I recently had a great lesson on emotional independence in action.
My children each got a small amount of cash for Christmas. We tried going to the toy shop they wanted to for a number of days after Christmas, but they didn’t seem to be open and we barely went out the week after that. My daughter had a very clear idea of the toy she wanted and I knew that the toy shop stocked it, so we decided to wait until we could go there.
In the week that followed, she said that she had changed her mind and wanted something else, but didn’t really settle on anything in particular.
Together, we came up with the plan to go into the two local toy shops and one bookshop, where she could see all the things that she might want and then, choose something within her budget and go back to the shop that had it, to buy it. We planned to go on the Friday.
On Thursday their dad came to pick them up for the day. As she was leaving, my daughter came back in to ask for her cash.
I felt really disappointed! I had been a part of the whole process, supporting, inspiring, planning .. and was now about to miss out on the best bit: finding, choosing and acquiring the gift.
I realized that the money was hers and how or when or with whom she spent it was up to her. But I felt petulant.
I handed it over, but voiced that I felt disappointed.
Her dad has been practising Non-Violent Communication and so he asked me if there was any more I wanted to express. I just restated that I was disappointed and sad but that I would deal with it and I left the room, because I could feel tears welling up. Boy! It was quite a reaction.
Within moments, my daughter came to find me and said she wanted to give me the money back to keep for her.
I could feel the swelling of emotion inside me: the feeling you get when you are getting your own way. Feels good, huh?
That lasted for a moment as I took a closer look at her little face and saw her lips forming a tight downward-turned arch and tears waiting to brim over as she tried vainly not to cry.
As I dropped to my knees to be able to talk to her face-to-face at her level, I asked if there was anything she needed to say.
Her sadness welled over as she blurted out that she didn’t want me to be sad.
And everything became clear to me.
I am sure that I used the word “sad” for that very reason. I wondered how many times I have reacted from my wounded past, behaving like a six year old (like she actually is), and have got what I wanted by using this subtle emotional blackmail .. ‘usual’ things like getting her to tidy up, or leave somewhere when I wanted to or a hundred other things people do as the norm in our society to get their own way.
We prefer to get our own way, so that we don’t have to experience the challenge of self-soothing, of growing by facing our own discomfort and moving through it to a place of peace just on the other side .. on our own. This is the difference between emotional maturity and emotional immaturity.
Two years ago, I was really clear on this. I had read Passionate Marriage, was immersed in the spiritual teachings of Abraham-Hicks and was really ‘getting’ wonderful books like Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun. All discuss emotional independence from different angles, but all point to the same thing: that we are the only ones responsible for how we feel and we cannot expect another human being to change what they do or say so that we can avoid feeling upset. It results in controlled and controlling people who feel very unhappy with each other, dangerously, beneath the surface.
I know about not coercing my children into obedience to meet my own needs and being responsible for my own emotional needs. I thought I was doing pretty well on that front. I share that advice with others, I even write about it on another web site, but somehow, I had subtly let it creep into my parenting unnoticed until this moment. Of course, I have many ‘reasonable’, socially acceptable justifications, but can anything really justify it?
In this moment, though, it was easy to step back into my own power, to step back into awareness and see how not taking responsibility for my own feelings meant that my daughter either took her own money and felt guilty spending it without me, or gave in and left it at home and felt resentful or disappointed at doing so in a subtly manipulated way. Neither are lessons I had hoped to be teaching her!
So I was able to say with truth in my heart: “It’s not your job to make me happy. My happiness or sadness are my own things to sort out. You take your money and I will deal with my own feelings”.
It was so powerful to say; almost as powerful as seeing her really understand it and step away again, with her money in her hand, with a weight I didn’t know she was carrying, visibly lifted from her shoulders.
I did have a twinge inside me as I could hear a programme start to play, a little put out about how quickly and easily she dropped that guilt and how she had already stopped suffering while I still felt disappointed. Aahh .. the tenacity of our shadows! 🙂
I could hear her dad checking in with her. He asked, if she might not find the thing she really wanted, would she just spend the money on anything just for the pleasure of spending it and her answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!”.
And I think I realized that that was part of my reaction: wanting to save her feeling the disappointments I had felt as a child. And, perhaps, wanting to be there when she spent her money, was done for the same reasons: to guide her into buying what I thought was worthy, judging her choices through what is right for me, not for her.
And I remembered that she is her own person, and that she isn’t in danger, requiring me to step in. All I am entitled to do here, is to express my preference, and she is entitled to disagree, to possibly make her own mistakes, to experience her own growth through them and it really isn’t her job to make me happy.
Who Do You Manipulate, Control or Coerce?
How many times do we all do this as the norm? Parents to children, adults to older parents, and most of all, lovers, partners, spouses?
In what subtle ways do you make those people in your life that love you the most feel guilty, for simply wanting to enjoy their own lives, because you don’t want to deal with the feelings of disappointment or blame or rejection or jealousy that arise in you when they do?
Are You Ready To Change That?
And what tools can you use instead to self-soothe?
I saw this great list this week that you might like to try.