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Podcast Episode #5: Parenting Through Overwhelm & High Sensitivity with Natalie Brunswick

Guest: Natalie Brunswick, Therapist at The Motherhood Map

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Rose Burch: Hi friend, welcome to the Quiet Connections podcast. Do you feel anxious and not good enough in social situations? Feel like you’re weird, broken or don’t fit in. You are not alone. Join Hayley and Stacie on a journey to quiet confidence, picking up key insights to help you feel more calm and confident. So you can finally speak up, join in and feel like you belong too.

Hayley Stanton: Hello, and welcome to episode five of the Quiet Connections podcast. I’m Hayley. And I’m joined by Natalie Brunswick, who is a mum and occupational therapist, a psychotherapist, and she helps parents who are highly sensitive themselves or who have highly sensitive children. And we’re going to be diving into what it means to be highly sensitive, how we can deal with overwhelm as a parent, [00:01:00] what might be going on for both a child and us when their behavior is challenging, how we might begin to respond differently. And most importantly, this conversation is full of so much reassurance for you as a parent. You don’t want to miss it. 

Welcome, Natalie. It’s so good to have you here. 

Natalie Brunswick: Thank you so much. 

Hayley Stanton: Could you begin by sharing a little bit of your story, please? 

Natalie Brunswick: So, I mean, I’m a mom. We can start with that. I’m a mom to a, almost two and a half year old. And you know, we had a really unexpectedly rocky entryway into Parenthood and parenting and motherhood and all of that.

And at the time, you know, so I’m a therapist. I work as a psychotherapist and I’m also trained as an occupational therapist. So I bring both of those lenses to my work with, with parents, which is really nice. I, I like being able to [00:02:00] pull on both and yet I had never heard of this term, highly sensitive baby or highly sensitive child or highly sensitive person. I had never heard of that. So, you know, when this little human came into our world, who was a very dysregulated baby screamed a lot, um, was very hard to settle. Um, Just like, could not leave the house. Couldn’t get him in the stroller. He had tongue tie and reflux and colic, and I felt like everything, like as short of actually having a diagnosable medical condition, um, was going on with my son in those first few months.

So it was just, it was really hard. Um, but I think when I finally found that word. I think he was around four months old. So that’s when most parents start to look into sleep training because everyone they know [00:03:00] is doing it. And so in that process of going down this rabbit hole and realizing like these methods that are very mainstream were not working for him. Like he was never drowsy, but awake. He would never fall asleep out of our arms or without being fed. Like there was no getting him down the crib. Um, and so I stumbled upon this literature on the highly sensitive child and that sort of expanded and opened up a lot of things for me in, in learning how to relate to my child differently, but also in being able to give myself a lot of self-compassion. For the fact that this is actually a different journey than, than other people find themselves on. And it is quite hard. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. So you had this tiny dysregulated baby that screamed a lot and was hard to settle and soothe. And for the listeners, what we’re talking about when we say dysregulated [00:04:00] is the nervous system stress response, which we were exploring back in episode two. And this is when our bodies are sending us messages saying I’m not safe. I’m not safe. And we might go into fight flight or freeze mode, but for a baby, our primary response is to seek out help and security from a caregiver. And they do that through making a noise. So, Natalie, what was this like for you as a mother? 

Natalie Brunswick: I came into Parenthood with this really rich background as a clinician. Um, and I still. Was completely thrown off course and completely lost my bearings and had all of those same, you know, thoughts that a lot of parents do, whether you have a highly sensitive child or it’s something else. Cause there is always something else. Um, you know, there was a lot of self doubt and a lot of just feeling like I was failing, feeling like I was failing him. I was like, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do [00:05:00] this? 

And so the reason why, what you do is so important, the reason why all these online communities are so important and just having these spaces for parents is because we need to have those spaces to connect, especially when we’re going through an experience where we might not have other people near us, physically who are going through that together. So that’s why I got online and started like, Posting on Instagram and doing all of that stuff because it’s, it’s something we need to sort of talk about and connect with each other on this.

Hayley Stanton:  Yeah, I totally agree, Natalie. And I mean, thank you for sharing that because I’m convinced that every single parent listing can relate to the worries that you’re not good enough, these fears of failing and, and all of that self doubt that you’ve just described, but actually it’s something that’s often just not spoken about.

So for some of us, our stress response is more easily triggered than for other people. And. We know that this can occur [00:06:00] through experiencing adverse childhood experiences known as ACES, which can teach us that we’re not safe as we are or where we are. And we’ve covered this in episode two, but the sensitivity could also be because you are born highly sensitive, which is what you’re describing here with your child.

And research tells us that one in five people are highly sensitive and I would definitely include myself in this figure. So do you also consider yourself to be a highly sensitive person, Natalie? 

Natalie Brunswick: It’s an interesting question. I’ve thought quite a bit about this. So I, according to my mom, I was not born like my son, so I did not come into the world, like with the same sort of, um, sensitivities that he has. I was a really easy baby. I slept a lot, like, so right off the bat, like, it doesn’t seem like I came into this world as a very highly sensitive child in the way that my son is like, he’s like on the extreme. And was a spectrum if we’re talking about highly high sensitivity. Um, but you [00:07:00] know, there, I think along the way, and here’s the thing with high sensitivity and trauma and toxic stress and all of that.

