Somewhere, inside us all, hides theCRITICAL CRITTER– a rather scary, hairy and un-fairylike creature. The Critical Critter is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unkind, unsupportive words from others. Each time we chew on harsh and unjustified criticism, it’s like giving the critter another burger to munch on.
It’s a simple question I heard on the Timothy Ferriss podcast. It was a recent episode featuring Tony Robbins. At first, I thought “Huh?” Turns out Tony uses this question to uncover internal conflicts. To find the things we beat ourselves up for without knowing why. The high standards we yearn to achieve, but seldom do. Why are the standards there in the first place? Why do we expect so much from ourselves?
One of the most remarkable and oh-so-good-to-be-human findings in the last decade or so is that we human type beings can change our brain. Clever aren’t we. (Go ahead – straighten your crown.) In an exciting twist on the nature/nurture debate, it turns out that what’s more important than either nature or nurture, is what we believe.
I had been “seeing” Abby for about 7 months. We were getting to know each other as people often do in those early weeks and months of any relationship. This one being no different, except that it was occurring with in the boundaries of therapy.
Being human is complicated. Even if we came with a set of instructions, seriously, who would read them. This is a good thing. The only way to do ‘human’ is in our very own way. It is the imperfect things we do, and we all do them, that are such an essential part of being human. We don’t want to lose them, as much as they might roll us from time to time.
Anxiety is such a human experience. Anyone who has stretched themselves far enough to do something brave would have scraped against it in some way. If anxiety could, it would throw its wild warrior arms around us, smother us with kisses and tell us it was there to keep us safe by warning us of danger and getting us ready to deal with it. Too often though, that ‘danger’ is more a challenge than a threat, and what we need is not to be held back from it, but for anxiety to step aside so we can move boldly through the middle of it.
Some people are intoxicating to be with. You know the ones. They have a way of making you feel important, noticed, and they linger in your thoughts for a while after they’re gone – not (necessarily) in a romantic, falling in love kind of way, or an obsessive, ‘let’s see what our mutual friends, Google or Facebook, say about you’ kind of way, but in the kind of way that leaves you feeling bigger, more energised and with the impression that they’re someone pretty wonderful.
We humans can do anything – anything – but the fear of rejection is so powerful that it can make us step back from life in case we get hurt. That’s completely understandable. Completely. But we miss out on so much by doing that.
All of us at some point have done something bold and brave and daring – because the risk was worth it. We’ve chased, caught, kissed, asked, shared and bared our wanting soul for something that was too important to walk away from without trying.
Change happens in moments, bit by bit, with brave, small, daring steps that lead to something bigger. Sometimes they don’t feel that brave, that new or that daring – they just feel different, because they are. That’s what’s important, not the size of the change but that it’s different to what has been.
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Our kids are going to make bad decisions. Hopefully they’ll make plenty - it’s one of the ways they’ll learn and grow. We won’t always be able to love them out of a bad decision, but we want to be the ones they come to when the mess unfolds.
When they get it really wrong, they’ll know it. They’ll also know exactly what we think. Of course we’ll be tempted to remind them over and over of what they’ve done and the fallout from that, but it will be useless. There is no new wisdom in telling them ‘I told you so’, and it also runs the risk of switching them off to our influence and guidance at a time they need it most.
There will be wisdom in the mess for sure, and the best way to foster the discovery is to make a safe space for this to happen - and there is no safer space than in their connection with you.
When we prioritise connection above lectures, criticism, or judgement, we clear the path for self-reflection. This is where the magic happens. When they feel safe with us, and free from shame or disconnection, we have enormous power to facilitate growth - ‘Can you tell me what happened? I know you’re a great kid and I’m wondering what made this feel like a good decision? What can you do differently next time? I know you didn’t mean for this to happen but it has, and I’m wondering how you might put things right? Do you need my help with that?’ When we strip it back to bare, discipline was always meant to be about teaching, and this will never happen when there is shame or when they feel disconnected from us. You are their everything. They don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to disappoint you - but they will, lots of times.
With every one of their bad decisions is an opportunity to guide them towards growth, but only if we keep them close and hold their hearts gently amidst the breakage. When we keep their hearts open to us, they will open their minds and their mouths too. They will talk and they will listen, and they will know that even when their behaviour is ‘questionable’, they are our everything too....