Under the Surface of the Unheard Parent

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(Rawpixel on Unsplash)

“It’s time to get ready for bed. Go put on your pyjamas,” I firmly request. My kids begin shouting and hollering in protest. Again, I sternly assert myself: “You have school tomorrow. It’s time now to put on your pyjamas.” As if on cue for a wild party, my girls race from room to room. They jump on the bed. They climb all over their dad.

At this point, I can feel anger bubbling and brewing deep inside of me. My breathing becomes shallow. My body grows tense. I state my request one final time. My seven-year old daughter walks past me as if I were invisible. Now it’s too late. There is no turning back. My anger boils over. Like a deranged monster, I yell at my children to get ready for bed NOW! Every night I promise myself I won’t get mad. Every night it’s the same old story.

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(Anthony Tran on Unsplash)

The unheard parent. Whether we pester our kids to clean up their toys, get ready for bed or do their homework, it all comes down to the same thing. We are demanding to be heard. Demanding to be respected. Demanding that someone (in this situation, our kids) will confirm that our wishes, needs and feelings are valid.

As we all know, parenting isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. And it isn’t meant to be. We are here on this planet to experience the spectrum of human emotions and to learn, grow and heal. Parenting — in all its frustrating and exhausting glory — offers us a wealth of opportunities for healing.

Whether we realize it or not, our children trigger stored emotions that have been camping out inside of us for a long time, often since we ourselves were little kids. These buried emotions, beliefs and fears affect our current well-being, our perception of the world and how we react to life.

This past summer I watched a dad on the beach with his young family. His five-year old daughter was upset and crying loudly. The dad was growing increasingly tense, stiffening like a stone statue. Agitated, he impatiently asked his daughter what was wrong. His tone sounded like a hissing snake, threatening an attack. The little girl sobbed while explaining that sand had gotten into her ice cream. She knew she would have to throw away her half-eaten treat. Her dad responded with an angry “stop crying!” When the little girl continued to cry, he repeated his demand: “stop crying!” The little girl cried more. “Riley, STOP crying!!”

The longer I watched this man, the more he appeared like a little boy, stomping his feet and shouting. A small child who desperately wanted to be heard. A boy who longed for attention and yearned for someone (likely a parent or care giver) to acknowledge that his feelings and wishes were relevant. Inside this man was an upset little boy who was pouring gasoline on the dad’s fiery reaction to his daughter.

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(Kat J on Unsplash)

There are two things happening in life. The first is what is actually happening. The second is how we SEE the situation and how we FEEL about what is happening.

For example, my over-the-top hysterical reaction when my girls don’t listen often has more to do with my own inner emotional landscape, than the actual situation. With this in mind, I took my frustration and anger to my meditation in order to shine some light and take a closer look.

Here is what I discovered.

With my eyes closed, I imagined a recent episode when my eldest daughter didn’t listen to me. I allowed my anger to grow in intensity, igniting a roaring fire within me. After allowing myself to fully feel and honour my anger, I then sank into what was underneath.

Open and curious, I became aware of feeling invisible combined with a clenching sensation of fear. Asking to be shown when in childhood I felt scared and invisible, I saw myself at about four years old standing outside a house. At the end of the driveway, I saw my mom deep in conversation with my dad. When little me tried to get my parents’ attention, they didn’t notice me…or possibly ignored me. I could feel some urgency in getting their attention. Perhaps my little brother needed adult care inside the house. I am not aware of the details. But what is clear is that I had been harbouring a little girl’s feeling of helplessness, as well as a fear-based belief that when I am unnoticed or ignored something unsafe could happen.

In a way, this event is seemingly insignificant. Nothing terrible occurred. Nobody was physically hurt. But how my four-year old self FELT about it left an energetic imprint within me. As a result, feeling helpless and invisible with a splash of fear had been feeding my intense emotional response as an adult when my kids didn’t listen to me.

