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[UPDATED WITH AUDIO 12-27-2020] A fairly new private client of mine called in tears the day after Christmas–a year ago–full of anger at the way her grown son had behaved around alcohol.
Later, when it was all over, she descended directly into horrible regret (what I call “Regret Hell”), complete with fear about the consequences of how she had treated him and his friends.
She was desperate to engage in a text dialogue with him to reconnect and apologize, and wanted to keep explaining why she had acted so harshly toward him even though he had asked her to stop writing long texts (a common request of grown kids to moms!).
At the same time, the anger that originally set her off was just below the surface and ready to blow again, so I asked her to resist the compulsion to text; and instead, to write about what she was believing about herself and about him, either as random one-liners or on a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet.
A Bottomless Pit
I explained that the forgiveness, connection, and validation she was seeking couldn’t come from him. Seeking it from others is a bottomless pit as was her need for him to change before she could really move past what happened.
She agreed that her need for him to forgive and validate her perceptions was what was driving her anger and his pulling away… and that the forgiveness had to come from her — to herself. She was the one who turned on and abandoned her dear, littlest self, so she was the one who needed to forgive herself, even though she had said some seemingly “unforgivable” things.
Three Steps to Transform Regret
Self-compassion when we are stuck in guilt, regret, self-doubt, or indecision is the result of my Wheel of Self-Love (WOSL), so I worked through some of the specific regrets with her. The three simple steps allowed her to shift almost immediately (and almost miraculously) around the parts of the issue we worked. She walked through
STEP 1) finding her own innocence,
STEP 2) facing her “worst case” fears around the consequences of her behavior, and
STEP 3) starting to give those littlest parts of herself the forgiveness and the specific kind of validation she was always seeking from others.
I asked her to continue to work the WOSL on her regrets, to begin to truly find compassion and move into solidarity with her innocent self, finding for herself that she was absolutely doing the best she could given what she is believing in each moment of acting out.
I also invited her to find and write down those thoughts and beliefs that had been “driving the bus” when she spent the days around Christmas being upset with him. Once she harvested them on paper, she could later use inquiry in The Work to see through those stories, get them out of the driver’s seat, and send them out to have a Happy New Year!
Even though blowouts with her son and others used to happen often and be a source of separation from those she loves, she had already had this experience with me–a few times–of finding her own innocence and taking full responsibility for her impact on others.
So she knew that she could quickly and easily “see through” the mind-made conditions she was placing on her son and others. She could turn around the stories of victimization that were keeping her flipping back and forth between anger at herself, and anger at him for the behavior she felt “made” her act in ways she regretted.
Mind-Made Conditions as the True Source of Pain
She began to realize that it wasn’t him who triggered her: it was the fear-driven conditions her mind placed on him (“I need him to….”) that were the real source of her intense reactivity. Seeing that, she was able to think back on the events without becoming a “screaming banshee” all over again.
Once she forgave herself and him, she was able to make amends to him for the behavior she regretted. Within a very short time things got better between them and stayed better! And now, a year later, their relationship is totally transformed, and they had the best Christmas ever!
Ending Feelings of Victimization for Good
Even though this person functions AMAZINGLY well in the world and runs a thriving business and raised a successful son with a bright future who is loved by many, she spotted a pattern of going through many of her days and nights feeling like a victim of circumstances. This drove her to act in ways she later regretted.
Often in high drama, exasperated that folks’ actual behaviors did not match the expectation in her head, she would then fear she was driving her son and others away–or find reasons to pull out herself first—ending a number of relationships over the years in anger, and continuing to go through life feeling separate, “different,” and alone in the many great relationships she did have.
Does all or part of this sound familiar?
I asked her to take the focus off her son and check in with the little girl inside of her and ask what she wanted that would make her feel better about how Christmas had gone.
I also asked her to get really serious about the level of her suffering and to put all the stressful thoughts on paper so we could start turning them around for real… so she did. Knowing there was a safe place for her thinking to be observed, she had a really nice day where she had fun spending time with a toddler and was trying to be good to herself in many ways. Still, it was not easy to see her inner critic raging.
