel safe and secure and stable to function. And if our basic needs aren’t being met in terms of feeling safe and feeling like we can connect and feeling like we have some predictability, then those higher order needs, like relationship and self-actualization and meeting your goals and values, there’s not going to be any interest there.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, I picture a parent in their home, and I’ve been in this place myself a number of times where it just feels like it’s too much. Like, I think, around the dinner table for example, one child spilled over the milk and other one’s telling you they don’t like this food. Then there’s an argument. You’ve made this beautiful meal. You’ve hoped it would be a lovely family dinner time, and then it just all seems to disrupt and be chaos at the table. And you find yourself doing some of these things.
You find yourself saying, “Why are you always so ungrateful?”
Or, “When I was younger, I would have been so grateful for this food.”
Or you feel like the victim and the defensive part and feel like I can’t believe that I put all this work into making this meal and how could you guys be so unhelpful? And you know, or you just sit there and stonewall and be like, “Fine, I’m just going to get through this meal.”
I mean, you fall into those things. I feel for myself. I feel for parents in this situation because sometimes it just feels like too much. So even with the four horsemen, they ride around our conversational corral, and then what do we do? How do we move out of that cycle? How do we break it?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Well, I think first of all, we have to have some compassion for ourselves because nobody is a perfect parent and nobody has a perfect child. And I think, even I, who knows better, I’ve studied child psychology, I know about all these different things, and I still make these mistakes as a parent because I’m exhausted. And sometimes my kid gets on my last nerve. And sometimes I want alone time and I want you to leave me alone. And so it’s not realistic to expect that we’re always going to respond in the right way for ourselves. So I think we need to have that same grace for our kids; that if we who know better mess up, our kids who don’t know better will mess up.
And so I think we have to keep in mind some self-compassion, some grace for our kids, and then what is the developmental expectation for their age and stage given their diagnosis, other siblings in the home, given the circumstances and the environment. I think we have to look at all of that stuff in combination.
And then we can say, OK, these are the things that we need to start changing now, but we have to start with that mindset first.
Rachel Cram – Well, when you’re talking about developmental stages, even for ourselves, I know sometimes I can feel pressured from people to be asking me things where I feel like I just can’t do that. I can’t be that person. And I don’t know if you’d call it a developmental stage, but certainly, I don’t feel capable of it. And then you feel awful that you can’t meet that. And it’s the same with our kids.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yeah. If someone is asking you to do something that you don’t know or just speak about something that you have no information or clue about, there’s going to be this feeling of incompetence, I’m not competent to do this. And it’s the same thing when we have expectations of our kids who can’t do something either because they’re overly anxious, maybe because they have ADHD, maybe because they’re depressed or just because their age, they’re young, they’re immature and they don’t have the skill set yet.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. If we could view our lives from the 40 foot level, our expectations would be more in line with the reality of the situation. That’s the hard thing about intimacy, you’re up close and personal, which is wonderful, but sometimes it’s hard to see the bigger picture from that angle.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lochart – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – Ann-Louise, heading in a slightly different direction; do you want to go into talking about repeating cycles and how to break them? I just sort of look through your notes to see where you’d want to pick up here. And I thought that was a really interesting section.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Did you want to also talk about too, Rachel? We talked about all the problems with the Four Horsemen.When did you want to bring in the antidote? Do you do that at the end?
Rachel Cram – No, let’s do that right now. That’s a great way to do that. And then hopefully after that we’ll have time to look at your work on breaking cycles, because that’s so good. So, let’s walk through the antidotes for each one starting with criticism.
Dr. Ann-Marie Lockhart – Sounds good. So for criticism when you’re attacking the character of the other person, the best antidote is to talk about your feelings using I statements. So it’s a very simple switch, instead of saying, “You do blah blah blah.” and you’re attacking their character, you say, “I don’t feel appreciated when I’ve spent an hour cleaning the kitchen and then you come in and leave the dishes.”
So you’re basically saying, “This is how I feel when you…this.” And then express a positive need. “I would appreciate it in the future, if you could just wash your dish when you’re done after I’ve cleaned the kitchen.”