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(Alex Blajan on Unsplash)

Now you might say — this is ridiculous! Am I seriously suggesting that the emotions we felt and stored within us as small children (like feeling unheard and unseen) can affect how we react and feel when our kids don’t listen to us today? Yes, I believe our unresolved emotional baggage fuels our intense, over-the-top reaction to our children’s behaviour and feeds our ego’s hunger to be heard and respected as a parent.

Like an overflowing storage room that is brimming with dusty boxes and out-dated appliances, we often choose to ignore or deny our accumulated emotions and beliefs. By doing so, we carry our hurt forward from childhood into our adult lives. When we feel unheard or disrespected by our kids (or by our spouse, our co-workers, etc.) it pokes at this stored pain. It triggers all kinds of stored childhood feelings. And it washes up icky old beliefs of not being worthy or that our needs are somehow unimportant and so forth.

Please note that I am not in any way placing fault on our parents, nor is this article about judging ourselves as parents. The intention of this article is to encourage us to take an open-minded, curious look at the emotions and beliefs that are stashed within us. And to see how these stored emotions could affect how we perceive events and trigger our emotional responses to life and our relationships.

Take a moment to reflect on these questions:

Do you often feel disappointed or let down by others?

Do you feel like your kids (or others) disrespect you?

Do you feel helpless and unseen when your kids disregard your requests?

Do you notice yourself reacting to situations in an emotionally over-dramatic way?

For those of us who answered yes to any of the above, you may feel inspired to take a closer look within.

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(Lina Trochez on Unsplash)

The following short meditation helps us see and release stagnant emotions, opening the door for us to feel calmer, clearer, lighter and more centred.

Meditation

Sit in a quiet space with your eyes closed. Enjoy five deep breaths. With each inhale, witness the breath. Pause. With each exhale, witness the breath.

Bring your awareness to the top of your head to your crown chakra. See the top of your head opening wide. See or feel a bright, sparkly white light as it enters into your crown. Continue to breathe as you witness your entire being filled with this radiant, divine light.

Now bring to mind a situation when your child didn’t listen to you. Allow whatever emotion is present to rise up. Feel the anger, frustration or rage. Don’t look away or deny your emotions. Truly, deeply FEEL them.

Now tune into what emotion is underneath. Perhaps it is a feeling of helplessness. Or maybe there is a belief that you are not worthy of being heard. Not worthy of attention, affection or love. Or perhaps there is a fear that when kids don’t listen something bad happens.

Now ask to be shown a time as a child when you experienced these feelings and beliefs. Ask: “When have I felt this feeling of “___” as a child?”

Rest in quiet and allow an image or memory to present itself. Breathe and soften as you allow yourself to feel the emotions that surface. Stay with the emotions that are present.

There may be tears. Or you might want to give little you (your inner child) permission to verbally express your hurt or anger toward the person who upset you. (This is an exchange in your imagination.) Allowing your emotions to have an expression can help to release these stored feelings.

After you have fully and deeply felt these emotions, it’s time to let this energy go. See or feel this stored emotion as an energy moving up, up, up and out through the top of your head, letting it go. Perhaps it appears like a bubbling creek flowing up and out or maybe the energy shoots out of your crown chakra like a powerful geyser. Breathe, soften and let it go.

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(Nine Kopfer on Unsplash)

Emotions are energies that are meant to move. When emotions are held and stored within us, they can muddy our perceptions, opinions and behaviours.

Raising our voices with our kids can be purposeful. It is also expected that we may feel frustrated when our children challenge us by not listening. The idea of a blissed-out parent who never raises her voice is not realistic. (Or at least not realistic in my world.)

Our life is full of opportunities to grow and heal. Our relationships with our kids are prime examples of this. Feeling triggered by our kids is a gift. When unwrapped and looked at with an open mind, this gift offers powerful opportunities to heal and evolve.

Inner peace and happiness require taking an honest, non-judgemental look at our own unresolved stuff, feeling our stored emotions and letting them go.

***

To read more about Rachel, click here.