Her Text: Who is That Inner Critic?
Here’s a text conversation I had with her after she took time to stop and write down any thoughts connected with an emotional charge:
Client: I’m writing things down more, and I guess what I’m not getting is… who’s doing the talking? My words are tough on me, about shame and shortcomings. Insecure, selfish, childish… on and on… failure stuff. Who is she? Is she right? Certainly I could build a good case for that being true.
If I go to the other side and take the big girl side, I am not sure I’m believing myself. However I could also build a case for why that is true too. I’m not sure whose back I’m supporting… the littlest part of me who’s sad and sure she’s not enough? She’s pretty sure I don’t deserve to be supported….
I’ll write this stuff down, but it hurts to look at it. Thanks for supporting me as I hold this stuff up to the light of day… it ain’t pretty but I feel comfortable that you are not in judgment and it helps to hear that you once were here too.
I believe you and I want to change. I must!
My Response: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Shawn: ”Woo hoo! Good job! It is often the most frightened part of us, what I call the “littlest one,” who is still believing we need to beat ourselves up in order to change (so that we will be safe, loved, enough).
Then there is also the “littlest one” who believes the criticisms and is the shrinking, shameful recipient of all the blaming or fear-mongering. The Wheel of Self-Love sets both of them free from their job of fixing you and others, allowing you to start playing in life again, with a ‘right-sized mind, and able to move into a sweet kind of self-responsibility that feels both grown-up and good!
In this world of polarized emotional reactions there are ALWAYS two sides of every coin. And while one may be puffed up and trying to ACT big, in truth there are no grownups around when these dynamics are in play, which is why we instinctively feel so scared.
In that moment, we have not turned any of it over to something greater, because our monkey mind is playing God, having us believe it has the corner on “the truth” in its desperate quest to assert the illusion of control as a way to make us feel safe.
In fact, safety lies in relinquishing the idea that the inner critic of yourself and others knows what would be better than what IS in any given moment. When it finally drops its heavy role of dictating how you and others show up, you begin free-falling into life, and you will find that love always catches you.
But you don’t get to decide what love looks like. Sometimes it looks like your son acting out, then you acting out, so that you could start to see it all so clearly.
When you find the voice in your head beating up on him or yourself it’s not as important to label who is talking in your head as it is to notice what is being said and how you react when you believe those thoughts.
So, by noticing, you are off to a great start!
Keep writing down the thoughts that take your happiness away, that shame you, that judge others. It’s just mind asserting the illusion of control using survival strategies a child came up with long ago when interpreting something. It’s only when we believe it and separate from the reality that shows up that we have a problem.
Who would you be without these arbitrary rules and conditions? (Or maybe you still have them; you let them talk for now but don’t fully believe them any more).
You would be pure curiosity, wishing to be present for this movie called “Life Takes Over….”
You would keep moving and functioning and interacting and creating, without all the judgment and arbitrary rules.
Life… still… happens :-). Just without all the stress.
And life DID happen for this person. In really big ways this year, in wonderful changes in relationships in which she had been unhappy for a long time–especially the one with herself! And also being able to see as gifts some hugely disappointing and painful events and irreverable physical conditions that most people would have found devastating.
She had stayed with this private work a bit longer, and joined a group, and came to a retreat… so these huge mindset shifts she reports happened in less than six months!!! By the time this really hard stuff happened she found that she had a whole new view of life. She had gotten what I call The Shift of a Lifetime: She finally knew how to find the gifts in the hardships and had begun putting them into action in her life.
“Of course, I’ve got more to learn and work on, but after all this time, all this seeking, all these practices,” she said, “I can say I feel that I’m FINALLY HAPPY. With this simple, no-nonsense approach, I finally know how to free my mind and live my bliss. Thank you.”
(And with those words, one of our new slogans, FINALLY HAPPY, was born. Thank YOU!)
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Free your Mind. Live your Bliss.
It’s here when you’re ready.