And Elaine Aaron talks about this, Elaine Aron being, you know, the lead researcher on highly sensitive people, um, will say that, you know, high sensitivity can also a be exacerbated by trauma. So if you’re someone who’s born as a highly sensitive person, you’re much more sensitive to stressful experiences in your environment that can lead to symptoms of trauma or can affect you more deeply than let’s say a sibling who is not born with the same sensitivities as you.

Um, And, and in that same effect, you know, a lot of the symptoms that we see with trauma or growing up in a house that has a lot of stress and having a high ACEs score are quite similar to what we see with [00:08:00] high sensitivity. So we see a lot of dysregulation. We see hypervigilance there’s, there’s a lot of stuff that we see that, that they’re really quite similar and yeah.

I think the lines can get quite blurred between the two. Um, that’s just me and I think there is a real interaction between them. So I would say like, I definitely wasn’t born as highly sensitive as my son. And it’s hard for me to know exactly what it was like at that age. Um, but I have an ACEs score for, so for anyone who wants to go Google that you could go for it.

Um, but there was a lot of stressful experiences in my childhood, that in many ways could have molded me into a more highly sensitive person, if you want to look at it through that lens. And so take that even further, you know, that could have shown up in my son through epigenetic changes, I’m also married to, you know, grandchild of Holocaust survivors. So there’s lots of stuff that could have been inherited [00:09:00] by my son that would have led it to be being expressed in a more extreme way with him. 

Hayley Stanton: This is fascinating, that potential overlap between ACEs and high sensitivity. Okay. So I want to dive more deeply into what it means to be highly sensitive, because I actually think that this will be a new term for many of our listeners. Would you mind talking us through this please? Natalie. 

Natalie Brunswick: So Elaine Aron is the woman who really brought this term into being and she’s the lead researcher and so a lot of this research comes from her. And so according to her research, there are four main ways that high sensitivity shows up. Okay. So the first one is called depth of processing.

And so this just means that, you know, highly sensitive people are always taking in a lot of information. They’re thinking about it really deeply. Okay. So they’re assessing everything, they’re [00:10:00] analyzing things. So we’re processing things at a certain depth that other people might not be.

The next is called it’s overstimulation. So this is one that is probably the most obvious with our little, highly sensitive babies. Um, and overstimulation is really this idea that we’re more likely to get overstimulated and more likely to get highly aroused or dysregulated by stimuli. And when we’re talking about stimuli, We have internal stimuli. So this is the process is called interoception. So this is the process of noticing what’s going on inside of our body, and then there’s the stimuli outside of our bodies. Okay. So everything that’s going on around us. So highly sensitive people and highly sensitive kids are much more attuned and much more [00:11:00] sensitive to all of these messages that are coming at them.

And to some degree, the way I see it, because I am a trauma therapist and so I see everything through this lens, which is like, we have to think about it almost like the stimuli is coming in and the brain is saying like, this is dangerous. So, you know, a little baby who’s having like gas pains or has a new tooth coming in. Some kids are totally unaffected by that. Right? Like parents will say like the tooth pops up, they had no idea it was coming. And other kids who are tend to be more highly sensitive, kids are incredibly affected by this pain. You know, it disrupts their sleep. They don’t want to eat. And so on some level, the body is experiencing this pain as somewhat unsafe, as somewhat dangerous. Okay. It’s highlighting this experience for them and saying, pay attention to this. [00:12:00] So that’s the overstimulation piece. And so that really is the trickiest thing with, with our little highly sensitive babies. Because because they get so overstimulated, and their nervous systems get so dysregulated, they need a lot more help from their parents to down regulate to co-regulate, to bring them back down to a state of calm.

So they might need like to always be feeding to sleep. The sucking reflex turns on our parasympathetic nervous system puts us into that rest and digest state of calm. They might need a lot of sensory input in the form of like bouncing and rocking and we’re shushing that auditory stimulation. Singing. So these kids just need, they need more, more help from us. To regulate to, and to compensate for that tendency to get overstimulated. And we will see this in bigger kids too. It’ll just [00:13:00] show up differently. 

So the next one after that is called emotional responsiveness or empathy, and it’s actually really cool. This one is super cool. So they’ve done brain scans of highly sensitive people. And they actually show that the highly sensitive people have more active mirror neurons. 

Hayley Stanton: And these mirror neurons, does this relate to you being able to feel other people’s emotions 

Natalie Brunswick: A hundred percent. So that’s where it’s, that’s where it goes. So essentially mirror neurons are these neurons that we have in our brain, which is where all our neurons are, um, that are a tool to help us actually learn through imitation. So they. What happens is when there’s like a little baby or a child who sees, you know, you let’s say using a spoon to eat your soup.

