Children and Adults Help Each Other
When balanced, children inspire and bring energy to adults, and adults bring safety and guidance to children. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
But sometimes, the relationship breaks down. Adults become too rigid and demanding and children become too selfish and throw tantrums. Then the symbiosis stops, and there can be war instead.
Children become fearful of the harsh adults and act out more, or shut down completely. And adults become drained of inspiration and become frustrated and harder on the children. It’s a vicious cycle.
The Same Thing Can Happen Within Each of Us
There are many parts inside of us that are immature, young, and childish. And there are parts of us that are experienced, wise, and adult-like. It’s like we have an adult in us, and a child in us.
When the adult part meets the childish parts of me with understanding, the childish parts in me grow and mature. But when my adult part becomes demanding, impatient, or pushy, my child part feels unsafe, aggravated, and acts out.
This creates a vicious cycle within me where the child and adult become more and more afraid of each other, and abusive to each other. When this happens, there is no more adult in me: just two warring children.
But the Cycle Can Be Broken
All it takes is a little softening. What I find effective for softening the warring parties inside of me is a little inquiry. Both sides seem to respond well to questions.
Why? Because questions give a chance for each side to look inside and find answers. When a question is posed, it is really a sign of respect. It’s saying, “I want to hear your opinion.” And even children respond to this.
A trust begins to open as long as the safety of the space for inquiry is maintained. When questions are truly posed as questions, and there is room allowed for genuine answers, it’s amazing how quickly trust builds.
This Is the Process of The Work of Byron Katie
The Work of Byron Katie is four questions that the adult part of me can ask the stuck, or childish, part of me regarding any stressful situation. The key to its effectiveness lies in the questions themselves and in the way I hold the questions.
The child part of me gets triggered by all kinds of things, usually by other people. For example, “He’s not being fair.” This can set off the child in me to have a tantrum.
If the adult in me says, “Snap out of it. Stop being such a baby.” The child in me feels unheard, and becomes either angry or shut down. This is the opposite of meeting the child in me with understanding.
Here’s What Understanding Looks Like
Adult in me: “I notice you’re feeling stressed about this. What is going on? Tell me all of the thoughts that are stressing you about this situation. I want to hear. In fact, I’m going to write them down for you.”
Child in me (thinking to himself): “Wow! He really wants to hear. He’s not trying to judge me or change me. He just wants to hear what is going on for me. I feel safe.”
Adult in me: “Ok, now that I wrote down all of your stressful thoughts about it. Would you like to do some inquiry on one of them?
Child in me (thinking to himself): “He’s asking me what I’d like to do. I can see he’s not pushing me to do inquiry. It’s up to me. Let me consider… Okay, sure, why not?”
Adult in me: “Okay, let me read all the stressful thoughts I wrote when you were talking. You tell me which one you want to question.”
Child in me (thinking to himself): “He’s really letting me be in charge here. This is kind of fun. Okay, let’s question this one: ‘I want to win.'”
Adult in me: “Okay great. ‘Is it true that you want to win?'”
Child in me: “Oh yes!” (Thinking to himself: “It really is safe for me to be honest here.”)
Adult in me: “Can you absolutely know it’s true, you want to win?”
Child in me: “Oh, that’s harder. Let me think. No, I’m not completely sure.”
Adult in me: “How do you react, what happens, when you think you want to win in that situation where you thought he was being unfair?”
Child in me (thinking to himself): “Oh goody, now I can really talk about how this affects me.” Continuing out loud: “I am so angry. I see how I deserve to win. But then I doubt myself, maybe I’m not good enough. It hurts. I want to get rid of him. I think he’s such a cheater. All I want now is ice cream.”
Adult in me: “Who would you be without the thought that you want to win?”
Child in me: “Oh great! I like to play pretend… Who would I be? I would be so relaxed. I would see that it’s no big deal at all. When I really look at it, I’m not really sure he was cheating now. I would talk to him, maybe even congratulate him. My heart feels so much easier.”
Adult in me: “Can you find a turnaround?”
Child in me: “Yes. I don’t want to win. That sounds funny.”
Adult in me: “Yes, it is funny. Turnarounds are always funny. Take a look at it and see if it makes any sense for you. If it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s fine too. We’re just looking.”
Child in me: “Okay, let me see. (I really like that he’s asking me if it makes sense to me. He’s not pushing me at all. I feel so safe.) Yeah, actually I don’t really care if I win. I want everyone to have a turn winning. And this time he played better than me so it’s fair. I don’t want to win when I didn’t play as well… that would be cheating. I don’t want to be a cheater.”
This Process Is So Gentle
This is what I mean by “meeting myself with understanding.” There is no push in it. No shaming or judgment. Just a safe space for inquiry. And when given the chance, the little child in me responds wonderfully.
The child in me wants to grow up when allowed to do so on its own. It just needs a little guidance from the adult in me who holds the questions. But it doesn’t need guidance about how to answer. Just the opposite, it needs complete freedom to answer in any way that feels true.
There is so much respect in this for the child in me. So even when he is having a tantrum, or doing something “stupid” according to the adult in me, it can all be met with understanding. Instead of starting a war inside of me, this process of inquiry allows a powerful coming together of child and adult. We work together and we move mountains.
Join us in January for a nine-week course in The Work of Byron Katie. Practice holding yourself gently in this process in The Work 101 online course.
Have a great week,
“This Work has the gentleness of a flower opening to itself. Be gentle with your beautiful self. This Work is about the end of your suffering. We’re just taking a look at possibilities here.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is
Further reading: Stretching vs. Forcing