Relinquishing the Ego Aggressor

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(rawpixel on Unsplash)

Relationships are not easy. Whether it is our relationship with our mother, our spouse or a co-worker, relationships can be intense. Sometimes with only a few words said, a hot fire within us can be sparked and stoked, engulfing us in a rip-roaring blaze. Suddenly, we are pissed, angry, hurt and resentful. Instantaneously, we tuck our heart behind our imaginary shield and tightly grip our weapon. Prepared to defend and attack.

Often it takes only milliseconds to launch ourselves from open and relaxed to tense and shut down. Allow me to share a story. This morning, as my children sat colouring side-by-side at the table, I overheard my eldest daughter say something in a condescending tone to her little sister. Although the words themselves didn’t register in my brain, the hissing-sound of attack pierced into me. Instantly, I felt myself become tense. My heart hardened as it shut down. As I questioned my daughter, I could feel that I wasn’t engaging with an open heart. My shield was strategically placed over my heart and my weapon was drawn.

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(Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash)

Most of the time, most of us march through life with our heart blocked and our weapon drawn. We try to take the focus off ourselves by blaming and judging others. We judge others for having different opinions or lifestyles than us. We blame others for our perceived problems. We speak condescendingly, and we complain and gossip about others behind their backs. We tell ourselves that we are better than others. Portraying a fake confidence; a bogus sense of pride. Arrogance and judgement are our key attack and defense strategies to avoid revealing our heart. Tactics to distract ourselves from feeling our own hurt and vulnerability.

When we push and control (rather than allow and flow), we also hide our heart behind self-erected walls. When a wife demands her spouse do what she wants and when she wants it, chances are her heart is blocked. When an older sibling determines rigid rules for how a younger sibling should express her own creativity and imagination, chances are the older sibling’s heart is closed off. When a child excludes another child from play, chances are his heart is shut down. When a parent demands with an authoritarian style that their children do as they say, chances are their heart is shielded. This is not to say that a spouse is not permitted from expressing his or her wishes in a relationship or that parents should not guide their children. But when our heart is tucked behind a mighty shield and our weapon is drawn, we demand and seek to exert control. Our communication is laced with aggression. We come from a place of fear and ego, not from a place of love and an open heart.

Like most of us, I have walked through life with my heart hidden behind a shield and carrying an imaginary weapon. Prepared to fight to avoid being hurt. Fight to be seen and heard. Fight to feel validated and valued. Similar to many of us, I have been too scared to allow my heart to be open and vulnerable. But it is only when we come from fear and ego that we feel the need to fight our way through life. To defend ourselves and protect our heart. To offer ourselves an illusion of safety.

What would happen if we would surrender our weapon and toss away our shield? We would discover the essence of who we truly are: innocent, pure, compassionate love. A magnificent, radiant spark; one and the same with our divine source. We would see that our true strength rests in our vulnerability.

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(Morgan Sessions on Unsplash)

When our heart is open, we connect with others in a deeper, more meaningful way. We connect on a heart and soul level. Without a shield covering our heart, we open ourselves to fully receive love, as well as extend love to others. In our defenselessness, we see the world with genuine compassion. Like individual droplets of water in the vast ocean, we begin to see that we are all one and the same. We speak, act and live from a place of love, acceptance and gratitude. Fear and ego no longer control and dictate our thoughts, perspectives and actions.

When we have the courage to blast open the fortress walls around our heart, we experience life in a vibrant and exciting way. Life becomes like a motorcycle ride on a scenic road. We feel one with the surrounding nature. One with the wind. One with the trees. One with the ocean. One with life. One with our own vulnerability. Sometimes we lean into the corners. And sometimes we relax on an open, straight stretch. Completely present. Feeling it all.

So why do we build these fortified walls around our heart? At some point in our lives, often as young children, we experienced hurt. We learned that we were not completely lovable just as we are. We learned that love is conditional. We began to perceive our open-hearted, authentic selves as not good enough.