There’s a neuron that’s going to fire up in the baby’s brain. That’s almost like the brain is doing the [00:14:00] action, even though the child is not actually doing it. So it, it allows for this mirroring of what we’re seeing. And we learn through that. Through that process. So for talking about empathy and highly sensitive people, if somebody is feeling really sad, the part of our brain, that it is related to that and the mirror neurons in our brain that are related to that will also light up and we’ll feel that we will feel that pain. We will feel that sadness. So highly sensitive people are really hardwired to just feel things more deeply. Um, and really perceive that in what’s going on in the people around them. 

Hayley Stanton: It’s of bringing up the kind of image of like, you know, if I’m watching the telly, I cry at everything. And then from a perspective of a parent, I guess when you are seeing your child struggling, [00:15:00] your experiencing that within yourself, much more deeply, you’re feeling those feelings. Um, and then, like you say about overstimulation as a parent, I guess you’re feeling overwhelmed an awful lot of the time, especially when you’re parenting a child who is more sensitive and needs more input and they’re crying out for that extra input that maybe you don’t feel like you can give them.

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. So if you have more of those mirror neurons and your child is, let’s say throwing a tantrum and they’re expressing like rage, right. That means your going to have more of those neurons firing in you that are actually going to mirror that emotion that your child is feeling. So it’s going to take you more energy and effort to regulate that than someone who’s not highly sensitive. So it’s a lot of work parenting as a highly sensitive person. It requires this like being thrown to the [00:16:00] extreme and constantly bringing yourself back, which is it’s exhausting. 

Hayley Stanton: When we were preparing for this interview, we put some questions out to the community. And one of the things that came back with the people were feeling really overwhelmed. And also there was a lot of guilt that the parents are responding, not in the way that they want to, but the way that their bodies are just responding in the moment. So what is it that’s happening in those moments and, and how can people kind of press pause and think about doing something differently?

Natalie Brunswick: Well, the truth is there’s a lot happening. Um, so there’s no simple this, this is exactly what’s happening, but before I answer that question, I just want to mention before I forget, cause we didn’t talk about the fourth one, but it relates to this question. So the fourth trait of the highly sensitive person is, is that they’re sensitive to sensory stimuli.

So it’s very similar to that first, that, [00:17:00] that second one we talked about about the overstimulation. Um, but just this idea that highly sensitive people are much more sensitive to smell a change in the environment, noticing how somebody moves, noticing a facial expression or noticing this sound. Right. So we’re going to come back to what you just asked me, which is if a child is throwing a tantrum, that sensory stimuli, that’s a loud noise. And so that is a trait of a highly sensitive person, is that you are more sensitive to that. And so I know that from my experience, you know, when my son screams, it affects me more deeply than it affects my husband. And so I can speak to the truth of that. Like, there is something about that just on a sensory level, that it is [00:18:00] quite disregulating. So if we’re going to talk about why this happens, why do I get overwhelmed? It’s multifaceted. Right? So there’s on a pure physiological level. My body is reacting to the sensory input. It’s reacting to the noise, it’s throwing my whole system off. 

And if we talk about like window of tolerance, so to give your listeners just a brief little intro to that, like the window of tolerance is essentially this optimal zone within which we’re able to act like rational humans, but it’s like this it’s the optimal zone in which we’re able to stay regulated enough to use our prefrontal cortex, to use our rational mind, to say to ourselves, my child is just throwing a tantrum. I’m safe. Everything’s going to be okay. The problem is. If we’re a highly sensitive person, then [00:19:00] just the noise can be enough to throw us out of our window of tolerance so that our rational brain can no longer reason with us and tell us that we’re we’re safe. And so what can happen is we, we will start to perceive our child as an actual, like, Safety threat.

Like, we’ll feel like we’re in danger, we’ll go into fight or flight and our body will start to just escalate and escalate. And to throw that into the mix, you know, if you’ve had a history of trauma, if you’ve had a history of any childhood emotional neglect or abuse, if you grew up in a home where there was a lot of screaming, right? If you had a parent who was very, who yelled a lot, the sound of your child’s screaming can trigger the same response in you that you would have felt when you were a child. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, one of the things that I’ve read about is that as a parent, we kind of [00:20:00] respond not to the child in the moment, but to our past experiences, is that right?

Natalie Brunswick: I think to a large degree, I think it depends on where we are in our window of tolerance. Right? So I think when we get bumped out of our window of tolerance, we tend to revert back to like our primitive brain, our limbic system, our survival brain will turn on and guide how we react. And those reactions are very much related to our attachment.

Okay. So what kind of attachment style did we develop growing up is, is going to impact how we, you know, where we go with our child and how we interact in those moments. And then there’s, there’s the thoughts that we endorse, right? So what’s the story I’m telling myself. Okay. So there’s the way that my body learned to react to loud noises. There’s the way my body learns to react to [00:21:00] danger and yes, we learn a lot of that in childhood. Um, but there’s also the narrative. So what am I telling myself about what’s going on? What am I telling myself about what my child is doing? Why my child is doing what they’re doing? Is the story that my child is manipulating me? Is this story that my child is, you know, pushing my buttons as a story. There could be many stories that we are telling ourselves and those stories can be coming from our childhood. So, you know, I know for me, it’s when my child throws food on the table. Okay. If he throws food that is incredibly triggering for me. And my husband was like, why, why? Like it’s just food on the floor?

