Understanding Shark Music

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Maria Skłodowska-Curie

Two years ago, my partner and I attended a workshop called Circle of Security® Parenting™ as part of our stay at Tresillian for our first son where health practitioners help parents with sleep training and settling techniques for their babies.

The workshop taught us so much about the concept of secure attachment (where a child feels safe and secure enough to explore the world out there, outside “the circle” and to return to the parents/caregivers knowing  they will be there to embrace, encourage and delight in the child). Most importantly, it taught us how we can become more attuned to our children’s emotional needs and better understand their behaviour.

Shark Music is the term used in the workshop material to describe uncomfortable, painful feelings from our past that are triggered by our child’s behaviour. When those feelings are activated, it is like hearing the eerie, tense background music from the movie Jaws as the shark fin appears out of water.

Shark Music, when unaddressed, can make a situation look so much worse than what it really is. Understanding our Shark Music is crucial for meeting our own as well as our children’s real and raw emotions.  Both my partner and I have found the analogy very useful, and we often share with each other what specific situations press the play button for our own Shark Music.

The very first time I recognised my own Shark Music was when I dropped my son (he was about 8 months old at that time) off at Daycare just around the corner from where I worked. As I said goodbye and got up to leave the room, he started crying, bursting into tears, which was not unexpected. But watching him cry triggered so much pain inside of me, even though he would be taken good care of by the wonderful staff in a safe, pleasant environment – for a half day.

I found myself in tears, feeling extremely guilty as I left the room. I felt like a bad mother for leaving my son in the hands of people who I felt would never love and care for him as much as I did. Of course, that’s not true. When I went to pick him up later that day he was absolutely fine. He had already forgotten about it all. In fact, he had a great day at Daycare and was very happy to see me again! It was really my own guilt, more than anything, made an emotional drama out of the whole situation.

Later I also realised, after writing about it in my journal, that the Shark Music that played at the drop-off was directly related to my past, my childhood. When I was about seven years old, my mother left my sister and I behind in South Korea (where I was born and grew up) for Australia to pursue her dream and freedom, shortly after my parents’ divorce.

This was a traumatic event for me, to see my mother leaving and not knowing when she was going to come back. As a result, I felt abandoned. I felt unlovable, unable to process the fact that my own mother left me. I wasn’t capable of separating my sense of self from my mother’s choice, and her absence.

Although we reunited when I was a teenager and we have a relatively good relationship now, those painful feelings associated with fear of abandonment still arise from time to time, especially in situations like dropping off my son at Daycare. But I do not want to let the painful past shape who I am and how I parent my children today. Therefore I must actively understand and do something about these feelings every time they re-surface, however painful it can be, in order to release them.

Understanding my Shark Music: recognising in what situations it plays and realising that most of the time it has nothing to do with the situation as-it-is but all to do with feelings from the past – has been incredibly helpful in other challenging moments of motherhood.

Now I am less reactive when the Shark Music plays, but am aware and responsive – meaning I listen to it, identify its trigger and move on. I don’t let it define or doubt my abilities as a mother or my relationship with my children, but instead I let it reveal my fears that I must work on in order to become a better, more conscious parent and human being.

Knowing yourself through expressive writing – TEDxSydney Summer Pitch Night

Last night at TEDxSydney Summer Pitch Night 2018, I had an opportunity to get up and do a 3-minute pitch on “expressive writing as a tool for self-knowledge” – a topic that I feel deeply passionate about. It was a great opportunity to get out there and challenge myself (as I’m not an experienced public speaker!). Besides getting out of my comfort zone, I met some of the most amazing people on the planet from all walks of life whose stories & ideas were so interesting and inspiring… Here’s my written pitch:

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” said Aristotle the Greek Philosopher. It’s such a big, mind-boggling statement.

What did he mean by that?
What does it mean to “know ourselves” beneath our “perfectly crafted” social media profiles?

How do we go about it, in the age of information overload,where our habit is to constantly consume more & more information about Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump… about literally anything but ourselves?

How often do we go on the Internet hoping to find quick answers to our existential questions?

Well unfortunately, nobody, not even the almighty Dr. Google knows “who we really are” BUT WE DO, we all have “full access” to the “internal database” of our personal history and memories, our innermost feelings, fears and desires, hopes and dreams.

I believe it’s time to tap into our inner database, through writing, expressive writing to be more specific – as a simple yet powerful tool for gaining self-knowledge as well as collecting wisdom from our own life experiences.

Unlike writing for business report or academic paper, Expressive writing, is NOT about facts and figures – there’s no rule, there’s no right or wrong.

It’s about having an open and honest conversation with ourselves.
It’s about asking ourselves open-ended questions: What’s going in my mind right now? How am I feeling? Where is it coming from? What can Ilearn about myself here? And writing whatever comes out.
It’s about letting it all out.

Back in 2012, I had an emotional breakdown shortly after a break-up. It triggered painful memories and emotions associated with my childhood trauma, which for a long time I tried to push down, ignore, and pretended they didn’t exist. It was my coping mechanism – but they were still there in me, and I had to do something about it. I had to shine light on my dark side. The only way to deal it with was to face it.

So I started writing about everything I remembered, in detail, including those traumatic memories.

As painful as it was, it was incredibly liberating to let them all out of my system onto the paper, physical and metaphorically. The pain was replaced by a sense of relief, a sense of clarity of knowing and owning my story.

By writing what I learnt from those experiences, how they have shape who I am today in positive ways, I gave them new meaning. It allowed me to transform trauma into turning points.

Over the next six years, the expressive writing has not only helped me understand a lot about myself – but also to be more honest with myself, it helped me to leave a promising yet unfulfilling career in IT and become a mother & writer.

Studies show there are also health benefits of expressive writing – including: fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, reduced blood pressure, improved immune system functioning, improved overall mood….just to name a few 🙂

So give it a try.

All it needs is a pen and paper, your willingness to know yourself better.