Being the Lighthouse

Truth Byte #49

“Stop trying to make the way you feel someone else’s fault.”

 

Sometimes people are mean. Downright cruel. Sometimes, for no good reason, people pick on you. I have been having this experience lately with my three-almost-four-year-old.  Sometimes she is just mean, for no good reason.

 

So you know me, I hit the research on parenting and child development. Why is she angry? Where is this coming from? What can I do differently? And usually, I am right on point, able to diffuse and re-direct, able to love her through her tests and boundary-building exercises.

 

But sometimes, every once in a while, I take it personally.

 

And that is when s#!t hits the fan.

 

And I tell her she has made me mad, or that she has made me sad.  And then she tells me it’s because I don’t listen to her. And back and forth until one of us is screaming.  More often than I would like to admit, my voice raises louder than I want it to, and suddenly, we are two preschoolers, having a shouting match.

 

This week, my seven year-old (who is also her big brother and takes that role very seriously) called me out on that.  He said to me, “Mama, no one can MAKE you feel anything.”

 

Don’t you hate it when your own words come back to bite you in the face?

 

And I had to admit he was right.  No one can make me feel anything.  People can have behaviours, demonstrations, opinions, and they can act out in front of me, but how I respond….well, that’s on me.

 

That’s what I tell my clients, and now, that’s what my second grader was reminding me.

 

So for the past week, I have been applying this truth to how I interact with my kids.  I know it works with adults because I do it all the time.  Someone acts out or throws a tantrum or says something hurtful or makes a “joke” that’s more like a jab, and I take a breath and decide how deeply I am going to let that one land.

 

I have been perfecting this one with my large, close-knit, extended family. In my family, people love each other deeply.  They are also all up in each other’s business.  A lot.  Everyone has an opinion on everyone else’s choices.  And it really does come from a place of genuine love and concern.  But sometimes, it is a bit too much. It is hard to know, sometimes, whose advice to follow, since so many of them have conflicting opinions. And so, a few years ago, I started to take my mom’s advice, “Listen to everyone, respectfully, and in the end do whatever you want.”

 

My old approach was to argue back, make a case, prove my point. 

 

Now, I thank them for their input, weigh it’s worth for a moment, and add it to my mental pros and cons list for whichever decision I was trying to make.  Because I really do think that sometimes the people who love me can see me better than I see myself.  When I am in clouds of self-doubt, when I am feeling small and unimportant, when I am unsure of my footing, my family sees me as capable and competent and on the right track.  And sometimes I need a reminder.

 

But I also don’t want to get in the trap of always needing their approval.

 

I have been there, and it sucks.

 

Because it’s true, nobody can MAKE you feel anything.  Even good about yourself.  Because when it’s coming from the outside, it doesn’t actually last very long or penetrate very deep.

 

These days, I am admitting to myself and teaching my clients that the way we feel is absolutely, one hundred percent, our own responsibility.

 

Now I can anticipate that you may think something like: “My family member is sick/unemployed/addicted/incarcerated/heartbroken. Of course I am going to feel bad.  And it’s his/her fault that I feel bad/worried/sad for them.”

 

And I would actually challenge you on that one. 

 

You get to choose how you respond.

 

Are you going to join them in their despair and worry, or are you going to be that person who can be the steady lighthouse for them while they navigate the stormy waters of their own tribulations?  Are you going to shine your best self onto their world, or are you going to dim yourself a little to make them “comfortable”?

 

It’s really your choice.

 

I have found that when I go the “dimmer switch” route and stop shining to accommodate other’s insecurities, I end up not being very helpful anyways, and then wonder why I put myself in that situation in the first place. In my experience, it’s better to show up with all systems ready for action, and excuse myself if I am being asked to dim down.

 

Even at funerals.

 

I allow myself to be the steady so people can fall apart around me. (And let’s be honest, sometimes I am the one falling apart.  The point is, I feel my own feelings and don’t get swayed to just go along with the mood in the room.)

 

Now if only that three-year-old’s “NO!” didn’t get under my skin so deeply. In the end, it’s a work in progress, even for me!

 

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