Like, what is, what is it about that? And my mom used to freak out if we spilled food. Right. So I can directly link that back, um, to that experience. And the story I was given is that you don’t [00:22:00] throw food on the floor. It’s bad to do that. So we continue to endorse a lot of these stories without thinking about it.

Right. So it requires that we really take a step back and look at those thoughts and think, well, does it really matter? Like, if you throw a food on the floor, why does this bother me so much? Like I can just clean it up. Is the fear that he’s going to grow up into this child who’s never going to obey any rules? So these stories can kind of run a mock. And usually they’re very unconscious and we don’t even know they’re happening. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. I guess the one of the tell-tale signs is in the language that we use. And on that point, we’ve had a question that says, how can I manage my child’s behavior when they’re not listening and they want to argue with me and they cut me off from what I’m saying?

So that says to me that there’s a story going on about, you know, the child is doing this on purpose and it’s like, the child is kind of attacking me. [00:23:00] So what would you say to that? 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. I mean, so little kids just to answer the specifics of that, their executive functioning, their prefrontal cortex is not developed. Their attentional systems are not developed, so they’re not very good at paying attention. Like no, not interrupting or like following a train of thought. They’re just not, it doesn’t, it’s not fully developed yet. 

But I think what’s going on. There is probably there’s this feeling of, of not being. Seen or heard by our child. And that is usually triggering a feeling in us of not having been seen or heard by our own parents growing up. And so it’s recreating that same feeling. But now it’s happening with our child and this is, this is really normal. This happens to everyone. We recreate these patterns because we learned how to be [00:24:00] in relation with our parents and being a parent is a relationship.

So even though we can rationally say it makes no sense. Why would I expect my child to, you know, give me the same nurturing, love and respect that I would have expected from my parents. It doesn’t matter, that primitive brain, that brain that just wants to like be held and feel seen and feel connected, still goes into that place of shame and wounding when our child reacts in those ways that are similar to how a parent might’ve treated us.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, I think you’ve really touched on something there that a lot of the people within our community have experienced that sense of not feeling seen and not feeling heard. And almost like for me personally, it was like, my parents expected me to be quiet, be still, don’t touch anything, don’t make a mess, don’t be too noisy, don’t be inconvenient basically. And I see my own sort of [00:25:00] triggers that noise is triggering for me. Mess is triggering for me and I can absolutely relate to what you’re saying about it takes a lot of work to, to manage that and not put that on to somebody else. 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. It’s a lot of, it’s a lot of work and it really requires that we, we take the time to do, to do that work. But it’s not easy work. As someone who lives it every day, I’m actively engaged in this work on a daily basis. And it’s hard and you’re not going to get it right. Like you’re not always going to get it right. So like the good enough parent, the famous good enough parents idea is you only have to get it right 30% of the time, that’s it to be like a good enough parent. You just have to kind of meet their needs, help them feel seen and heard 30% of the time. And they’ll turn out fine. So I feel like we can manage 30%. 

Hayley Stanton: Okay. That, that feels really good because I think what I most want to get from [00:26:00] this conversation is that sense of reassurance for any parents or would-be parents who are listening and who may have heard us in the second episode where we’re talking about a theory of how we develop social anxiety, basically, and that it comes from the messages that were given as a child. And we learned that we’re not good enough and it comes from intergenerational trauma, like you were saying, and it’s, you know, the messages are passed from one generation to another and another.

And we parent similar to our parents with the messages that we’ve learned. And, um, I think it can be really scary when we realized that, you know, I’ve learned this from my parents and I don’t want to be passing this on to my children. So how do I, how do I make that, that break? And it’s really  hard and it may not be possible to completely change that cycle. You know, we’re just starting, starting the ball rolling, and we’re going to make those small changes and then it’s up to our children to make more changes and to continue. And it’s just [00:27:00] about having that awareness and open conversation.

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah, I love that. I think of it like the Olympics, right?  It’s like, we’re, we’re running a little stretch and we pass the Baton onto our kids and then they’re going to do their work and then they’re going to pass it onto their kids. Like we, you can’t heal centuries of intergenerational trauma and messaging and nevermind cultural messaging that we still get all the time.

You can’t heal that in one generation. And so we can’t hold ourselves to that standard. And I think it’s really tricky in this world. We live in now where there’s so much access to information. And so there are so many opportunities for parents to just feel so much shame around their parenting and feel like they’re just not doing it.good enough. They’re just not getting it right.  And I think we have to allow ourselves the grace of like, [00:28:00] it’s not on me to get this all right. To do it perfectly. It’s impossible. Like it is just impossible. You are going to react. You are going to react in ways that your parents reacted because that is how our brains work.

The biggest developmental growth period for our brains is between zero and three. And then as we continue through childhood, they continue, but these patterns are laid down. Like they’re laid down pretty tightly and I’m a therapist, so obviously I believe we can change these patterns. This is what I do with my clients all day long, but you’re never going to do it perfectly, right? Let’s say you’re starting from a 10 out of a 10 as like an angry, rageful human. You’re never going to be a zero. It’s just not in your DNA. It’s not in your wiring. Like, it’s just impossible, but you could probably get down to like a three or a four. [00:29:00] Right. You could probably get yourself down to that place where you don’t explode as much as you used to. You’re capable of showing yourself compassion. And maybe by the time you were like a 90 year old man, you’ve gotten down to zero. And I think that is the thing. There is such a preciousness to these little humans and we feel like we have to get it all right for them while they’re little and their brains are developing.