And so you’re using the “I statement” and then expressing this positive need about what you would like to see change, rather than making all these assumptions in your mind and then criticizing the other person.
Rachel Cram – OK, so that takes thought ahead of time, because if our natural go-to is to address, with disapproval, another’s character, it’s just stopping those words first and thinking, how do I change my phrasing? That’s the antidote.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Right. Exactly, their behavior is not their character and their behavior is not who they are. And so it’s really about owning your feelings and saying, “This is how I feel. When this happens I would appreciate this as a change.”
And again, I think in relationships, it’s one thing, but in the parent child relationship, because there’s this element of thinking that I am the one in charge and I have a right to tell you what to do, and I have a right to control your actions. But then in the process, that’s where the criticism comes in and then you’re really chipping away at that child and you’re attacking their character.
Rachel Cram – And when you’re thinking, I have the right, is that moving it over into the contempt part of it?
Dr. Ann-Lousie Lockhart – Yeah. Because I’m superior to you, I’m the parent. I know better, you don’t.
Rachel Cram – And I think for so many of us, that is how we were raised. That was more the mindset of previous generations. Can you give a little bit of the science to why we’ve changed our mindset on parenting like that? What have we discovered about how our brains work that lets us know that that kind of parenting, of coming in and saying, “Because I said so,”
Like, “Why do I have to do that, mommy?”
“Because I said so,”
That was so common when I was younger. I think parents kind of saw that as the healthy answer. “I don’t need to give you an explanation. It’s because I said so.”
What have we discovered about children that lets us know how counterproductive that is?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Well, I think we understand more about child development. One of the stages of development is autonomy and independence, which happens really early in toddler years. I can have my own opinions. I can have my own thoughts. I can move about the world freely without needing you to move me around.
When I’m a baby, I rely fully and solely on you. But once kids start to walk and talk and move about, they realize they are a separate individual from their parent. And so that’s where a lot of that power struggle comes in, the terrible twos, the terrible threes that we name them, because it’s not terrible. That’s autonomy. They’re realizing they have free will, and they don’t need you to do everything for them. They don’t need you to tell them always what to do because they can start doing it for themselves. And then it happens again, more autonomy and independence in the teenage years.
So I think we’re just understanding better what those developmental stages are. And then we’re understanding what parenting strategies actually cause harm to the brain.
There’s been lots of research in recent years about spanking and physical punishment and humiliation and yelling; that all of those things affect the brain of the child and it actually stunts it because if you don’t feel safe emotionally or physically in your home because you might be yelled at at any moment, you might be hit, your things might be tossed and thrown out, that affects the growing child’s brain.
Some kids will withdraw into themselves, become very depressed or anxious. Other kids, based on their temperament and personality, will lash back out. They’re like, “Oh, you think you’re in charge, well I will show you who’s in charge. See how much I got you upset. You’re the big one and you’re supposed to be better than me and look how upset you got.”
And so that’s where a lot of that conflict comes in with the parent child relationship because we’re battling for this role as the better one, who’s got your act all together. When, really now we’ve learned, that tension between parents and kids actually impacts their brain growth and development.
So I think a lot of what has changed is that we are understanding this better and we are understanding how the parent language and relationship impacts how our child grows and it impacts our mental health honestly for years to come.
So it’s amazing whenever I talk about this on my platforms, about punishment, wow, people come out of the woodwork. They don’t like that. Like they’re like, “I have a right to spank. I have a right to yell, I have a right to punish my kid into obedience.”
So they’re really of that mindset that they have a right to exert that kind of power over their child.
So it’s a really big shift for people, because it starts with a mindset that’s why don’t jump into strategies with people when I first start out working with them because I’m like,
“We need to get to our mindset issue about how we believe kids are, what we believe a parent role is and how our parents were, and getting a shift in that because then no strategy is going to work if your mindset is still stuck in 1960s parenting.”
