Underlying beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves provide some of the most fertile ground for change. False beliefs, which are often unconscious and fear-based, include, "If I had been a better parent when he was younger, he wouldn't struggle so much", or "If she smokes weed it will mean that things will slide back to the nightmare of before", or "the key to my child's healing is finding the right therapist/coach/program"
Beliefs around connection and guidance
In our last session we talked about the beliefs and stories that often are driving our emotions and behaviors, and how we can deconstruct and reframe, to empower rather than enable. We touched on a couple good ones, including, "I have to work hard to maintain the connection with my child. It's exhausting and unfulfilling". I think many of us can relate to this; I sure can. In fact, my daughter's therapist recently had us do an exercise where we each had one hand move to music on top of a large cushion, with the simple instruction of engaging with each other in whatever way felt comfortable. It was no surprise that my daughter barely moved one finger, while my hand sadly danced around trying to engage and get a reaction out of her, a dynamic that was perfectly reflected in our relationship.
Since yesterday, I had been questioning my 17 year old just a little too much, communicating anxiety and disapproval. I was trapped in another story, that her weed use meant a backwards slide into oblivion. I observed myself today, sensing my daughter's annoyance in being around me, and found myself thinking about what I could orchestrate to pull her in closer, and maybe have a meaningful conversation that would somehow relieve my discomfort. When I step back and look at what is under my desire for connection, I see that it is the belief that my words will somehow keep her on track. There is an even deeper belief, that is harder to look at, which is "if my daughter doesn't want to talk to me, and be around me, she doesn't love me". And what scary thing might that mean about me? That I am not a loveable mom, and that I haven't done my job. Eeks. So this is what I've learned to do in these situations, when I observe I'm chasing my kid to make a connection and it doesn't feel great.
First I pause. Then, I ask myself, "Why am I'm trying to connect?" If I can see that I'm trying to meet a need in myself, for connection or love, or trying to overtly influence my kids - how they feel, how they behave, then I stop. It's a sign that I need to take care of myself. I've developed a repertoire of practices that keep me grounded and centered, and everyone does this differently. The key is to find a way to acknowledge the fearful, grasping, "I'm unworthy" parts of ourselves, while tapping into and giving precedence to the deeper wisdom and calm inside and available to all of us.
I am learning that much of a connection with teenagers is just making yourself available for the small things in their lives which give them joy, without trying too hard. Just simple curiosity. What's harder for me is practicing the kind of patient, open, detached connection that allows for real guidance. It starts with keeping my mouth shut, but it's more than that. It's about regularly revisiting my beliefs around how young people learn and change, so that my energy is aligned with how I really want to show up for them.
Beliefs about partners
Especially when our kids are struggling our relationships are under unbelievable strain, which brings out the worst in all of us. As such, another common belief I often hear, and sometimes share, involves some version of "My partner is really difficult, It makes me miserable and there is nothing I can do about it" In our session last week we discussed some clearly narcissistic behaviors, and commiserated with the pain this causes. It's real. And we also explored how our beliefs might put us in a position of enabling the pain, rather the empowering ourselves to shift things, however that might look like. A few of the ideas we discussed included:
Considering if we allow our partner's behavior to define our self worth. Is there a belief that needs to be shifted, such as "If after all these years if I can't make this person love/respect me, then I am unlovable". How might we reframe this to a belief that is more empowering (and closer to the truth)?
Considering how the emotional charge from interaction with our partners might also be related to a trigger from the past, about being abandoned, not being seen for who you are, feeling unworthy, etc. If this is the case (and almost always this is at play in conflict in relationships), then we can take back our power by recognizing these needs, and learning how to heal ourselves, rather than disappontedly dancing around someone else.
The need to make ourselves a priority - including carving out time, concretely and systematically for our own work - deepening self-awareness, healing, self-care, etc. We talked about taking small steps, every day, and how these added up.