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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


The questionable practice of de-guiltifying

I wrote last week about some of the people who believed in me without me ever giving them reason to and how powerful that was.

The post triggered lots of stuff — both interesting realizations and also huge amounts of internal resistance — for clients and a lot of readers as well.

Like, wait just a minute, young lady.

And yeah, they have a point.

I mean, really. Just the implied concept that you could actually accomplish something based on love-based motivation as opposed to guilt-based motivation … whoah. Insane. Revolutionary.

And maybe too revolutionary for this space, without a lot more explaining and processing … but I’m up for it.

Let’s take our time with this.

It’s probably going to take more than one post to lay the groundwork for this.

But the idea that we can (eventually) get to the point where we can choose not to use emotional manipulation and finger-wagging …

The notion that this is not the only way to get us to actually do the thing

That we can practice being kind and compassionate with ourselves, but still get done what needs to be done …

It’s pretty liberating, once you get over how freaking scary it is.

In the meantime, there are some big, tangled, complicated, stuckified patterns here. So I want to spend a little time teasing out some of the threads.

And (she types hopefully) maybe one of these posts will hit its mark and we’ll be able to calm this chaotic guilt-storm and find something for you that works a little better.

Starting … here.

LeAnne’s comment on that post (which I’ll share) was really moving, I thought.

She’s basically asking what it means to communicate unconditional love as opposed to guilt-based love …

… and can we even trust that this will work?

And even if it does work (and it intuitively seems it shouldn’t), how do you go about doing it?!

But I’ll let her ask the questions:

How do we encourage others? I was sitting with my own stuff and I had the shocking realization that I DO THIS VERY THING TO MY OWN BELOVED SON. And I’ve been complaining about how he won’t let me help with applying to colleges. DOH! Now, I know why.

And what does happen when you accept where someone is without expectation?

Yes, I would love and accept my son, but if he doesn’t get into college, he’ll have to get a job and move out.

Sitting with this.

I’m kind of taking a moment just to breathe here.

There’s a lot of question in this question. A lot of pain. Anxiety. Concern. And love.

Peeking at the patterns.

LeAnne’s anxiety for her son’s future is getting in the way of her being able to talk with him about his anxiety for the future.

The more she worries, the more she’ll push at him. And the more she pushes, the more he’ll resist a. talking to her or b. thinking about it.

Pressure creates resistance. Resistance creates stuck. In action, in communication, in relationships and so on.

When you’re hurting, it’s hard to meet someone else in their hurt.

Not to mention that it’s pretty hard to communicate effectively when you’re really just needing someone to acknowledge your pain and give it a hug.

LeAnne, it sounds like you’re feeling worried about the potential consequences of expressing that kind of love and acceptance to your son … because you need to know that he’s still going to be motivated to take action.

That he’s not just going to take it as a permission slip to do nothing forever.

If that’s what’s going on, it makes sense that you’re feeling anxious. You love him and you’re needing to know he’ll have the skills and resources to take care of himself without you.

And something else.

LeAnne, your son may not be telling you what’s going on for him, but I can.

I can guarantee that your son is feeling anxious and frightened right now. College is scary. Change is scary. Decisions are scary. Taking action is scary.

I can also guarantee that the more shoulds you throw at him, the more resistance you’re going to get and the harder it will be to talk to him.

In fact, I could write ten posts (and probably will) about the middle ground between pushing and allowing.

About how conscious, active, compassionate “letting things be the way they are” is not the same thing as abdicating responsibility.

Or about how intentionally meeting someone where they are with compassion and attentiveness is always going to be more effective than the “tough love” deal.

But we’re not going to be able to cover all that today so I sincerely hope you will try to trust me for now. I’m going to tell you about three books that you will really want to read, and a little gem (as one of my eccentric high school teachers used to say) from each of them.

Resource #1: Why we shoot down people’s dreams.

One of my favorite books on communication is called “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk“.*

*Even if you never plan on having kids, read this book. It’s full of general communication usefulness.

We shoot down other people’s dreams for the same reason we shoot down our own. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of letting ourselves down.

This book really demonstrates in an “Ow! Make it stop!” way just how unintentionally limiting and controlling we can be when our fear gets triggered.

