The Gift of Listening
She'd triggered my defensiveness, and my mind searched for rebuttals. When I am home, you are always busy with your friends and you rarely have time with me anyway. But I kept silent, remembering that the only way this session could end with me feeling proud would be for me just to listen—no matter what. I stayed with her and asked softly, "What else?"
She upped the ante and took her best shot, screaming, "I hate you!"
My ego grew horns, but I managed to keep quiet. I told myself to keep my body in a relaxed and open posture while I let her hostile energy just flow through me.
She continued with a full head of steam, "You like Lauren more then me! You baby her all the time!"
My mind raced, my heart pounded and I suppressed the urge to protect myself. Instead, I held onto my goal of being as non-reactive as possible.
Then we got past her testing point and off she went. "I hate my life! I hate my sisters! Dad doesn't listen and he never trusts me! You are always nagging me, and it seems that my room being clean is more important to you than all the stress I am under!"
I breathed, softly but deeply, internally complimenting myself for being able to listen without reacting.
She kept going, showing no signs of slowing down. "I hate school! I don't know why they teach us half this stuff anyway! I feel so stupid! I am retarded and it is so embarrassing being in Special Ed!"
Now I wanted to take care of her and reassure her that she was brilliant. I wanted to list all the geniuses in the world who had forms of dyslexia. Yet I knew she just needed to feel, not be saved. I asked, very softly, "What else?"
She immediately responded. "I feel so ugly, I am so fat, I hate my body!"
I wanted to tell her about how our media portrays women and intentionally launches us on an endless cycle of hating our bodies in order to buy things in the hopes of looking prettier or thinner. But I resisted, remembering how fat I felt at her age. In my mind, I relived my desperate, secret life with bulimia. Strong waves of understanding rippled through me and I allowed some tears to spill—not so many that she would have to turn off her feelings and shift over to taking care of me but just enough to let her see that I got it.
My daughter was not just talking about her pain, she was fully feeling it.
As she continued emptying her balloon, she literally resembled a woman in full labor. "I have no clothes that fit me! All the other kids have nice clothes with brand names. Why do I have to be the poor kid with hand-me-downs?"
My parent's version of "You think you have it bad" rolled through my head, though once again I chose to ignore it. I actually felt excited that she was doing what I call, "following the thread in." I knew that her only true way out of this "feelings storm" was to go all the way into and through her emotions.
I kept encouraging her by repeating, "What else?"
With an intensity that shook the entire house, she wailed, "I can't do this anymore! I can't do this anymore!"
I felt proud for being able just to listen, which overrode any temptation to give advice, defend myself or fix her.
Then it came, every parent's biggest fear.