As I follow my big reactions to help me see and heal parts of myself that need love and acceptance, I see again and again how many of my unwanted reactions to things occur because I am trying to fend off feeling vulnerable.
Vulnerability is kind of a dirty word in our culture where looking cool, succeeding and having your s#%t together is seen as ‘right’.
Recently a friend and I witnessed someone really losing her s%*t in various ways. She had reasons for it. She was pretty much howling in pain at the injustices in her life. People’s reactions to this were instructive. Some tried to step in to help, some stepped back in disgust and judgement and most stepped back so that they wouldn’t be touched by it. My friend commented to me, “Surely we should have some way to hold space for someone when they are in a place like this?”
We don’t really have much training in being vulnerable or holding space for someone else’s vulnerability. We really run scared from it. And no wonder. There are some horrific things that happen to vulnerable humans. But to be a ‘vulnerable’ person is not the same as to allow yourself to experience vulnerability. I want to talk to the FEELING of vulnerability that so many of us run from in destructive ways.
When my child (or the world) doesn’t do what I wish, I feel powerless. I get scared, then angry, I shout, push, withdraw or manipulate in various ways to get him to comply with what I want. Why? Why is it so important that the world goes to according to my plans?
Because when it doesn’t, it reminds me I am vulnerable; that I am not in control of the external world. My immediate human response is that this means danger. If I can’t control things, bad stuff can happen to me. Therefore I must defend against it as best I can. My safety depends on it. It might be a matter of life or death.
See? It’s pretty simple to our psyche. Vulnerability = potential harm or death. Therefore vulnerability = defendedness. This interpretation is exhausting though. It means we have to defend against all the many things we cannot control – very much including our children and their behaviour. Good luck with that!
I remember the huge anxiety I experienced after my first child was born. I had an immense realization that I am profoundly exposed and vulnerable because I now had this tiny being to protect. Something outside of me, that I couldn’t control, was now connected to my safety and well-being. It was terrifying! People have told me they feel their child is like their heart walking around outside their body. In so many ways, being a parent equates to experiencing vulnerability. So it would probably be helpful for us to learn to handle it gracefully and constructively, don’t you think?
The irony is that life becomes hard when we try to defend against things we worry will be hard for us. The further irony is that the more we relax into being vulnerable and accepting it, rather than judging it, the more free – and safe – we feel. If I don’t have to defend myself against feeing vulnerable, if I can welcome the parts of myself that are afraid, then I am liberated to live my life and fully experience everything that happens to me.
I am exploring becoming comfortable with my vulnerability and accepting the accompanying feelings of exposure and terror. The terror is a trained response but it’s not necessary and it’s not helpful. As I become more practiced in relaxing into experiencing vulnerability, I notice the terror has less grip on me and now I even get excited when that exposed feeling comes because I can feel my fitness and tolerance increasing each time I survive it and that makes me feel so strong and free. Fear guides me less and less.
Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable equals freedom. Who knew?!
Practice with your child (or anything else you deal with daily). Next time you have a big reaction, notice if you were feeling vulnerable and what it was that caused the feeling. Then observe how exactly you defended against feeling vulnerable. You’ll find some interesting patterns there. Then speak kindly to yourself about what you see and try leaning into it a little more next time.
Years ago I asked someone what his definition of a ‘real’ man was. His thoughtful response was, “Someone who shows up.”
I loved that so much I’ve never forgotten it.
Over the last while I have seen that there is very little that cannot be resolved or healed by just showing up and staying open. Open to listening, opening to hearing, open to connection, open to changing…
Many years ago when my dear friend’s mother died I wanted to be there for her and offer reassurance but I didn’t know what to say. Words just felt pointless in the face of this big experience. I felt stupid just hanging around not saying anything but I also didn’t want to leave. I remember it well, just sitting there quietly as people came and went, offering their well-worded condolences. My condolences to the family had been pathetic. I felt awkward and inadequate, like I should be doing something. I tried to be useful but otherwise I just sat somewhere near her offering my presence. Months later she told me of her own accord that it meant the world to her that I had just showed up and stayed.
When partners argue and have differences of opinions, what makes the difference between them separating or staying together is often whether they hang in there for the conversation. If they turn towards each other in the times of fear and pain their relationship strengthens and if they turn away from each other during stressful moments their relationship weakens.
When groups in communities have conflict, the most healing thing they can do is talk. Get together and talk. Talk and talk until there is nothing left to say – and then just sit there in silence. Then come back again and again to talk and to listen and find a way together. In other words, show up for the conversation and stay and stay and stay… The willingness to show up for the conversation is often more healing than the actual conversation.