And this is such an important part of their, their development. But yeah. Healing is a life’s journey and parenting is the most stressful time of your life. So this, this healing is just, it’s not all going to happen in those early years, but you can make the changes, right? So we just have to learn how to take the pressure off.

And, and the truth is that pressure. It actually makes it harder for us to do the work that we need to do because. If we do mess up, [00:30:00] we’re so hard on ourselves. And we go into a place that, because we’re now being so hard on ourselves, the next time our child reacts in a way we’re not in our window of tolerance and we’re more likely to react. So the way we talk to ourselves pushes us all outside of our window of tolerance as well. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, what’s coming up for me is that probably the most important first step is starting to treat yourself with compassion and accept that you might be behaving this way because of things in your life that have been outside of your control. It’s knowing that you can of course make changes now, but you have to be compassionate with yourself for the experience that you had and the things that you’ve learnt in order to survive within your family when you were young. 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. And also, you know, I think there’s so much blame from what I hear you saying about some of those letters from the parents, like this idea [00:31:00] that it’s my fault. And I get messages like this from, from moms all the time, worrying that because maybe they had postpartum depression or anxiety, they weren’t able to build a healthy attachment, a secure attachment with their child. So there’s a lot of blame that gets put on us, right. That parents will sort of say, well, now my eight year old is socially anxious. This is my fault. And I think the beauty of the highly sensitive research and I love, I love this research for that reason is that Elaine Aron really tries to posit it as this benefit. It’s a beautiful way of being, and yes, it has its challenges. But it is this gift to some degree.

And also it is inherited, right? So your child might’ve come into this world that way, regardless of what you did. Right. And so we need to sort of [00:32:00] let go of the blame and If you had postpartum anxiety and depression, like that’s also not on you. Like that’s not your fault. And if you had difficulty attaching with your baby in those first few years, like attachment is always ongoing. We’re always healing. We’re always able to move to secure attachment. That’s what therapy is, right. That’s that’s essentially what we are doing in a therapeutic relationship is holding space for our clients to feel like they can learn how to feel safe within our relationship. So it’s never lost, like it’s never like the end of the road.

It’s not all on you. And then, yeah, it’s still so much that can be done. Even if a child is experiencing social anxiety at eight. Like, I was a socially anxious kid. You were probably a socially anxious kid. We turned out remarkably well. [00:33:00] So I think we need to sort of do what we can to support our children without maybe going to that worst case scenario of projecting our own, fears around what we went through onto our children.

I don’t want them to go through this cause I know how hard it was for me, but you didn’t have you as a parent. Right. So they’re never going to have the same experience you did. But we can go to that place of worrying, like, Oh, I F them up and now like they’re going to have all of these issues that I had and it’s going to be like that, I feel terrible. They’re going to hate me the way I hate my parents. And it’s just we go to that place. Right. You’re never going to talk to me. They’re never gonna invite me to their wedding. Um, and so we want to just try to stay present focused with where we are and where they are. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, presence feels like a really key part of this.

Natalie Brunswick: Yes. It requires quite a lot of presence in every way. 

Hayley Stanton: Okay. [00:34:00] So a couple of the questions that we had come in were about what can we do when as parents we’re separated and the children that we have are experiencing maybe an, a negative. Parenting style, negative attitudes,  emotional distance from the other parent. And we’re worried about the impact that that’s going to have on them. And wondering if there’s anything that we can do to support them and help them to maybe open up and talk about it if they need to and feel safe in doing that, or, or just support them to realize that the messages they’re getting from the other parent aren’t necessarily the truth about who they are as people. 

I 

Natalie Brunswick: think you just answered your question. I mean, we can’t control what the other parent does, whether we’re divorced or not. Right. Even in couples where parents are [00:35:00] married, there’s going to be differences between parenting styles. And people will also often talk about this with grandparents, right? So when my, my parents or my in-laws right, they speak this way, they act this way and it’s very true. It’s very triggering. And, I think what we need to remember, is what the research shows on resilience in kids is if we could just pinpoint one thing that every child needs it’s that they just need a single supportive, consistent attuned caregiver. Just one. Right. So all of the research we see, like sometimes kids don’t, both of the parents are absent and, or not capable of showing up for them, but it’s a grandparent or it’s a teacher at school that shows up for them. So we have to remember that the work we’re doing and the way that we’re showing up, it’s enough, it’s enough to [00:36:00] provide that resilience for them. Because even if it’s not a parent, like they’re going to go to school one day, there’s going to be bullies.

