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.”
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.
“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.