When you make a mistake, or try your best and meet rejection, or you don’t manage to do something you promised to yourself you would do, the thing that hurts most is if you turn away from yourself. If you don’t stay for the conversation with yourself.
When your child misbehaves or is being difficult and whiny, turning towards them and showing up for their difficult time will bring the fastest resolution. It will also bring the most love to everyone involved.
When we show up; when we show up and stay; when we show up again and again and again we are saying, “I care. I am open to connection with you. I am committed to this relationship.”
Take a moment to imagine hearing that from someone. Read those words again and feel it.
How does it feel? Notice what happens in your body in response to that message. What thoughts pop up to support or negate that?
It is a vulnerable place to be in when you reach out to connect, or when someone reaches out to connect with you. It is a delicate tendril of care reaching out from one to the other. The heart needs to be open to be able to reach out like that. That is why its healing potential is so great. As I tell my two boys when they excitedly imagine what the most powerful weapons might be, “There is nothing more powerful than love. You already have that ‘weapon’ in your artillery.”
When you find what you perceive to be an enemy – be it your own unwanted behaviours and desires or your partner’s or your child’s or the governments – shoot at it with love. Turn towards its pain. Open your heart and show up for the conversation. And keep on showing up.
Read the lines again and try saying them to yourself. Often.
“I care. I am open to connection with you. I am committed to this relationship.”
(A little note to those who tend towards co-dependence and will show up over and over to someone who repeatedly hurts, abuses or misuses that vulnerability: This showing up I am describing ALWAYS includes YOU. When you open your heart to connect you have to be present for that. This means your needs count. You do not put the other’s needs ahead of your own. That will never result in real connection or healing. That simply results in setting up a user-provider relationship which diminishes both parties. Showing up for a difficult conversation is in fact showing up for yourself.)
I was listening to a podcast of Janice Campbell (Receive Your Life – check it out) when she said something that made me sit up. She said she is having her life experience while living alongside her children who are also here having their life experience. Something in me shifted into relief when I heard that. It’s not a new concept for me but the way she said it made me get more deeply.
I loved her wording so much I transcribed it here for you: “When listening to people, you want your presence to be as non-descript as possible. You can see what’s going on and people around you don’t feel they have to defend their opinions with you. This is especially helpful with your kids. If you are like, “This is the way life is. This is what you should do. This is what you have to do…” If we are afraid and we try to convince them they have to get better, should do better, that life is not going to turn out well if they do it this way – if were dumping all of this fear onto our kids we are not hearing who they are. We are not hearing what’s going on with them. But you trust the spirit that lives within you, so then you realise, wow I can trust the spirit which lives within my kids. So instead of dumping all this fixing onto them, you want to call that goodness forth from them. You want to hear what’s going on with them. You want to be able to recognise the individualised expression of spirit that they are. And then what happens is that you have this cool relationship, like wow, isn’t this wonderful? Where you are going through life, enjoying each other’s company, sharing this time of being alive on the planet together. It’s very different energy from trying to, thinking we have to protect our kids from the world. It’s a really great practice to practice with your kids. You’ll see your relationship deepen so quickly. And again they will be able to start releasing their defences because otherwise what they get from you is, “Oh to get my parents love and approval I have to do this and should do this and should do that” and then its contention instead of just that pure love and listening and wondering, “Who are they? I really want to know who they are” and then harmonising with that energy.”
This is what clicked more deeply for me when I heard her words. My children are independent people with missions and capabilities of which I have no idea. These will be revealed as they grow up but first they have to have a childhood. And these amazing beings, on their journey, have chosen to have their childhood with ME! I am part of their journey. Think about it – you both happen to be living life at the same time on this planet. How cool is that?
The honour and privilege of holding a space for these amazing beings to have their childhood in feels quite mind-boggling to me. I am the keeper of their childhoods. The way I manage it may limit them and make it harder for them to get to the business of being who they are because they have to first clear away my influence – or I can create space and support for who they are.
“Ah” I realised, “My job is not to shape, mould or teach them about how to live life. They already have their way of doing that. I simply need to clear away anything that may cause them harm or damage. I don’t own them. I am their guardian until they are adult. How I can help is to observe who they are with admiring eyes and give support where they show me it is needed.” The pressure is off, people!