There’s going to be, you know, all of these experiences that they’re gonna come across that are going to be really hard for them. And so as parents, we don’t want to shelter them from any of these difficult experiences, we want them to be able to experience the hard stuff. I mean, to a degree, you know, some stuff we don’t want them to experience.  But within reason,we want them to experience some of that difficult stuff and know that we are a safe place, that they can come back to, to process, to talk about what that feels like to talk about what it means and to explore what all of that comes with that. So I think there is, I I’ve heard that question just for my community in the past. There’s a lot of [00:37:00] fear that, you know, People don’t act the way that they’re supposed to. And especially to come back to our conversation about like, there’s just so much information out there. Right? So you see all these parenting posts that say, say this, not that… I hate those posts. I find those posts to be very shaming for parents. And I know those posts mean well, but I feel like parents see those and they think like, Oh crap. I said that. Now that must mean I’m doing a bad job. Or when they say the thing that the post told them not to say, they remember that the post said, they’re not supposed to say that. And now I’m feeling all this shame.

That’s a whole other conversation, but we do get a lot of messages around all the ways we’re not supposed to talk to children, right. If you’re in that community, in that world, and if you’re highly sensitive person, you probably are reading a lot of parenting stuff because you tend to do that. So we have to remind ourselves that.  t just matters that we show up for them, that we show up 30% of the [00:38:00] time for them, but that we are there and it’s okay if the rest of the world isn’t showing up in that same way, it can be enough to just have just the one. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. And when you have that one person that you feel that you can talk to, then you don’t actually necessarily become traumatized from the experiences that you go through.

Natalie Brunswick: There’s a huge buffering effect. There’s a difference between trauma and, and PTSD, right. Or trauma symptoms. And so we can explain two people can experience a trauma and. They both won’t end up with either like PTSD or complex PTSD symptoms. And so there are a lot of factors that are going to play into what leads to that outcome, but having that secure base, having that safe space that you can go to.

And it’s really about, it’s really about having that container. It’s about knowing that [00:39:00] in the world, there is someone somewhere. Who really is, is able to allow you to feel seen, allow you feel heard and to allow you to just feel validated and valued as a person. Like I am. I’m good enough as I am.

Hayley Stanton:  Yeah, this is reminding me of some of the  work of Brene Brown, where she talks about how things can get in the way of us creating that container for people and being that safe space, because we were kind of conditioned to like go to, I need to fix this for you. I need to make everything better. And as parents there might be a tendency to try and keep your children in a bubble, so they don’t get hurt and they don’t have to experience all these horrible experiences that we go through throughout life. And the worry is that when we jump straight to fixing and we’re not sitting with them, hearing those experiences, then we’re almost invalidating that child’s [00:40:00] experience or saying that it’s not okay to feel, and it’s not okay to express this and then we can grow up believing we just have to contain it all when we have to fix things and not actually talk about it. 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. Yeah. So I, I mean, that opens up a whole, we could do a whole other podcast on that, but I think, you know, if we’re talking about resiliency, I, I can’t remember the exact name, but it’s the Harvard early childhood research – their big research Institute and, you know, they released these four, four factors that, that lead to resiliency. And one of those is the first one we talked about having that single secure base that we can go back to, that we can rely on. And the another one, a second one is the ability to self-regulate which is essentially what you’re talking about, what we’re doing when we are allowing [00:41:00] our child to sit with their emotion. Okay. So we’re first sitting with them in that emotion. We’re co-regulating we are, we are staying regulated so that they can. Learn to stay regulated too, and we’re naming the emotion for them. Right. So we’re saying, you know, are you feeling really sad right now? Or are you feeling angry? Like that must be really tough. What we’re doing is we’re teaching the prefrontal cortex, which is what allows us to self-regulate. Okay. To have a language with which to talk to our limbic system, which is the part of our brain that goes on when we’re throwing a tantrum or we’re going into fight or flight, or when we essentially go out of our window of tolerance by giving our children that language, they learn to self-soothe.

So, yeah. What self soothing starts as this co-regulation, I’m holding you. I’m rocking you. I’m swishing you, whatever that looks like. And by [00:42:00] giving our children language and emotional language to name the experience, we’re actually teaching ourselves to say it’s okay. I’m just feeling angry right now. It’s just anger, but I’m safe. Without that language, we forget that we’re safe. We really do feel like something bad is going to happen. And by giving ourselves the tool of talking about the emotion and feeling like we can really experience the emotion without it being the end of the world, we learned that one emotions are safe and two that we have this way of regulating just by acknowledging the emotion. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. That feels helpful. So you say that there are four elements of resilience in children. So what are the other two? 

Natalie Brunswick: So the third one, self efficacy and locus of control, which really means that do I feel like I have the ability to exert control [00:43:00] on my environment. So we know with trauma trauma can disrupt our locus of control. So if I never learned that I can have any agency over my experience, then I lose confidence in my ability to regulate my emotions, to handle having difficult emotions, to handle interpersonal relationships. I can develop an external locus of control, which says that the world is a bad place and nothing good is ever going to happen. No matter what I do, I can’t change anything. Right. Likewise, we can also go the complete opposite end and develop a very strong internal locus of control, which means we’re holding on very tightly to like, I can’t trust anyone to do anything. I have to be in control all the time. I’m the only one that can make sure this happens [00:44:00] right. So, what we want is a balance between the two. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. How might they show up in parenting? 