Rachel Cram – Yeah, yeah. Would you say that punishment is a form of contempt?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I think so, because one of the definitions of punishment is about instilling pain and discomfort in some way to change behavior. So when it’s done in the parent child relationship, the kid is now on guard. So when people feel like, “I’m walking on eggshells,” yeah, I think a lot of punishment could be seen as contempt because I have the power to do this to you.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. You’ve been talking about punishment quite a bit right now on your Instagram feeds so listeners can go there and have a peek. Do you have a course on that yet?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Not yet, but I think I might have to go there.
Rachel Cram – I think so.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yeah, because there’s a lot of confusion about it and there are also some therapists that have jumped on and said, “Well, you know, technically punishment is effective.”
And I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re going ‘scientific technical punishment definition.’ Most people don’t know that part. They know punishment as yelling, spanking, taking things away.
So I’m doing it from a very laypersons level in a very basic way, because that’s how people are interacting with their kids. And so we’re trying to change that. Punishment is not the same as discipline, and it’s not the same as consequences.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Yeah, you’ve got really good information on that so people can check that out.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Pediatric Psychologist, Dr. Ann-Lousie Lockhart.
In our next episode we’re with 4 people who’ve experienced grief through the loss of a parent. We’re exploring topics like; how we walk alongside our kids when beloved grandparents die, how we as adult children navigate grief, and how children, parents and grandparents come to understand death as a timeless part of life. Join us for this thoughtful and encouraging conversation.
And now back to the conclusion of our conversation with Dr. Lockhart as she shares some expansive thoughts and perspectives on ‘respect’ and building a culture of appreciation.
Rachel Cram – So, ‘I statements’ are the antidote to criticism. What is the antidote to contempt?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Well, the antidote is treating each other with respect, because that’s been missed in that phase. How Gottman talks about it is ‘building a culture of appreciation within the relationships.’ It’s delighting and adoring that person.
When my daughter sneezes, she’s 11 and she has the cutest sneeze. And I’m like, “Oh, your sneeze is so cute.”
Or the way my son sits when he eats at the counter and he tucks his feet under his bottom. He just sits there and I like, poke his little toes. I’m like, “Oh, you’re so adorable.”
It’s that cultural of appreciation that I delight in you, reminding each other of your positive qualities and then finding gratitude in the positive action. It’s more of, I respect you. And again, that’s a lot of pushback I get from parents when I say, “You need to respect your children.”
They’re like, “No, they need to respect me.”
“Yes, but you need to respect them as well, because how are you expecting respect when you don’t model respect, when you speak to them?” So a lot of ‘contempt speak’ is lack of respect. And so the antidote for that is just treating each other with respect, finding gratitude and a culture of appreciation and delighting in the positive qualities of your kid.
Rachel Cram – I sometimes find it helpful in my mind to switch to, “Well, how would I feel if my husband treated me the way that I’m treating my child right now?”
So say I just walked in the door and he said, “Hey, Rachel, before you sit down to do anything, you need to go clean your room.”
Like, how would I feel in that moment? And sometimes when I put myself in my children’s shoes and think, how would I feel if my husband, Dan said that to me, like, “Yeah, OK, I’m going to change it.” like, it just puts it in a different light.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Mm-Hmm. Yeah. Or, you know, even if you did something like, you drove too fast and you got a speeding ticket and you told your partner and they’re like, “Well, you know, you’re always messing up. You’re so heavy footed, you’re always…” and they’re going in this long line of how you’re always messing up and you always fall short, like that doesn’t feel good. So why would we think it would feel good to a kid or a teenager?
Rachel Cram – I know you want that. “Oh, sweetheart, that must have been so scary and hard for you.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Yeah, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Yeah. But then what I often get back is parents do like, “Well, how will they learn a lesson unless I harp on it?”
Well, we can learn lessons through pain, definitely. But they’re not effective because that’s where our fight and flight safety response is coming up. It’s being triggered. We’re having a physiological reaction, so we’re trying to avoid the pain. But then once we feel fine, we’re not really going to remember that.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well exactly because I’m not going to be more careful not to speed if my partner humiliates me for speeding. I’m just not going to tell him next time I get a ticket. But if he’s compassionate and caring in his response that’s much more likely to slow me down.