The general idea …

How we screw it up:
Kid: “I want to be a pilot when I grow up!”
You: “Oh, well, it’s really hard to be a pilot. Hardly anyone passes those exams. And you know your eyesight isn’t really the best. It’s probably not going to happen.”
Kid: *crushed*

Again, this isn’t because you’re a horrible person. It’s because you love that child with all your heart and you want what you think is best for him.

The part we don’t hear in that dialogue of course is the fear whispering: “Nooooooooo! Keep my sweetie safe!

How we can do it better:
Kid: “I want to be a pilot when I grow up!”
You: “Wow. I didn’t know that. Tell me more about this. What is it about being a pilot that appeals to you?”

And then you can have an actual conversation. It might turn out that your kid just really likes peanuts, in which case a career in the circus might be better.

Just kidding. The point is that when you engage in curious and compassionate communication, you learn a lot about what the other person needs. And you get a lot better at expressing your own needs.

Resource #2: Meeting needs.

Marshall Rosenberg’s excellent book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” (ignore the cheesy poetry interspersed throughout) is the relationship handbook that belongs next to every bed.

My gentleman friend and I practice NVC together … and good grief. It’s a godsend.

One of the most useful things this method gives you is the ability to notice what’s going on under the surface, and then to express your feelings and needs in a way that they can actually be heard and acknowledged.

And then to be able to do the same thing for your son.

For example:

“I’m guessing you’re feeling frightened and anxious because you’re not sure what you want right now. Is that true? Are you needing some reassurance that all this change won’t be as scary as you think it will?”


“I love you sweetie. And I’m feeling anxious when I don’t know what’s going on with your college applications because I need to know that you’re going to be taken care of. Can you keep me updated? Or let me know that you have someone to turn to when you have questions?”

Resource #3: Protecting yourself.

Suzette Haden Elgin’s work on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense is one of the most powerful things I’ve encountered.

She has a great bit on something called Miller’s Law which basically says that anything someone says or does makes sense. So it’s your job to figure out how.

The person doing the thing that seems to be incomprehensible is probably not crazy. It’s just a misunderstanding.

And then she gives you techniques for sorting this stuff out. Read Elgin. You’ll feel better.

Bringing it back.

Okay. LeAnne, with all of this in mind (and I know it’s a lot), I’m imagining something like this just to start with:

What if you went into your next conversation with your son with the idea that all you were going to do would be to figure out how he was feeling, and to let him feel whatever it is.

I know it’s hard to trust that this won’t result in everything going horribly wrong, and that he’ll just do nothing forever.

At the very, very least … you’ll know what he’s feeling.

You’ll be talking. You’ll be practicing. As worst case scenarios go, it’s pretty good.

And — this is the most important part — you’ll be modeling for him what it’s like to give love, provide safety, and be present for him.

Actually, I feel kind of tingly just thinking about it.

I mean, wow.

13 Responses to The questionable practice of de-guiltifying

  1. **Pressure creates resistance. Resistance creates stuck. **

    These two simple sentences resonate very BIG with me.
    I am the perfect example of… if someone keeps pushing/poking me, or nagging me, I will completely shut down, stop, or never start that *thing*. Have been doing it since I was a kid.


    Amy Mommaertss last blog post..Things don’t happen by just watching them

  2. Pam says:

    I have never thought of the communcation patterns in quite that way… especially with my kids (as they are still very young) and yet I do have a degree in psychology!

    No wonder I am stuckified a lot of the time, I am resisting my earlier learning/training and communication styles!

    Pams last blog post..Weekdate-y up-data

  3. Joely Black says:

    This is highly relevant to me right now. I find I freeze up even more if somebody says to me “You can do it, you’re beautiful and amazing and talented!”

    I feel even more inadequate and incapable than I did before. At least when people say “You’ll never be able to do that” there’s no way I can possibly disappoint them.

    This really has me thinking – I’ve been kind of caught in a trap between the people who say I can’t do what I’m doing, and those who say I can and I will and it’s amazing and WOW and and and…

    I feel a bit crushed and defiant with the first lot (and cross them off my Christmas card list) and just desperate with the others. I feel like I have a billion expectations to be AMAZING! and BRILLIANT! and what happens if I show up and I’m not? What if I get stuck and fall down and start to cry? What if, for reasons beyond my control, it takes longer than expected?

