Wailing for Love: Reflections on the "Hunger Games"
On March 23, 2012, my husband and I saw the movie “Hunger Games.” It is so many stories in one. It spoke to my husband and me, surprisingly on a deeply emotional level. The basic story is about a future time when due to drought, famine and war, the United States has been replaced by the Capitol called Panem and 12 districts. In order to remind the districts of the uprising that lead to the wars, each district through a lottery system sends a boy and a girl to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. These games become a brutal entertaining event projected through their media on full screens to all districts. The 24 competitors forced to fight to the death, as punishment for past deed. Only one can be victorious.
These children between the ages of twelve and eighteen become caught-up in a life and death struggle orchestrated by a group of Capitol personnel overseeing the games, who change the rules by adding fire or wild beasts, when they do not like how the players are doing. This same scenario is played out every day and reflected in the lives of the families I counsel.
With deep sadness, I witness children of all ages wailing for love and understanding from their parents who stay stuck in emotional distance and rigid thinking. “My way or the highway” seems to be too many parents’ mantra, forcing their children into a conflict between normal developmental needs and needs for their parents’ approval, guidance and loving felt presence: Growing vs. survival.
How did we get this way? Parents today are living what they learned from a world that does not exist any more. If you think about it, parents today learned their parenting paradigms from the generation of their parents and teachers. That means that their parenting practices are two generations removed from their children. Since that time, we have learned a great deal more about the impact of those practices for good or ill.
I know the world I grew up in is not the world the children I counsel live in today. Some of the issues are similar but the backdrops are different. As humans, we tend to be afraid of what is different from what we think it should be. We either get defensive and attack or dismiss as no value what is different. I am no exception, I struggle with the same survival mechanisms; however, I have chosen to learn, embody that learning and take new actions so that I evolve as a human being across my lifespan. This means opening myself to what is rather than what I want it to be and then doing my best to live consistent with my values. One of my values is loving people no matter what and doing my best to help them connect to their values and live consistent with them. We all want to be loved and love others. Living consistent with that value is a challenging journey. Along that journey, we encounter many beliefs that will tear us apart if we do not face them and give them an upgrade or let them go.
Compliance or punishment is a theme I saw in the “Hunger Games.” Either comply with the way I believe you should live your life or the punishment is you will face certain death. The terror of annihilation from emotional absence from a parent who is not there like Katniss’ mother, puts a child into survival mode. After her father’s death in a mining explosion, Katniss learns that if the family is to survive she has to take care of her mother and sister Prim.
Over the years, I have seen children as young as 2 years old, step in and take care of younger siblings when their parent left them for days on end. In the counseling field, we call them parentified children. They have skills beyond what one would expect for their years yet emotionally they remain frozen in time. I find them courageous beings whom it is an honor and challenge to work with. Telling them what to do without regard for where they have come from, will trigger their rage, as they feel unacknowledged and discounted for their survival experiences. From this place, our advice looks like disrespect and invalidation.
Sitting with them with compassionate listening and heart-embodied empathy opens their hearts to share these experiences and emotions. Making right-brain body memory connections with left -brain language integration happens and experiences become wisdom. Compassion naturally decreases the fires of rage and opens hearts to grieve. Too many children are grieving childhoods lost in survival and dissociation.
Katniss grieves the loss of Rue in an empathic and compassionate act when she places flowers in her hands and on her body. The horrors of what she has experienced cannot override her connection to this soul. As her heart opens to the pain, her fury is released and transmuted into strength as action to make sure the loss was not in vain.
Heart-to-heart sitting with a teen, open-eared listening makes them feel heard, validated and acknowledge for who they are in the moment, not who they might become. In doing this, their raging beast is calmed and their ears and hearts are open to our influence. This is not a manipulated game from adult ‘rationality to gain compliance and control.’ This is a game of the heart and soul connecting to another. You cannot see this game on the big screens. This game is not entertainment. This game is not I will be here for you so you will do what I want.
This is about being real. We cannot be real for others until we are real with ourselves. That is the single most helpful thing we can do for our children. This is what they are wailing for in all its many forms. To do any less is to let the beasts of survival continue to run rampant and tear up what we hold dear.
If we want peace with our children it has to begin with our own journey of self-awareness. If we want to influence our children, then we need to connect with them where they are. If we want to lead and guide our children, then we need to begin within. You cannot fake this until you make it. If you try, they will know and they will turn away from you.
To live the value of love one must face their inner beast and nurture it from fear to love. Your heart-felt presence is your greatest gift to your children. Are you willing to journey into your own “Hunger Games” where you will meet only yourself?