This view makes me so curious about these people who are my children. I know it sounds weird but it’s almost like part of me didn’t see them as whole people yet. Think of who you are right now. Think of your skills and your potential and all of what you know about yourself.
Now think of yourself as a young child.
See him or her? He or she already has within them all of what you now know about yourself – and things you don’t know yet. It’s all in there in that young child.
When I look at my children I know that they have purpose and skills and opinions that are all valid – because that’s who they are. I am not necessarily right. They are fully formed – just not yet matured. I look at them and listen to what they say with curiosity – more like I would listen to an adult, “How will this interesting person see this?”
To let them be independent people requires some self-love though. Otherwise I don’t know what needs are coming from me and what is coming from them. But then I just go back to the helpful understanding – If there are big feelings involved, they are mine and not about them or whatever it was they did to make my feelings spike.
So basically, I find it very soothing to know that my children are here on their own mission – part of which is me. I don’t need to tell them what their mission is or teach them how to live their lives. My task is to shelter them while they grow and to nourish them with love, admiration and support. Their spirit will guide them as mine does me. While I support their journey I will learn and grow and be stretched more than I ever thought possible. Through my relationship with them I will learn about myself and about love and come closer to my heart and joy.
Try it out. Deliberately remind yourself that this is a whole, independent-thinking person you are engaging with. When they grow up, you will see all of it emerge. Right now it’s in there quietly waiting. Treat them as equal-rights people and see what a difference it makes to your relationship with them.
Once in a while I find myself in a space of righteous indignation. I believe I am RIGHT and keep trying to explain my view so that I feel heard and my worldview will be justified. Then, I believe, I will be ‘safe’.
When the other party doesn’t accept or understand what I am saying I feel a renewed fervour to MAKE them understand – because of course, I am right. This of course applies strongly to my children. I sure do like to be right. Unfortunately (or maybe I should more accurately say, fortunately) for me, so do they.
A while back I posted something on a facebook group and was strongly called out on it. People did not agree with my posting and they told me so quite clearly. I ‘listened’ to their comments and responded rationally and intelligently and then explained why I was right. This went on and on and at some point they threatened to kick me off the group. I was so distressed. I couldn’t understand why they were getting so upset and hostile. I didn’t mean any harm after all – in fact I thought my post was supportive of their cause. But I wasn’t actually listening, Throughout the conversation I was staying firmly within my own worldview. In that conversation I represented a person in the position of privilege; therefore I was in fact being a bully. I think I might do this rather a lot to my children too.
After that FB experience I had a dawning of consciousness – so that was great for me, but it came at someone’s ‘cost’. I hurt people with my fear.
Why do I say fear? Because to really listen means to have the courage to step into the unknown. It means putting your worldview on hold and saying, “Tell me what it’s like to be you.” And then listening. Listening in a way that allows what you hear to change you somehow.
That scares us. There is a quiet – often hidden – internal dialogue while we are listening to something which makes us uncomfortable which urges, “If I let go of what I know, everything I believe is open to question. Then my world could fall apart. I will be lost. I won’t be able to protect myself. I can’t listen to this. I must hold onto what I know. That way I will be safe.”
That’s not real safety though, that is just being imprisoned by fear.
To embrace diversity is to be open to different points of view. It is actually to welcome more of ourselves because listening requires us to be less afraid of the unknown within us; to allow ourselves to be changed and to grow from what we hear. This applies when we speak to our child as much as when we talk to someone from a different culture, socio-economic circumstance, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or family circumstance than our own.
My child has his own worldview and when I don’t really listen, I become a bully. This is because I hold a great position of power as a parent. Even though we may have more life experience than our child, it doesn’t mean our child’s worldview is less good or less right than ours.If you use your position of privilege or power to invalidate another’s worldview because you are afraid of change, everyone loses out.
Here’s a tip: If your child is not listening to you, there is a likelihood that you are also not listening to him or her.
If you really think about it, we only feel scared of something we think we might not handle. So if we are afraid of hearing something that will change us, we are showing a real lack of trust in our lovely selves. Now that’s not self-loving is it? When you speak to anyone, try to do it with an attitude of, “Tell me what it’s like to be you.”
Know that when you learn from the other, you learn about yourself. If you say no to that…well I think that’s just plain mean to yourself. Have some faith in yourself! Take your own hand and lovingly support yourself in listening, REALLY listening to your child’s worldview (or anyone else’s).
If you get stuck or scared – or you feel an indignant need to be ‘right’ – just ask yourself, “If I loved myself and I trusted myself to handle whatever comes, what would I choose to do now?”