    I had some point to this comment, and it really did take it beyond just being another whine-fest. However, I saw something shiny and the point just wandered out of my head. *Sorry*

    Joely Blacks last blog post..Actually, it has nothing to do with cows

  4. Grace Judson
    Twitter: GraceJudson

    Oh, my. Havi, you’ve made SO many great points in this post, I hardly know what to say.

    So I’m going to stick with just one or two that I find to be the most powerful for myself and for my clients.

    1. Curiosity. Woohoo, if there was just one thing in this world that can CHANGE EVERYTHING, it’s open-hearted, open-minded, passionate curiosity. When we get curious about something, it’s an invitation to learn, have fun, grow, break down barriers, drop assumptions and expectations, and on and on. Oh, yeah! :)

    2. The beauty of letting everything be as it is – and the ways in which action arises from that place. Yum. If you’ve never experienced this, you may be rolling your eyes – I know I sure did before I started hanging out there. And I don’t even know how to begin to explain how wonderful it is to – for instance – just sit for a moment in stillness and ask myself what the next *true* thing is that wants attention. It never fails me, as long as I’m tuned into what’s *really* true, rather than what the “shoulds” or “responsibilities” or “what will they think” voices are saying.

    Ahhh, yes. Happy Monday, everyone!

  5. Joely Black says:

    Actually, I remembered my point. And it was about communicating up, as well as down. My grandmother is incredibly sick at the moment. When people get seriously old and ill, relationships reverse. So after decades of her being bullying to my dad, my dad is now bullying her. And she doesn’t want to be bullied, because all she really wants to do now is die.

    What’s been bothering me, being kind of the person in the middle, is how to communicate gently with both of them. She’s supposed to do exercises to prevent bone deterioration and improve her pain levels, and of course she doesn’t really want to do them.

    This has given me some ideas for the next time I visit and how to gently approach the tension that sits between them. I can deal with where both of them are without actually getting annoyed at them for being so alike and very much mother and son at each other.

    Thank you.

    Joely Blacks last blog post..Actually, it has nothing to do with cows

  6. Leah says:

    I get so stuck around this issue, so I’m really looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say on the topic! I just asked someone recently, but if you’re not feeling guilty or stressed, how do you get anything done? I understand at some level that the stress and guilt isn’t helping anything, but I’m unsure about where the motivation to act comes from without it.

    Leahs last blog post..Yay! More Calendars Available!

  7. Wormy
    Twitter: SecretWormy

    I love what you’re saying here. It’s a point I’m really aiming at and noticing more in myself right now. For instance, when someone’s ranting at me about something I find myself observing (to myself, want to avoid being punched in face) that I understand this is their stuff and not mine. Really helps me to detach and figure out my next step forward. Doesn’t always work though due to being human. The books look amazing – I think I shall seek out NVP one and Gentle art of verbal self defense.

    One question though – What happens when you know it’s someone else’s stuff, but the way they’re putting it to you feels like you’re going to be taken for granted/ taken advantage of, or generally threatened because they don’t see it as their stuff – they see it as your fault?

    and my secret confession for today? My newly purchased Dance of Shiva (I got the DVD today – whoo hoo, THANK YOU) package was purchased in a hope that I’ll stop hating doing my coursework and having a big panic over it. Y’know, along with all the other epiphanies that’ll be happening along the way and on top of the general awesomeness it sounds like. Who knows? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

    Wormys last blog post..Vulnerability + Intense Scrutiny = Heightened Sensitivity.

  8. Victoria Brouhard
    Twitter: victoriashmoria

    This post kicked my ass.

    Even though I remember being on the side of resisting others’ expectations of me, I’m much more aware (right now, at least) of my pattern of placing expectations on others.

    I’m so glad you highlighted LeAnne’s comment, because I missed it when I was reading the previous post.

    And seeing LeAnne’s words shined a spotlight on some of my own patterns in this area.

    Uncomfortable, but in a good way.

    Can’t wait to read more of what you have to say about this.

    Victoria Brouhards last blog post..Saturn’s Karmic Finger #2 – Resisting Reality

  9. Kyeli says:

    This is awesome and perfect. Awesome and perfect!!