Natalie Brunswick: So my, my instinct is it go to talking about sleep, but I know this is such a tricky subject to talk about because sleep training, it’s rife with lots of opinions. But I think what you’ll find from a lot of therapists is we’ll say sleep training’s not great. And it’s not great for highly sensitive children. For some children, it works fine. But the reason why I want to bring this up is because what a child learns when they call out to you in the middle of the night and you show up the child learns that I have agency. The child learns that I have control. I can cry and mum or dad is going to come. Okay. So they learn to trust one that [00:45:00] if I ask, if I do something, there will be an effect on the environment I can affect my surroundings. And they learn all kinds of other things, but that is really where we see that. We see that with crying to get food. If I cry, then food is gonna come. So if we have a lot of neglect growing up, we learn that I have no agency. I can cry and cry and cry. And it doesn’t make a difference. And so this is why to close up that sleep training conversation, when we are leaving our children to cry for really long periods of time, you know, sleep coaches will suggest like letting them throw up and doing all kinds of things that are really just quite heartbreaking. The child is learning that, I have no agency, right. I can’t control the outcome. And if I’m feeling really distressed, Like I have no tools. And so there’s a learned helplessness [00:46:00] that gets learned quite young, in situations like that. So we don’t just see it with sleep. We see it with everything, which is why the most important thing when we’re talking about that secure base is attunement.

So it’s that ability to notice what does my child need and how can I give it to them? Because that’s essentially where we’re teaching them. That they have agency teaching them that they can do something and they can actually control the environment around them. 

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. I think one of the things, things that came up from talking to our community was that it’s actually quite easy to question your own instincts because of, you know, receiving criticism or well-meaning advice from other people. And some of our community members actually mentioned that people would tell them things like, Oh, you’re spoiling her, or you’re too soft with him. And so from what you’ve shared, I feel like it’s really important to trust yourself to, or to trust. [00:47:00] That intuitive pole that you have within you to respond to your child. And I wonder if as also a misconception in society that a child is trying to control or manipulate their parents. 

Natalie Brunswick: I mean, I think to a certain degree,  that is what children are always trying to do. They’re trying to exert some level of control. It’s not that they’re trying to manipulate you, right? We want to remove us from the, like the equation. It’s not about us. So half of that statement is true. They are trying to exert control. But they are not trying to manipulate. They are learning. Like this is their job. They’re going out into the world. They are essentially tasked with trying to learn how do I fit in the world and how do I exist in the world and how do I be in relationship with people in things in the world.

And so they are constantly experimenting with. How can I get what I want? Like we’re human beings. [00:48:00] We’re driven by like primal desires. Mostly. Like, we like to think we’re highly evolved, but like, essentially it was like, we want things and we want to get them. So that’s what children are doing all the time.

Now the goal, like the task of the parent is to set boundaries, right. And to feel comfortable setting boundaries and to feel comfortable when a child expresses their discontent. With you. Right. And I think that’s the hard part for parents is when, when I say no and the child keeps act behaving in a way, how do I continue to stay safe and feel regulated and trust my instincts on this while this child is having a meltdown and I’m trying to maintain this boundary.

So children, one needs to experiment and need to have the space to try to exert their control. But two, they also need to learn boundaries and learn that they’re not always going to get what they want just because they want it. Right. [00:49:00] And so that’s the hard part for the parent is, is setting the boundaries because you know, to come back to bringing things in from our childhood.

We’re always coming up against that. So if we had really strict parents, we might, there’s this thing that we see where parents will kind of go to the opposite end. So if I had really strict parents, I’ll become a really lenient parent. If I have really lenient parents, I might go the other end. So, we have to be mindful of what’s coming into the equation for us when we are setting boundaries and also when we’re struggling with the boundaries. 

Hayley Stanton: So there is something around recognize the story that you’re telling yourself. And question what else could be true. And if it isn’t about you, what is it about? Yeah. 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah, a really helpful exercise I like to give to parents is, you know, take a minute and sit down and just ask yourself, like, take your journal editors and paper and just ask yourself, how did my parents react to me when I [00:50:00] expressed big emotions and just taking the time to sit with that and really understand one, what are the responses that my parents gave me that are now embedded in me and that I might just be instinctively doing. But also how did that make me feel and what is that wounding that I’m carrying with me? What is the discomfort with emotion that exists within me? Because a lot of times, a lot of us are really taught that emotions are not safe. Yeah. So to come back to that question you had before about sitting and staying with the child, you know, generationally, most of us were raised by parents who kind of had this mentality of like stop crying. Everything’s fine. And so we learned that emotions are not pleasant or good or socially acceptable, but also for someone who has a history of trauma on a more [00:51:00] extreme end, we also learned that emotions to feel emotions is, is really not safe. It’s not a safe place for us to be.

So to be feeling that, it just can be very dysregulated and it can really feel unsafe. So a lot of us have very complicated relationships with emotions. And so when our child is having these big emotions, there’s a lot going on inside us. When that emotion is coming up, that’s causing us to just be very uncomfortable with the emotional experience we’re having.

And so we just want them to stop, right? It’s like, just, just, I want you to stop. I need it to stop because I need to feel better. I don’t feel safe right now. We don’t know that’s consciously going on, but that is a big part of what’s going on. 

