Treasuring Discomfort – Transcending Childhood Boundaries: Part 1

Parents know all about limits and boundaries.  We make them because our children need them.  Children need to know where the edge of their behavioural world is.  They need to know what they can and cannot do for their own safety and for the tolerability of their behaviour for those around them.

Some parents define loose boundaries.  The child might be allowed to watch youtube endlessly from a young age,  eat whatever they want, and define their own bedtime.

Other children are watched closely by their carers, disciplined for tiny infringements, and have a small world defined for them by religious belief or plain bloody-mindedness.

Most kids are somewhere in the middle.  Regardless of the type or size of boundary, if the boundary is enforced, the child feels a sense of safety.  

Fast forward to adulthood and we are still living within these childhood limits.  We have deep, hard lines in our minds and souls that tell us where we can and cannot tread.

We know those boundaries easily.  As adults we spend most of our lives in our comfort zone, behaving in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  It’s when we do or say something that makes us uneasy, anxious or guilty that we know we are dallying close to the heavily guarded prison wall that is our boundary.

In my mid-twenties I was living with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I was a well-trained pet.  I didn’t leave our bed until she was awake and indicated it was ok.  I didn’t leave the house except to go to work, sometimes the gym.  I rarely saw my friends unless it was sanctioned by her.  She was not particularly overbearing or controlling, but I didn’t want to upset her. She never asked me to do those things, but by doing them I felt I could maintain a life of quiet security.

In the internal world of my childhood memories, an upset family member meant danger, insecurity.  My history told me that if my mum or dad were mad or sad or upset it meant potential physical harm to me, or emotional damage.  It leant a wobbliness to my world.  If anyone was upset around me I felt a deep background hum of guilt and anxiety.  And so, not because of my partner but because of myself, I continued to remain in this comfortable but limited place.

You might know someone like this.  I know many men, even in their middle age who are tied to their wives (and the reverse of course is true).  It’s easy to comment in this example that the wife is a bitch (and maybe they are) or overbearing (could be) or controlling (likely).  But consider the needs of the man.  He has strong boundaries that he still holds to feel safe.  Having someone tell him what to do and when to do it fulfils a deep need for him.  Even though his existence looks like a miserable excuse, he is living the caged life of his choice in a form of relative comfort.

Living a good life, a life of choices, dreams and happiness means crossing those boundaries.  That is a terrifying thought for those trapped in the example above.  It took me years of slow and disciplined progress to move past those invisible walls.  I had to play a long game, one that stretched my own sense of comfort around the uncomfortable, while ensuring that my new and unusual behaviours were expanding my wife’s boundaries.

My wife wasn’t the issue.  It was my own internal dialogue, which had the high-pitched voice of my upset parents.  Imagine having your parents screaming at you into your twenties and thirties to “do the right thing”!  So many of us have this without realising it.  Some of us have it all our lives, into our fifties, seventies, nineties!

Maybe you are living this life.  As we get older, we can fall into patterns of long term safety that are so habitual they are very difficult to remove.  Imagine the old (and not-so-old) couple who have the same routine each day.  The same greeting, the same breakfast, the same cup of tea, read the paper, lunch at the same time etc etc.  It looks boring.  It IS boring.  But it makes them feel safe.

Some people refuse to try new foods, try new clothes, go to new places on holiday.  Instead of judging them, ask yourself, why?  They may sound stubborn or obstinate, but what is the underlying reason for their fear?  Could it be that their boundaries are so terrifying they decided on a safe and pleasant psychological picnic table to sit at for life? 

In the next part, we’ll look at ways to gradually break down the limits of your life.

If You Wanna Be My Friend

If you want to hang with me, if we are going to be friends, you’ll behave within certain parameters. Not like “you gotta do this”, but because you are like this. 

Its totally cool if you don’t behave in this way, but we are not going to hang out.  We are unlikely to be friends.  And that’s ok.  If you have respectable ideas, I will respect them.  If you voice your opinion, I will listen to it. But you will not be a part of my circle nor any of the advantages and disadvantages that come with that.

I used to be flexible.  That guy who continuously adjusts their behaviour until connection is found with the other person.   The one who flexes their boundaries ever so slightly so that others can be a little more comfortable.

I now have little need for flexibility in establishing connection.  If I’ve had to make more than a couple of flexibility adjustments to my character to connect with you, I probably won’t be talking to you again, not in any real, deep sense.  And, I’ll be making a quick exit. 

Flexibility is exhausting, and certainly inauthentic.  However some people armour themselves, and it can take them a little time to find that dialogue with me is a safe space.  They’ll armour with humour, or accent, or trivialities.  I’ll take a little time to see if there is something worth pursuing in the other person, to find a connection that is rewarding.  A connection that has you walking away with a feeling of joy, humour, warmth or lightness, and a desperate need to talk with them again.

These people I want to connect with again are usually recognised within the first 2 to 3 minutes of conversation.  They are the ones that dive deep straight away.  They are talking of their likes and dislikes, talking of their fears and loves, talking from the heart.  They are not parroting shit from TV.  They are not repeating the tripe of the social media day.  They are not outraged about anything. 

They are explorative. 

They are learning. 

They are unsatisfied with how little they know. 

They are feeling.

They want answers.

They are blackly humourous, you know?

They are probing.

They ask questions. 

They deftly reinsert conversational threads that we had barely unravelled ten minutes ago before being distracted by another fascinating turnabout. 

They disagree, healthily. 

They criticise, constructively. 

They bear the same from me with grace and good humour, without a trace of defensiveness. 

