Understanding where my experience comes from is liberating.
Recognizing I am the thinker of my reality, and, as a result, my experience can shift in an instant — as quickly as my thinking can change — frees me up to not get freaked out by uncomfortable emotional states. One, because I know my feelings will improve once my thinking settles, and two, because I know when I am feeling discomfort, my thinking is distorted. I am, therefore, more skeptical of my thoughts at these times. This makes me less likely to fuel my negative thoughts; thus, preventing them from multiplying and taking over my consciousness.
This understanding has improved every area of my life, and it allows me to experience so much more peace of mind. However, there are still times when I forget, and it really looks like something outside of me is causing my inner experience.
At the University of Santa Monica, they teach that the statement, “I am upset because…” is never accurate. No matter what the because is. Instead, they explain how any upset we experience is a reflection of believing misunderstandings in our own consciousness. These misunderstandings are there independent of what is going on outside of us. Consequently, every time we are in an experience of “I am upset because…” it is an opportunity for awakening in consciousness. When we see the misunderstanding for what it is, a limited perception of reality, we naturally let it go. This allows the truth to be revealed to us more fully.
It is amazing how invisible and fast acting these misunderstandings can be. I will be blissfully humming along, seeing the transitory nature of my experience, aware of the illusory quality of my thoughts, and bam! I hit a blind spot. All of a sudden, I am upset, and it looks like my feelings are coming from outside of me. It appears that circumstances are causing my feelings.
Fortunately, I know that feeling is not believing. I have learned not trust my senses when my thinking is distorted. Instead, I do my best to remember, no matter what, my experience is created internally — especially when it doesn’t look like it is.
One of the areas my clients often struggle with this is in relationships. They think, if the other person were different and would simply behave better, then, they would be happier and experience less upset. This is especially true for parents of adolescents.
I know for myself, even after years of working at Vive Family Support Program with families with adolescents who were struggling, it was still a steep learning curve for me when I found myself parenting teenager daughters. At the first sign of my girls making choices I did not agree with and felt were risky, my anxiety got the better of me. I clamped down. I tried to manage my anxiety by controlling them.
Not only did this promote sneakiness and dishonesty, it also created ill will in our relationship. Both of these served to move the behavior in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I knew enough, and had the level-headed support of my husband, to help me recognize that I was no longer an emotionally safe parent to open up to and connect with.
This was a wake up call. It made me realize I was not taking responsibility for my emotional experience. I saw how I was forgetting that the anxiety I was experiencing was coming from my own thoughts. There were times when I did not feel anxious, and there were times when I would feel very anxious. However, nothing outside of me was any different. All that shifted was what I was focusing on. I saw I had a choice as to whether or not I worked myself up into an anxious frenzy, and this was completely separate from my children’s behavior.
This awareness allowed me to stabilize. I saw I was missing the opportunity to connect more with my kids and develop a deeper understanding between us. I recognized that even though I had always felt I was parenting from a collaborative perspective, this was much easier to do when I was on the mommy pedestal and they wanted to do what I said.
Parenting teens means there will be differences of opinions. That is good because they are developing their own minds and capacity to think for themselves. Why, if I have been raising empowered daughters, would they not question my authority, differ from my perspective, and even disobey me at times.
If they are excited to explore the world, of course, they are going to take risks. This helped me see the importance of understanding and goodwill in my relationship with them. I saw how I was demanding the relationship be on my terms without leaving room for difference. So I took on a beginner’s mindset and embarked on getting curious while reconnecting with my girls.
With each of my daughters this has looked different, as I attune to their personalities and the best ways to connect with them. However, what is required from me, no matter what, is a willingness to take 100% responsibility for my emotional experience and to connect with my wisdom. That way I remember I have well being and love in inside of me independent from their behavior.
You could say to me, “It is easy for you not to be anxious. You were simply overreacting to normal teenage behavior. Your daughters aren’t doing heroin, running away, cutting themselves, behaving promiscuously, or engaging in other high risk behavior.” This is accurate, but I have worked with parents whose children were, and it was still the same process.
We always began with increasing good will in the relationship, by becoming a safe parent to connect with. In order to do this, I educated parents that it is possible for them to experience well being, peace, and equanimity inside of themselves independent of their child’s behavior. When they were able to do this, they connected with the loving in their hearts and their own wisdom. They would then have the clarity to be the experts in their own family.
I was not giving them a one size fits all prescription on how to parent their kids. I supported them with becoming aware of possibilities and opportunities they had not seen before. I helped them to connect with their strength of heart and resolve so they could make changes they had not been willing to make before. But first, they had to allow themselves to settle by not bringing to life the negative, anxious thoughts that were creating their stress and suffering, before expecting any behavioral change in their child.
This is obviously important for parents empowerment. None of us want to have our well being in the hands of our adolescents, and it also has a positive impact on our kids. Families are systems, and when one person in the system changes, everyone else is impacted. When parents connect more deeply with their own innate health and well being, it supports their adolescents with stabilizing and connecting with their own wisdom.
I remember a case study I heard at a talk given by a family therapist. He shared that one of his client’s would visit with his young adult daughter once a week and buy her ice cream. The client’s daughter was living in a slum, addicted to heroin, and prostituting herself. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up. Sometimes she would show up with injuries from being beaten. No matter what, the father would show up consistently.
Eventually, the daughter decided to go to treatment of her own volition. Was this because her dad? There is no way of knowing, but being loved, accepted, and respected with that level of unconditionality could only be healing, and even if she did not go to treatment, I imagine the father cherished what connection he could have with her.
I hope I am never confronted with such a situation, but no matter what, my intention is to be connected with the loving of my Authentic Self so fear does not get in the way of me accepting and sharing my love with my children.
I want to be clear, when I speak of unconditional love, I do not mean not having boundaries with children or not allowing children to experience consequences. I am not advocating for a permissive style of parenting in which anything goes. I am saying, the art of parenting is to maintain the relationship, connection, and good will while having boundaries.
That is the dance that takes conversation, exploration, and a willingness to be on a learning curve with your child to figure out what works. There is no one size fits all for this. There is no weekly ice cream prescription that will create replicable results. We have to tune in to what is right for our child. When I was at Vive, some parents created more boundaries and were stricter in their approach, others softened and loosened up. The parents aligned with what was needed for their child.
The common denominator, however, was rapport. All families focused on building greater connection with their kids. This was possible when parents were better able to take responsibility for their upset because they understood their experience was coming from their own thinking. This also helped them to take their kid’s upset less personally because they knew it was simply a reflection of their child being temporarily destabilized by the child’s irrational thoughts.
As a mother, I will sometimes feel angry, insecure, and hurt, and it will look to me, on occasion, that I feel that way because one of my daughters did x, y, or z, but I know in my heart that is not true. There are times when I am deeply connected to my loving even in the face of fierce adversity, and there are times when I am seduced and hoodwinked by my reactive thoughts with little to no provocation. That is how I know that what I feel is of my own creation. As Sydney Banks would say, I live in the feeling of my thinking.
Understanding this helps me to maintain greater emotional stability. It means I show up as a compassionate, loving mom more often. I believe this models to and supports my girls with connecting with their own innate wisdom so their conscience can guide them when I can’t, or when they aren’t listening to me.
I know they will make mistakes as they learn and grow, just as I do. My hope is that I can point them in the direction of their True Self so they can experience the qualities of wisdom, empathy, love and compassion that are alive inside of them. May the connection with their True Nature be the compass they take with them into the world — the compass of the heart.