I think for many of us as parents, understanding the importance of responding to our children with the same respect we would want; it’s a different way of thinking.
Dr. Ann-Lousie Lockhart – It is. It is and is very hard because we’re not used to it. Many people aren’t used to that. They’re used to, No. correction through pain and suffering.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. OK, you’ve given the ‘I statements’ as the antidote to criticism, ‘appreciation and respect’ as the antidote to contempt. What’s the antidote to defensiveness?
Dr. Ann-Lousie Lockhart – So for defensiveness, the antidote is to accept responsibility, even if it’s for your part in the conflict. And then you accept that other person’s perspective. You offer any apology for your wrongdoing.
So if your child marked up the table, and scratched it up, and then you yelled; taking responsibility would say, “Sweetheart, I’m really sorry for yelling at you.”
You don’t say, “I’m sorry for yelling at you when you made me yell.” We’re not doing that. We’re accepting our part in the interaction, and they have a part too. “I should not have responded that way. I’m sorry.”
What a great way for your child to have as a model that someone can accept their mistakes, and especially as the parent that you’ve made a mistake. So I think we have to take our responsibility and own up to our part as well too.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. With your example of yelling. I think to myself, “how many times have I had the sinking feeling of having snapped or yelled at my kids when I know that’s not loving, it’s not helpful but the impulse takes over. And that’s the same feeling our children get I think when they find themselves having done something they knew wasn’t wise. We’re all trying to do our best, I really think that’s true. And so owning our piece when something falls apart, like you’re talking about right now, with this antidote, I think it acknowledges that.
Dr. Ann-Lousie Lockhart – Oh yeah.
Rachel Cram – OK. Stonewalling. What is the antidote to stonewalling?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – So stonewalling, as we talked about, was, you know, when people just withdraw from the conversation. It becomes a habit and then everybody just shuts down and just stops responding to one another. The silent treatment. So the antidote for that is really to take a break.
Most times when we are feeling that we’re giving that other person the silent treatment, when we’re just withdrawing from the conversation, it’s because we’re feeling, as Gottman talks about, ‘physiologically flooded’ because we feel so enraged. We feel so hurt. We feel so angry. We want to cry, we want to lash out in some way. And so that physiological threat response makes sense because all of your nervous system is on overdrive. It’s wanting to fight back because, there’s been contempt, there’s been defensiveness, so your body is in this fight mode, really more so than anything else.
So the antidote for stonewalling is just to take a break. Take a break for like 20 minutes to do something that’s self-soothing. So whether you go for a run, you drink hot chocolate, you’re swinging on a swing, you’re journaling, you’re reading your Bible or your affirmations, you’re looking at poetry, watching something funny, but you’re doing something that’s self-soothing and grounding you so that you can calm yourself. And then you return to the conversation. It’s about really interrupting the conversation, interrupting the interaction, rather so that it’s not just this habit of ‘I feel this and I attack, or I feel this and I shut down.’
Rachel Cram – How do you exit as a parent without making that scary for your children? So say you’re at the table and it just becomes too much for you at the dinner table and you are overwhelmed and you know that you’re about to either burst into tears or say something that’s going to really be hurtful. How do you exit to give yourself that space without making that scary?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – That can be tricky. I think one of the ways we can do that is by just stating it. “Ok, this conversation is getting really heated and we can’t really agree on what’s happening here. Let’s just take a break from the conversation for ten minutes.” Maybe just set the timer so that you’re physically still there, but you’re taking a break.
Or maybe it’s a little kid and you need to stay in their presence. And so then you’re just literally staying there and engaging in something, whether it’s deep breathing, listening to music, listening to a podcast. You’re just allowing yourself to calm down, so that you are regulating yourself, so that you can bring in some of that co-regulation. Because if your kid is dysregulated and you’re dysregulated then you’re going to be triggering more of them. Or, they may not know what’s going on with you, and so they may interpret your mental or psychological withdrawal as rejection. So we want to really keep ourselves in check so that we’re literally and saying verbally even, “Hey, mommy needs to take a break, daddy needs to take a break from this conversation. Let’s revisit this in 10 minutes.”