Hi all. My posts are once a month at the moment instead of once a week because I am working hard on a new book and need to put my writing time towards that. I am enjoying it hugely but I’m actually missing you all! I will let you know more soon. Now heeeeeere’s this month’s article:
We are so good at avoiding our feelings. Feelings are not the same as emotions, you know? Emotions are the ways that our feelings express through us. Feelings are the deep experience inside us – in our heart and body. Emotions are more externally focused – they are expressing outwards. Feelings are an internal inwards experience. They invite a stillness and focus within. We avoid that.
It’s a pity because this is how we humans heal and connect with our heart and soul. The most amazing transformations and healing occur when you let yourself feel your feelings.
I have observed recently just how much I avoid this and how cleverly too. I try to trick myself. “I already know about that, I don’t need to experience it” I’ll tell myself. Or emotion such as anger or fear will sweep me conveniently away from my feelings and I will focus on whatever I think caused me my discomfort.
The thing is, while I have emotional intelligence and I am in touch with my emotions, I am less practiced at just sitting with my real inner feelings. It is quite a new thing for me to hold a loving non-judgemental space for whatever is there within me to just flower and fade as it needs to. I mean doing this without judging it and trying to change or ‘fix’ it.
I do this quite comfortably in my work spaces and I’m getting better at it when I’m on my own too. But at home with my family, I notice I still rely heavily on using emotional expression to distract me from what is happening inside me. So I get angry with my kids for not listening and for fighting, I get annoyed that I have to keep chasing after them tidying up, I feel victimised by not being appreciated… All of these emotions – anger, annoyance, fear – are things I focus on to avoid just connecting with my heart and seeing what feelings have been stirred. I make it not-about-me.
Sometimes I do this by making it all-about-me. “Oh poor me. Nobody listens to me. No one appreciates me.” These are the lamentations of someone who is trying not to see that they have big feelings inside.
I’ve decided I want to become more practiced in feeling my feelings. Nowhere else do my feelings get more triggered than with my family. This is easily confirmed by how much emotional expression happens for me when I’m with them. So this is where my most beneficial practice lies.
What does it look like to feel my feelings when I’m with my family?
Basically this means that whenever I am triggered and become angry or neurotic or controlling, my task is to:
- notice I am externalising through emotions,
- hold off on the emotional expressing
- and turn inwards lovingly to allow myself to really feel what has been stirred inside me
- accept myself and tell my feelings “You belong”
In other words, stop blaming other people and trying to control the outside world and just feel my feelings instead.
I look forward to the healing and transformation that will come from this practice.
How are you at feeling your feelings? I’d love to hear from you 🙂 As I said, I’m kind of missing you guys!
I’m planning my son’s birthday party. It’s such a cute thing to do.
We like to keep parties simple in my family. We don’t hire in and we try to keep the list short. I’ve noticed children have more fun that way. When there are too many people the birthday child is either overwhelmed or plays with one or two friends while the others do their own thing. I don’t see how that is a birthday party for a specific someone. In my view a birthday party is a chance to celebrate the person who was born into our lives. I guess, as in discipline and life choices, my preference is connect first, everything else second. I see a birthday party as an opportunity to deepen connection.
Anyway so the friends have been invited and each one means something to my little guy. As each friend informs us he or she can make it my boy grins and settles a little more into the joyful anticipation of having them there at his special day.
Now it’s time to decide what games and activities we play. He knows what he wants and my job is to organize it into a workable format. Big brother wants to help manage the party so he is My Helper. This should be interesting – we both like to be in control. I’m reminding myself now as I write that I need to settle into working WITH him rather than be his boss. I hope I remember that otherwise he will just get frustrated and sulk. As would anybody who understands they are a partner in a project only to find they are merely a powerless lackey.
Anyway back to the planning. Someone spoke to me about how the game Pass The Parcel has changed. “In the Old Days”, they said (ie the hardcore 80s), “there was a parcel with layers which was passed around a circle. When the music stopped whoever was holding the parcel ripped off one layer. Slowly the parcel became smaller and smaller and the anticipation built to see who would be holding the parcel for the final layer because that person could keep the prize in the center”.
I remember this as fun. I don’t remember times I won or lost, I just remember the excitement. “Nowadays”, this person continued, “we are so afraid of our children’s disappointment that we put a prize in each layer and make sure everyone has had a turn.” Maybe our parents also sneaked a peek to make sure the music stopped on the child who hadn’t yet had a turn, but I don’t remember tantrums and tears and screams of “It’s not fair!” I know I have seen that nowadays.
