So I have a moment at the end of the Dr. Phil Show that we did a few weeks ago that I’m hoping no one will see, but that my ex-husband David assures me is the one moment they will probably be sure to include (air date: Dec. 1). Great... Just what I wanted to hear.
I write, as best as I can on this blog and in the book, about owning your own shit. We didn’t actually call Chapter Two that, because I guess one expletive a book is enough. So Chapter Two is called Own Your Own Crap, but the idea is the same: one of the first steps in creating a breakthrough when a situation is bad is to own your own shit. In other words, take responsibility for the muck that you’re bringing to the table when there’s ongoing conflict.
The very notion is completely counter-intuitive for most people. We’ve got an entire lifetime’s worth of habit helping us to look outside ourselves at external circumstances -- and using them to decide whether things in our life are “good” or “bad.”
But really, we all inherently know that what determines how our “reality” really seems to go has mostly to do with what’s in our own little marble-filled noggin....
It’s just that most of us (self included) often feel perpetually resistant to looking at what’s rolling around inside our noggins.
We walk around feeling as if we’re mostly “right” and know how things should be. End of story.
But ironically, we also walk around also feeling like if only people could REALLY see inside us, they’d run for the hills, so we’re also mostly “wrong,” but that part is supposed to be a secret.
What’s ironic is that everyone feels this hidden sense of shame and random guilt, but no one is supposed to know it! So we pretend we don’t and work hard to cultivate our surface presentation of who we are. And we’re like some little cartoon microcosmic universe of busy people, living purposeful lives, zooming around -- on task and on target.
Which leads me to my confession....
In a moment at the end of the show, I found myself feeling pretty stirred up, after hearing the mom, stepmom and dad who were on during the second half of the show talk at length about their problems with each other.
Emotionally, I kept coming back to their teenage son. After hearing various stories from each adult about situations they were struggling with, I started to get truly exasperated.
No, you’re not supposed to have emotional reactions like that on national TV, especially if you’ve written a book about that particular topic. You’re supposed to be impassive, detached, operating from a higher level of professionalism and objectivity.
But damn, the stuff I was hearing just made me think about what this kid’s experience of his parents and stepmom must be like and how painful it must have been. And judging from what the adults were saying, there was only going to be more of it, possibly into perpetuity.
I was thinking, THIS is what we’re doing to our children, making them feel schizoid and fragmented, putting pressure on them to buy into one parent or teams’ version of reality, of being right, of being the better parent, supposedly fueled by their love for the child. We go back and forth with the other side as if someday they’ll wake up and realize what an idiot they’ve been this entire time, say they’re sorry and start doing things YOUR way.
And in the meantime, the kid is like a old football, being kicked across a field.
So I had a little “moment” there, at the end, where I tried to say to them that their behavior had to change, for their son’s sake.
I was kind of worked up. I think there might have been finger-pointing (cringe). I felt passionate about what I was saying.
And if that had been the end of it, it could have made for some pretty good TV, because hey, isn’t that what TV is all about? Passion? Intensity? Vulnerability? Kleenex?
But the problem is, what I said was also fueled by a sense of judgment. I felt judgmental towards the adults. And even for a bit here and there, superior, like I had figured out something they hadn’t.
Hate to say it, but there it is. You’ll probably see it for yourself anyway.
Now, have I ever put my kids in the middle of battles between Carol and David and I? Have I ever used them as ammunition?
Plenty. Not really so much anymore, but before we were all skipping through the fields of flowers in slow motion, you bet your ass I did.
And I STILL feel guilty about this, and rightfully so, which is maybe also why it was easy to just slide into feeling judgmental with the other adults on the show. You hide from stuff inside yourself - it still finds a way to leak out.
My ex-husband David told me it seemed like I was scolding them, even though he could tell "my heart was in the right place." He said I looked pissed. Carol assured me it was the right thing to say, "given the moment."
Personally, remembering the whole thing makes me want to crawl under my bed.
So... if I come across like a total sanctimonious scold, I’ll live -- and I’m sure the shame of doing this in front of millions of people will fade eventually, like maybe when I’m in my eighties or something.
But more than that, my little “moment” is a great example of how easy it is to slip right back into our ego-filled positions of self-righteousness, even when we’re also responding to something compassionate and caring in our hearts.
Sure, we love our children. We want to do right by them.
But we get caught up in the experience of war with the adults in these bi-nuclear family situations, because it’s all too easy to be offended by the other side, for our own actions to be misinterpreted, for the lines of communication to become horribly mangled and crossed.
Our fallback position of wanting so very much to be “right,” to be better, to be in control -- that stuff always seems to rise to the surface, no matter how altruistic we might be in our calmer, more centered moments. It’s human nature.
But we always have a choice about how we ultimately respond to our very human natures.
What happens when you make a mistake? Do you make amends, at least eventually? Do you brush it under the metaphorical carpet, hoping no one will notice, grateful for the passage of time and the obscuring dustcloud of busyness that we all seem to live in?
I apologized immediately after the show to the stepmom and dad who were on the show, but I still haven’t done so with the mom, whose contact information I have (she was on by satellite).
I need to handle that.... And will.
We all screw up.
And we will continue to, despite our best intentions and “knowledge” about how not to do that.
It’s what we do with our mistake afterward that matters.
Facing the discomfort is the first step. And kind of like going to the dentist or exercising, once you get going, it’s not so bad. You face that brakes-on feeling of resistance and then, lo and behold, you actually create room for change, growth and healing.
It’s a work in progress - this learning about being human, connecting with others past our own egos, owning our own shit. I know I’ll be learning about it ‘til the day I die.
Where are you in the dung pasture? How far to the safety of the fence? Most importantly, what kind of shoes are you wearing?!
The show is on one week from today (Tuesday, Dec. 1st). I hope you’ll tune in!