    I had more to say, but I got tired. d:

    Kyelis last blog post..Introducing Book Bonanza Wednesdays! Chapter 1: The usual error

  10. Sari O. says:

    Hitting home big time over here. Both in the way Joely put it (so I won’t try it myself) with me getting altitude sickness with people’s expectations, and in my own “you’re so awesome and you can do anything” -pep talks to my closest ones.

    And then I thought, unconditional love, right? So if the person I really want to see succeeding is reaching his goals, I’ll still love him and tell him so. And if he fails miserably and crashes, I’ll still love him and tell him so. And if he ends up doing nothing for weeks on end, I’ll still love him.

    To me, separating the consequence from the emotion might be the key. If he fails and crashes, we need to think of a way to get our bills paid, and that would naturally include him finding a job. I’ll still love him, it’s just the way it works. If he does nothing, we’ll need to find out why and go from there, and I’ll be there with my loving support every step of the way.

    And the whole love-based motivation thing – can’t wait to hear more. Thank you!

    Sari O.s last blog post..Journaling vs. Impro

  11. Adam Axon says:

    Excellent post. I almost felt like I was in a time warp at the start of your article. Reading about people freaking out about love based motivation as opposed to guilt based motivation. Struggling to understand that concept feels so outdated to me.

    Management/Relationships by guilt and fear is always going to struggle in creating positive results. You just get a build up of resentment, which usually results in people switching off and losing interest. I see it all to often in day to day life. It truly surprises me that people still practice it.

    We need to have more faith in each other. Trust in people’s ability to make choices, they don’t always have to be the right choice either. You should never judge somebody on their mistakes, you should instead encourage and support them to learn from their mistakes.
    Very few people intentionally make mistakes and feel horrible when they realised they have done so. The last thing they want is somebody reminding them about.

    Humanity can achieve so much when energised by believe, rather than demoralised by fear. Everyone should get out there and start believing in each others ability to do good.

  12. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @Wormy –

    –> “One question though – What happens when you know it’s someone else’s stuff, but the way they’re putting it to you feels like you’re going to be taken for granted/ taken advantage of, or generally threatened because they don’t see it as their stuff – they see it as your fault?”

    I think in this kind of situation, you want to separate yourself enough to be able to protect yourself.

    You can also use NVC in this case to make sure that the other party knows that you are empathizing with them.

    “I can tell you were really upset when X happened because you need to know that things here are being taken care of.” Or whatever it is.

    You might have to keep doing it, but what you’re basically saying under the surface is that it’s reasonable that they’re feeling what they’re feeling (even if the way they’re taking it out on you isn’t, yes?).

    Once they’re ready to listen, you can try voicing your concern as well in a neutral way.

    I’m definitely not going to imply that NVC is easy because it’s totally challenging and takes a lot of practice. Just that it’s a really useful system for this kind of situation.

    @Leah –
    –> “If you’re not feeling guilty or stressed, how do you get anything done? I understand at some level that the stress and guilt isn’t helping anything, but I’m unsure about where the motivation to act comes from without it.

    As long as the motivation is happening in a conscious, active way rather than a passive way … it can be anything that you have a chance of believing.

    So it could be encouragement and support, but again, only something that you would trust so as not to create more resistance.

    Motivation generally will happen naturally — it kind of rushes in to fill the vacuum left by releasing guilt and criticism. And then you can also actively seek out ways to give yourself steady encouragement and build support systems.

    It’s a weird practice, and it’s definitely hard to believe in when all we know is the other way. I know. It sucks.

    I like to remind my guilt-criticism patterns: “Guys, you’ve been running the show for more than three decades. Why not give me just a month to try things my way? I can always put you back in charge.”

    That usually helps a bit, but it’s definitely a challenging practice and one that we’ll keep going deeper with here. Hope that helps for now.

  13. Beadle
    Twitter: amybmorris

    This is YEARS after the fact (I like to randomly pick an article from the archives to see what I might glean from it) and it is exactly what I needed RIGHT NOW.

    My Beloved is trying to start a business. I am intensely scared about the very real possibility of losing our home. And being a victim. And repeating my mother’s patterns. And it goes on. So much fear and pain.

    This post gave me the insight and reminder I needed on how to communicate with my Beloved and start a conversation that doesn’t pressure her but instead brings us both out into an open safe space.

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