Recently, I was on a plane back from the Gold Coast and behind me sat a gorgeous little man, who's Mum and Grandma were sitting to his right. After a bumpy start of planes backed up for take off and having to hold on for the loo til the seat belt lights went off (because Mum said he never goes at the airport and now he has to wait until the pilot says it's safe) he was feeling a bit fragile and frustrated at his Mum for denying him his basic needs and post successful loo trip, had a bit of teary on the floor behind (and underneath my seat). Bless his heart, we all wanted to give him a big hug i think. And i think that and Mum being great with him in that moment helped because by the end of the flight he was giggling with delight while his tummy went up and down while our descent back into Melbourne was, in his words, "like the Slide at Seaworld"...yeah Melbourne felt a little turbulent that day both above AND on the ground, but we all tended to agree with him on seeing and enjoying the fun side.
He got me thinking though about our vulnerable, scared, teary moments as adults and how individually and collectively we support ourselves and each other through them as grown ups, through and out the other side of the scary moment and back onto our feet. In those moments, there are often two processes occurring. One is our reaction in the present moment and what we tell ourselves about what is going on and what it means. And the other is us potentially having referenced it against the memory of some past experience that resembled this one that we had early on in life and 'reloading' and projecting onto the present circumstance our unresolved emotional baggage around that and how this situation resembles that one. Projected onto the present moment in an attempt to heal the emotional baggage from that past situation that was like this one and the beliefs (possibly faulty ones) we developed from it..
So often when we have emotional moments as adults, particularly when it comes to fear moments, and see others having them too, in fact it is not a crying, scared adult that we're witnessing, but actually a scared little girl or boy, reliving some painful childhood experience that they haven't yet healed.
In the West, for the last several generations, we were not well taught how to handle vulnerability. Our parents and Grandparents were taught to be seen and not heard and not to dare cry or show emotion in public. Many women, as well as men report having been on the receiving end of this at home and it is still a mentality alive and well in the culture at large. And so for many, not all, but many, the default reaction, when we see that crying, scared child present has been to repeat what we were taught and tell them to suck it up and grow up. For their own good, but also more often than not, to alleviate our own discomfort with having to witness them in a state we haven't actually learned to handle within ourselves.
In the process of any human being moving through and beyond what they're going through, it is in fact a necessary step to, at some point, pull yourself back out of it and get back up on your feet, or the other to do so. However, there's a necessary step, for healing and growth we're often missing that needs to precede that. And that is giving the crying child the love, compassion and nurturing they never got the first time around, the full presence, the validation of how they feel, the physical comfort and affection they perhaps never got in their moments of greatest fear and vulnerability. Perhaps also sometimes the reassurance that they're safe and all is going to be ok. Then once the child or grown up child settles down, then comes the getting back to life step. Depending on the circumstance, maybe with company, maybe they have to entertain themselves.
Whether a child though, or a grown up doing your thing in business and life, or supporting oneself or a friend or partner in our intimate or work relationships and partnerships, actually, the process of supporting ourselves and those we care about needs to be the same. First:
1) Find the compassion and the love for the scared, or angry bit (often anger is the top level emotion/deference strategy that we use to protect ourselves from dropping into the tears).
2) Express it (the love that is).
3) Talk through the mindset issue going on here. (What just happened? Is it really true what you just told yourself? What is really going on? And what self talk will support you to see the ultimate truth of things going forward?)
4) There's nothing like injecting some humour to help break the mental loop train of runaway thoughts and emotion in motion in those moments.
And then, then finally comes the time for
5) The call back to action e.g. calling yourself back to both self care and, in line with your purpose, actions you can take to lovingly get shit done.
If you want to overcome your greatest fears to be able to show up fully through and beyond the ups and downs of business and life, that is how you'll really do it. It's a core life skill to learn for our own personal resilience. But it's also an important relationship building skill to have too. To use that process to know how to better support others in their vulnerable moments, but then take your hands away when they ask you to, or when you deem necessary, so that they can become fully self-responsible and step back into their own power.
According to Robert Waldinger, Psychiatrist, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development (one of the most comprehensive and longest running studies in history), the people who address their emotional needs and are surrounded by people able to lovingly do the same through their crappy as well as their happy moments, are the folks who live the healthiest and longest lives. (I might add, whether they realise it or not, the most successful people out there in our industry are surrounded by this and doing this for themselves and others by default too.)
But more than that, if you want to thrive and deepen the quality of your relationships of all kinds, whether as a Manager of others, or in intimate partnerships, this too is one tremendously good process to consciously remember, and practice the next time your partner, or friend or employee is having a moment. Perhaps. maybe, much to your frustration for the 6th time this month, maybe this week, or today. But, if you love them, and want to continue to grow together and have the kind of mutually rewarding and good quality relationships you've always dreamed of, then a) practice this with yourself in your own vulnerable moments, b) openly talk about and practice this with others you love so that you can both work towards healing this wound and grow onwards and upwards and c) share this info far and wide so that awesome humans doing awesome things everywhere can understand how to heal and move beyond several thousand years of crappy relationship habits to better love each other and have relationships and lives we love too.
(If there's one thing that puts an epic smile on my face, it's seeing people i love feeling happy and well loved) :-)
Until next time, have fun, take care.
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.