These people understand that it is ideas that are to be argued, discussed and disembowelled, not people.  They know that the idea and their Self are utterly seperate, thus an idea can be hung, drawn and quartered without the Self suffering in the least.  They are grateful for torture that teaches.  I know I am.

I want dialogue.  I want interaction. I seek connection above all else. 

And what a beautiful thing it is to connect with another fascinating human.

The Australian Fires and the Fresh Start

We’ve been burning here for months now.

The Blue Mountains, from the north of the Wollemi National Park to the deep south of Kanangra, has slowly but surely transformed from a stunning vista of eucalypt forests into a black moonscape, bereft of identifying features.

The fire has destroyed homes and threatened villages with new dangers appearing almost every week, fuelled by hot conditions, dry landscapes and wind.

The anxiety comes and goes, wondering whether this will be the week it’s our turn to lose our house, our belongings, our lives.

What surprises me is how many people secretly wish since the beginning of this fire season, to lose everything they own and start again.  How many have longed for a fresh slate?  I have talked with many people and been surprised at the sentiment of “the fire can take it all… I’m insured”.

It seems we don’t really want our stuff, but we don’t want to get rid of it ourselves.  We want an external force to remove it from our lives.  We want to be free of the weight of our belongings, those “things” that tie us to earth, to our past, to our background, to our fears of loss and our anxieties of the future.

Violence Is So Damn Easy, or Why The Hard Way Is So Hard

Sometimes, having kids is just the pits.

Particularly when you’ve made the commitment to an upbringing that abhors violence and uses communication instead.

Violence is just so damn easy!

Your kid ain’t doing what you asked? Slap him across the face!

Your daughter is talking back to you? Smack her on the bottom and send her to her room!

Your son is tantruming, screaming and crying over some nonsense? Scream and yell back at him, getting in his face with emotionally violent language about how he’s ridiculous to feel like he does, perhaps calling him a girl for crying!

face slap backhand

See? Just so easy!

Unfortunately, I’ve committed myself and my wife to methods much more difficult. We are living the middle path between a violent or neglectful adult-centric lifestyle, and a permissive, child-centric one.

The Hard Way.

What is the Hard Way?

The Hard Way is taking a step back, assessing the situation from an altitude of 50,000 feet.

The Hard Way is letting go of your ego, which is really a video flashback to how your own mum and dad parented (if it was good enough for me, it’s GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU).

The Hard Way is creating connection with your child at all times, but especially when they are upset, regardless of whether they are sad, angry, tantruming, or any uncomfortable behaviour.

The Hard Way is letting your kids be sad or angry, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

The Hard Way is not letting your kid have everything they want.

The Hard Way is being flexible, sometimes giving your child what she wants.

The Hard Way is ensuring your kid has regular screen-free time, even when you need a babysitter.

The Hard Way is coaching your child through success and disappointment, rather than being a cheerleader.

The Hard Way is finding and spending Quality Time.

The Hard Way is prioritising family over work, and Quality Time over money.

The Hard Way is loving your kids, loving them hard, and loving them always, even when your ego is reaching for a backhand.

The Hard Way is hard work. It’s a damn sight harder than the bullshit “Good-Enough Parenting” style that gives parents a guilt-free out every time it gets tough. But if you want to grow happy, satisfied, loving and unspoiled kids, the Hard Way is the only way.

Saucepan As Trucker Cap

If you’ve never worn a saucepan on your head for any length of time, I don’t greatly recommend it as a headpiece of comfort.  When I wore a small gravy pan into town many years ago, it kept slipping down the back of my head, and the handle would occasionally hit my shoulder, producing a not-altogether-unpleasant “bong” through my skull.  I’m reasonably sure it didn’t have any gravy still in it, because it probably would have remained more stationary on my pate.

What is interesting about wearing an item of cookware however, is the instant sense of self-awareness it produces.  On this particular occasion I became acutely aware of myself and everyone around me, and let me say… it was not altogether pleasant.  Many pairs of eyes warily rested upon my own, searching deeply, no doubt, for a murderous penchant or some other recalcitrant sign of insanity.

In the meantime, I was highly adrenalised.  This behaviour was obviously threatening to many people, not least to my own sense of self.  All my normal, beige, behavioural scripts were jumping up and down, screaming.  A simple metal pot on my head was turning my world upside down.

If I’ve raised you boys correctly, both of you will have a sense of awareness of yourselves.  One thing you should realise is that most people are not self-aware.  That’s not being nasty or pompous.  It is the truth.  Most people do what they do robotically, as if they have a computer script that they run for each activity.

COMPUTER BOOT-UP…

RUN: INTERACTING WITH WORK COLLEAGUES SCRIPT

RUN: BITCHING ABOUT FRIENDS SCRIPT

RUN: ARGUING WITH SPOUSE SCRIPT

RUN: TRYING SOMETHING NEW SCRIPT

We all have these scripts.  They make life simpler, with less mental overhead.  They also make life dull and predictable.  Scripts are the primary reason many people are bored with their little boxy lives.

Self awareness is important because it gives you a choice.  You can choose to run a script or not.  You can choose to run part or all of a script.  When I chose to walk into town wearing a saucepan, I was ditching many scripts I held dear, and the world was suddenly a very bright and very real place to inhabit.

I walked up to the counter to buy the items I wanted, balancing my headwear so as not to drop it on some unlucky toddler’s scalp.  The lady behind the counter examined me closely.

“Are you a pothead or something?” she asked.

Maybe I was.