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(Janko Ferlic on Unsplash)

Perhaps we felt the hurt of a parent yelling at us. Or maybe we were physically hit to “keep us in line”. Or perhaps we were the target of ridicule from other children. Or maybe we felt disheartened and defeated because a sibling received the love and attention that we craved. Or perhaps we felt lonely and sad because our parents were distracted, unavailable or unable to love us due to their own pain and fear.

As a result, we developed the belief that the world is not entirely safe. That we need to protect ourselves to survive and thrive. We hardened. We built walls. We disconnected from our heart. We grew up feeling separate and alone. Struggling to feel worthy of love. Struggling to love ourselves.

Living with an open heart is a work in progress. In my experience, it requires great awareness and regular practice. Although I am very aware of when I am engaging with an open heart versus when my heart is shielded, I still react in a knee-jerk way to situations that trigger me. For example, I still find myself flipping out at my kids when they don’t listen. I still launch verbal attacks at my husband for various behaviours that drive me nuts. And I continue to catch myself quietly judging others for being rude, inconsiderate, unprofessional, unaware and so forth.

Experiencing life with an open heart does not mean that we don’t get upset sometimes. Instead, we fully feel our emotions…but without attacking or blaming. Without judging others or judging ourselves. Without closing our heart.

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(Ed Robertson on Unsplash)

Allow me to share a personal story. A few years ago, a heated situation arose between myself and a close friend. It was a situation in which two old friends came close to no longer being friends. Both friends felt hurt, betrayed and angry. Both of us had fortified walls around our hearts. And both of us were prepared for battle.

But our long-standing friendship did not fall apart. On a very tense phone call, I suddenly stopped. I stopped defending myself. I stopped justifying my actions. I laid down my shield and weapon. I spontaneously guided us into our hearts. I quietly reminded us of all the challenges we had supported each other through. All of the celebrations that we had shared. Essentially, I reminded us that day of our love for one another. Suddenly we were both in tears and peering at each other through our hearts. Not through our egos and our fears…but through our hearts. This is a beautiful example of how life and relationships can unfold when we engage with an open heart.

Heart-opening Meditation

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(Darius Bashar on Unsplash)

Create space in your week to sit in silence. Place your open hand on your heart. (Go ahead…try this now with your eyes open while you read this.) Now imagine that you are breathing through your heart. Inhale into your heart. Exhale out of your heart. And again — breathe into your heart, and exhale out of your heart. Feel a softening. Now imagine that you see or feel the wall in front of your heart opening. Maybe it crumbles into pieces or simply vanishes without a trace. Or perhaps the walls protecting your heart have a slow-and-steady style of opening. Continue to breathe. Feel into your gentle, compassionate heart.

Feel the emotions that are present. You may feel pangs of sadness or remorse. You may even feel agitation or anxiety. Whatever is present, allow yourself to feel it. With the gentleness that we use to cradle an infant, witness your emotions with compassion. Emotions are energies that are meant to move. If sadness arises, let the tears flow. If frustration arises, exhale the breath from the mouth with a groan. By feeling our stored emotions and letting them go, we are better able to feel the love that is underneath and alive within us.

Now ask yourself:
Am I willing to let love into my heart?
Am I willing to love myself?
Am I willing to surrender my shield and weapon, and walk through this day defenseless (knowing this is where my true strength lies)?

Witness your responses without judgement.

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(Kawin Harasai on Unsplash)

The next time you notice your heart hardening with blame or judgement…stop. Breathe. Soften your heart. Let go of your shield and weapon. Feel the emotions that are present. Breathe as you allow them to move through you. Recognize that blaming, attacking or judging others (or ourselves) is a fear-based attempt to keep our heart closed off. A strategy to protect ourselves…but at a great price. Offering a false sense of safety and robbing us of an authentic life.

Fall back on the assurance that true strength lies in our vulnerability. Life is more awesome when we relinquish the ego aggressor and live with an open heart.

***
To read Rachel’s bio, please click here.
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