I also know that last year I found myself packing a parcel chockablock with little surprises in every layer and feeling concerned that it would work out unfairly. I wondered about the idea that we don’t give our children practice in dealing with disappointment.
By the way, my solution worked really well. I only put gifts in some layers and each surprise that was uncovered was put by the children into a bowl that sat in the center. They were informed the contents would be shared out fairly at the end so they sat there and were excited by each thing that was added to the bowl for them as a group. It was fun. No fears of unfairness and disappointment for them or me.
This year my boy wants to play The Chocolate Game. It’s a super fun game for those who may not know it. A large bar of chocolate sits on a bread board in the center of the circle along with a fork, knife and some articles of clothing – a hat, scarf, large jacket. It’s great fun if the clothing is large or floppy or interferes with dexterity in some way. The children pass a die around and when someone rolls a six he or she jumps up, puts on the clothing and sits down to eat the chocolate with a knife and fork only. No fingers allowed. They sit there eating chocolate until someone else throws a six at which point they must immediately stop and pass the clothing onto the next person. Sometimes it takes time before the next six is thrown and sometimes it is immediate… There is a lot of fun and hilarity.
So my two boys were discussing this and said, “We must leave some chocolate aside so that if someone doesn’t get a chance at all then at the end they get given some chocolate.”
I found myself having an old-school reaction to this. “What? Toughen up, life isn’t fair, que sera sera, you need to learn to cope…” Luckily I shut up. I simply observed myself. It’s true that life can seem very unfair and they’ll learn this, but is a children’s party really the moment to force them to engage with this? Anyway, where did this tough attitude get us? Maybe it’s this very attitude that has caused the problems in our world today? Who is to say a softer approach won’t create a kinder world? If we aren’t all hardening ourselves against the ‘harsh reality’ and ‘unfairness’ we could concentrate more on connecting and having fun.
Back when children were seen and not heard young folk didn’t get much of a say in how games went: parents said and we did. Nowadays children get to say so much and we – having not enjoyed the experience of being silenced – listen to them.
It was a small but meaningful moment for me as I relinquished the decision making to the children. They wanted to make the game fair. A socially trained part of me wanted to stop them. For what? To maintain the skewed power dynamics in our world that we have been taught are ‘right’? The very same power dynamics populations around the world are rising up in great masses to rebel against? Funny how our children reveal our imbalances and indoctrinations in the oddest places – we’re talking about the Chocolate Game fer goodness sake!
So, to help make the world right again in little and big ways, I will keep some chocolate aside so if there are some who don’t get during the game, they will get after the game is done.
World peace and fairness will prevail in our Chocolate Game.
A while ago in a play park I witnessed a seemingly mild incident that left me feeling deeply disturbed. A little girl of around two or three years old was being ‘walked’ by her father on one of those harness things, like a dog’s leash for children. The girl was screaming and clearly didn’t want to leave the park and her father was pulling her and saying “Come, come!” as one would to a dog. She was determined, literally digging her heels into the ground and was putting all her weight into staying put.
(This is not going to be a rant against those contraptions. In my opinion a tool is a tool and its use or misuse depends on the user. While I personally prefer the method of talking and holding a child, there might be a place for them with those magnificent children who have the most remarkable ability to disappear in seconds and scare their parents to death on a regular basis. Such a harness could maybe be used lovingly to help a child understand the concept of staying close. It would be discussed and explained to the child without frightening them or forcing the experience onto them. And it would be ended as soon as possible once the understanding has been gained. That is my opinion.)
I was left wondering why this incident disturbed me so much. Like all of us, I’ve often seen uncomfortable examples of parents in play parks urging or forcing children to do things they don’t want to do. And what was so bad really? Children often don’t want to leave the park and have to be cajoled or dragged away by their caretakers. I checked in with myself about what parts of this incident were triggering my personal wounding and cleared them. But even after this, my discomfort remained and I began to have rescue fantasies of how I would educate these parents who, other than this incident, actually seemed quite obviously loving and caring. They just didn’t seem to realize the effect of the incident on their beloved daughter. I knew they would want to know and desperately wished to help them see this. Of course I shut up and stayed put. They were not asking for help or advice and I’m not suicidal.
(Again I feel I must add, that if I witnessed parental behaviour that made me fear for the child’s safety I would put on my bomb vest and head in there!)
In this case I merely