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Finding Compassion Through Vulnerability

Happy ‘late summer’! I hope you have been enjoying a wonderful time of connectedness, adventure, and relaxation. I have had a fabulous time away with my family, and as always, I learn more from my relationship with them than I ever teach them!

Today I am sharing an experience that reflects something I have been learning and practicing over the summer that has an amazing capacity to help you connect more strongly with your child. I hope you will find it as helpful as I have.

 

My Story

This morning I had one of those moments—my son was very angry with me when I dropped him off at camp. I had set a limit with him, and he wasn’t happy with the outcome of the decision he had subsequently made. (I’m not sure if he wanted me to ‘cave’ and rescue him, or if he was just unhappy where he was at, and perhaps blaming me a little). Regardless, I felt distressed about our temporarily weakened connection, but worse yet, I found myself feeling like a failure. I’ve learned a lot about connecting with my child through conflict, and so I should be able to fix this, right?

Uh oh…I suddenly recognized my perfectionistic tendencies creeping into my parenting again.

Before I got very far down the road of self-criticism, I reminded myself that, first of all, we can’t step outside of our human-ness to some perfect level of parenting—I seem to need reminding of this almost daily. And secondly, we need to be willing to ‘hover’ in that place of discomfort and hold a loving space for our child while they learn to recover and move forward after coming up against limits and disappointments.

 

The Wisdom of Feeling Our Pain

We tend to want to escape our pain. We do this by blaming others or declaring their behavior to be ‘bad’, thereby shifting our pain onto them. We can also do this by going ‘into our heads’ and intellectualizing (my most frequent way of escape), so that we can understand the reason we are feeling that way and change our behavior—the subconscious belief being that this will help us avoid feeling those painful feelings in the future. And even though this is a familiar pattern for me, and I know it’s not the way to connect, I still catch myself doing it. (By the way, using your brain to figure out what’s going on is a helpful practice, but only when you stay connected to your feelings in your body). Pema Chodron wisely says “As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. To be encouraged to stay with our vulnerability is news that we can use.” When we stay with our discomfort and feel it fully with acceptance and curiosity, we can then mine the precious jewels of wisdom, learning to know ourselves better and connect with others because we are connected with our own humanity.

Further, Dr. Brene Brown says that we can’t selectively numb our emotions. When we disconnect from our painful emotions (whether we do it consciously or subconsciously) we have also disconnected from the more desirable emotional states of joy, openhearted love, and empathy. She says we do this to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, most commonly because of past experiences in which we felt ashamed. However, when we allow ourselves to sink fully into all of our feelings, even the most uncomfortable, and still love and accept ourselves fully, we also allow ourselves the joy that comes with being fully present in our bodies and the ability to live a heart-centered life.

 

Back to My Story

Upon reflection, I realized that I was distressed because I would like to be strongly connected to my son at all times. I feel more confident that he’ll be okay when I feel that connection, and of course it just makes me feel good (e.g., no pain). I also would like him to understand that anger and blaming are choices, but I know that he knows that from our previous conversations, and just because he knows in his head doesn’t mean that he won’t still have those emotional experiences—it’s part of being human. He is learning and growing through them, and if I hold the space during those experiences, he can learn to know and love himself better—and stay more connected with himself and his feelings.

So, as I reminded myself of all these things, and took some deep breaths to focus on how I felt in my body, a sudden wave of vulnerability swept over me. I felt teary as I felt how powerless I am to prevent him from many of these painful experiences, and I love him so much. And as I felt that, my irritation with him for his choice to be angry and blame me slowly transformed to compassion. It’s as hard for him to feel his painful emotions as it is for me. We are the same, and connected through our shared human experience. Pema Chodron says “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

A tough call for us perfectionists, but so worth it!

When we practice staying connected to our feelings and accepting them with love, regardless of how difficult and painful, it will foster connection to ourselves and others, and living an authentic, heart-centered life.

 

Suggestions for Practice:

The next time that you yourself feeling disconnected from, or maybe even resisting, your child’s emotions—take a few moments to reflect on how you are feeling, and take some deep breaths and feel your feelings in your body. Use some or all of these questions to guide your self-exploration.

  • What is really troubling you?
  • Or, what do you desire that isn’t happening?
  • When you give your full attention to your body sensations, what comes up? Do any thoughts pop into your head?
  • How do you feel when you endeavour to fully accept your own and your child’s emotions and behavior, and love them just as they are?
  • If you reach a point where you can feel your vulnerability, can you feel your emotions toward your child shifting?

 

What strategies do you use for finding compassion in difficult parenting situation?  I’d love to hear from you! Share your questions and comments below, or email me at colleen@colleenadrian.com

 

Enjoy your last week of summer vacation!

PS: If you haven’t read Brene Brown’s book, I highly recommend it.

 

References:

Brown, Brene, PhD. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Gotham Books: New York, USA.

Chodron, Pema. (2001). The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Shambala Publications, Inc.: Boston, Massachusetts.

 

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