Rachel Cram – We have these antidotes, but sometimes we can just still feel stuck like feel like I just can’t get out of this, and I don’t want to be somebody who ends up divorced, whether it’s for my partner or for my kids emotionally. Maybe as a close to our conversation, because we’re coming to that time, if we’re listening to this right now and thinking, “I’m stuck,” like, “I’m stuck in these four reactions.” What options are available to us to look at, what can we do at that point? If we’re feeling stuck?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I think we have to first be aware that we’re stuck. We have to name it because that’s where the habits come in that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. I think we have to name it and allow ourselves to say, “OK, I am stuck in this pattern of criticizing my kid. I am stuck in this pattern of being full of contempt in my interactions.”
So I think the awareness, the insight and then to make a commitment to saying that I want to do something different and then choose one thing that you want to start working on, resting with that and saying I will be consistent and I will commit to doing this one thing consistently in order to exact change.
Rachel Cram – I realize what that ‘one thing is’ depends on the person, but can you give an example just to get our minds going?
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – I think it could even be where you’re starting with. I will work on changing my mindset about parenting first. My kid doesn’t always need to be obedient. They don’t always seem to do exactly what I say. They don’t always need to be cleaning their room.
Maybe changing your mindset about something that you have as an expectation that you keep feeling is the source of conflict that maybe the expectation is too high. Maybe it’s unrealistic. Maybe it’s not important.
And so that’s a mindset shift. And I know people are cringing with that. But I think it’s really helpful because then you’re like, “Why are you having so many disagreements and fights over things that really don’t matter? Is your relationship with your teen or your child worth destroying over a messy room?” It’s not worth it to me.
It’s such a beautiful gift to be able to accept people exactly where they are. And in accepting them where they are, they actually are loved and motivated to be a better version of themselves. That’s what my husband did for me when we met twenty four years ago, I was in a messy place, and he accepted me where I was. And that is what motivated me to be a better person, to go for my doctorate, to really pursue other things that I may not have because of the place that I was in.
It wasn’t because he criticized me. It wasn’t because he berated me. It wasn’t because he kept shaming me. It was because he loved me where I was at. Even though I needed to change, he accepted me where I was at. And that’s what we need to give and gift our kids with, is saying that I adore and love you even in the messiness. We need to give unconditional love. Even in the messiness.
Rachel Cram – Oh, I love that as an ending. You started out talking about your mom saying to you, “We don’t run away from our problems,” and I think unconditional love gives you so much scope for not running and being able to stay in the moment and figure it out.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Oh yeah. Yep. Because its saying “I will be there with you and for you in the midst of all of our messiness,” that’s what got us through. With everything.
Rachel Cram – Fabulous. Ann-Louise, it’s been such a joy to talk to you.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – Same here. Thank you.
Rachel Cram – Thank you so much for your time and for leaning into this conversation. You’ve given a lot of yourself, and I really appreciate it.
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart – You’re welcome. You’re welcome.
We really resonated with Ann-Louise’s testimony toward the power of unconditional love.
Her story about her husband,
Yeah, we’d have loved to ask more about that.
And then in her list of what we can do to calm ourselves down, Ann-Louise mentioned reading our Bibles, which got us thinking about a way to end her episode.
In the past year, we’ve kind of stumbled on ending our episodes with poetry or prose that mirror the conversation with our guest
Often our guests bring those to the conversation themselves and in this case, Ann-Louise gave an affirmative thumbs up on our idea.
There’s a well known verse from the bible, often used at weddings, as a description of unconditional love as what is most important.
The “greatest of all” is the wording the bible uses.
And so with thanks to Ann-Louise, and as the ultimate antidote to all that ruptures relationships, here is what the ancient wisdom offers about the power of love.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love,
I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but do not have love,
I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud. it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.