Hayley Stanton: And in those situations, our gut reaction can be to try to control the environment around us and the children within the environment. And we may go to this place of like, sit down, be quiet, stop causing me this pain, you know, responding to a child in a way that just [00:52:00] doesn’t feel good that we don’t want to be responding. Like, and perhaps that’s because we didn’t receive that. Co-regulation from our own parents that you mentioned is so important for us, Natalie. So what if we were to, to focus inwards first? If we could work on regulating our own emotions and nervous system and thought, well, how can I feel better within myself? What can I do without expecting the world around me to change? How might we begin this process? 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah. And so the trick is really to learn what I mean, everything is one awareness and two change right. Or new habits. And so the first step is really becoming aware of my triggers. What is showing up for me? Why is this showing up? What is the narrative? So cognitively, what are the thoughts I’m having? What’s the story I’m telling myself. And then two, from a body-oriented perspective, what does this feel like for me is my tests getting tight? Does my heart race do my Palm sweat? Do I clench? [00:53:00] So just starting to bring this awareness to my experience. What is happening to me and when my child is having a difficult moment and then being able to implement these tools. Right. So how do I stay regulated for me? Does that mean deep breathing? Does that mean putting on music and dancing? Does that mean taking five minutes break and locking myself in the bathroom so I can regroup. So those are more like regulation strategies. And then also, how do I challenge these thoughts? Right. So once we have awareness of our thoughts, we can start to then dismantle them and take them apart.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, and this isn’t quick work. This might be something that you’re working on over many years with a therapist you might be working with a coach. You might be doing lots of reading around various topics. I think for me, the most important thing is that you stay really curious and you keep noticing and keep questioning what’s going on for me, what might be going on for my [00:54:00] child. You know, I’m noticing this as the story that I’m making up, what else could be true? Yeah. So, if you were to leave us with one key message, Natalie, what would that be? 

Natalie Brunswick: I think if I could give parents a message, the biggest and most important thing, if you could do any work is self-compassion work. It’s forgiveness and self compassion. I think we live in a very difficult time, especially now in a pandemic where we are like, these are not normal rules of engagement for parenting. This is not how we were meant to parent. And it is hard for the most, you know, the person who came from like the most well adjusted, like home, where everything went brilliantly. it’s hard. We were not meant to parent the way that we parent in Western society, all alone, locked inside with [00:55:00] a six month old, a two year old, a five-year-old or ten-year-old all day. This is not how we were meant to do things. And, and so it’s not our burden to carry. It’s not on us. And so we need to allow ourselves that grace and that forgiveness and that self-compassion to just be human. And just to be doing the best that we can. A

nd, and then the other thing I would say is find ways to connect. So find communities, you know, find people any way that you can, that can share in your experience. So if you’re a highly sensitive parent, find highly sensitive parent groups. If you have a highly sensitive child, find highly sensitive child groups, if you can’t find the group, start a group, just find ways to connect because this [00:56:00] is my favorite thing, Elaine Aron says about highly sensitive people and highly sensitive parenting is that you need community because it is a very difficult parenting experience. I can say from my own experience with parenting my very highly sensitive child, that it can feel very isolating. And so we need ways to share our stories, to tell our stories, to connect. And that is so vitally important to just be human in general, but especially to parenting.

Hayley Stanton: And this is what you’re doing now. Right? You’ve created your own parenting community. So do you want to tell our listeners where they can find you? 

Natalie Brunswick: Yeah, so I started an Instagram account at the beginning of COVID. It’s called @the.Motherhood.Map. Find me on Instagram. That is where I share everything.

My website is almost finished, so it will be up soon. And I’m actually running a free [00:57:00] masterclass in January. That’s called the highly sensitive family. So if you’re interested, just come follow me on Instagram, because that’s where I’ll share all the details about that. And essentially, it’s going to be a space to talk about, you know, what is the experience of parenting a highly sensitive child? What’s the experience of being a highly sensitive parent. If you want to join us, anyone’s welcome to join. Then at the end, I’m going to have a little, you know, virtual meetup for parents who do join where they can do exactly what we talked about, which is being able to meet other people share in that experience, hear what others have gone through,  because I am very passionate about the power of story, the healing power of story, for those who share, but also for those who just listen and, and so I’d like to create a space. So, so yeah, so that is that’s coming down the pipeline in January. 

[00:58:00] Hayley Stanton: Amazing. This is so needed. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Natalie, for coming and sharing your insights. 

Oh, I just hope that everyone listening can just feel that reassurance. And, and before we go, I just want to re-iterate that like, you just have to be good enough that 30% of the time it’s okay. 

Natalie Brunswick: Yes. We just have to be human. We can’t be super human. We just have to be 30% good enough. Do our best and they will be okay.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. Permission to be in the learning process. 

Natalie Brunswick: I love that. 

Hayley Stanton: Thank you so much for joining us, Natalie. 

Natalie Brunswick: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Rose Burch: Thanks for listening. You can find the show notes from this episode at quiet connections, stock co.uk. Okay. If you found this episode helpful, then please tell a friend about it or share it on social media. 

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