My eldest son is fascinated by the human body, and it’s re-awakened my fascination too. The design and intricacies and ingenuity of the whole human machine is indescribably incredible, it blows me away. And don’t get me started on our development from virtually nothing in the womb. Even if you don’t believe in any kind of deity, you’ve got to admit that whatever is powering this to happen is, well, pretty damn powerful.
It’s common knowledge that part of the design, our nervous system, functions to detect physical pain in the body, and protect us. We put our hand in a flame…ow…pain detected…we instantly take it out…hand saved.
What’s not so well known is that our emotional pain serves a similar function – but this system is protecting us from our off-track thinking.
When we are connected to our true self, we feel at peace, centred, clear and loving. This is who we all our, underneath our personal thinking. And it’s who we always are, it never goes away, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
When we feel anything other than this sense of well-being and calm, it’s a signal that our thinking is faulty and off-track. That we are buying into thoughts that are not telling us about who we really are or anything accurate about reality. It’s a warning that we are not seeing things clearly, and that this is not a good time to respond or make decisions because this is not our wisdom speaking.
Here’s a simple example to illustrate:
You walk into your child’s room and it’s a bomb site. Some days this irritates the pants off you, some days you just notice, some days you smile fondly as it kind of reminds you of your room as a kid, and some days you ruefully note that your own parents would never have let you get away with living in this kind of hell-hole.
Exact same situation, four different responses (and countless other possibilities too). Which means that the way you are responding can be nothing to do with your child or the mess, rather it’s just the way you’re thinking about it depending on the mood you happen to be in.
So it’s nothing to do with the mess, and nothing to do with your child?? How and why then is this helpful??
Well, because most of the time our thoughts are so fast and rapid, we can’t catch them. But we experience the feeling of our thoughts moment-to-moment, and so how we are feeling is like a barometer of thought quality. If we are feeling relaxed, happy, sanguine, this is a signal that we are having thoughts that can be trusted and are in alignment with our true self. If we are feeling irritated or cross or grumpy or out of sorts this is a signal that we are experiencing low mood, low quality thinking that can’t be trusted to be telling us anything about reality.
And crucially with our kids, it’s an indication of when’s a good time to guide them or work out solutions to an issue, and when to back the hell off.
There won’t be a parent in the world who hasn’t attempted to ‘teach’ or ‘correct’ or reprimand from a place of huge irritation, and it’s probably always going to happen at times. Because we’re human and sometimes, many times, it’s just too tough not to and to have the self-control to reign ourselves in. But if we’re honest, we know it’s not the best way and it never works or teaches our child anything – beyond being scared or wary of us, or increasing defiance.
And when we start to recognise our feelings as guides, we know that our irritation is a sign that we’re off-track and not thinking in line with our wisdom and clarity – and the outcome is never going to be successful.
So this naturally points us to a simple rule: never attempt to teach or lead from this place. Keep your mouth shut, remove yourself, whatever it takes, but know that until you’ve calmed down you’re very unlikely to come up with a clear, measured response.
If we could always react to these emotional alarms in the same way we do to physical pain alarms, just think how much stress, back-tracking and apologies that would that save us?