I was recently floating in the outdoor pool at a local hot springs resort when I heard a loud voice shouting,
“ Honey you will love this, its just like lemonade.” I got curious to who this voice belonged to and where this person found this delicious lemonade, so I opened my eyes and what I saw was an excited mom handing her young toddler who was happy playing on the pool’s steps a plastic cup of cucumber water.
I thought to myself, “ I personally love spa “cuke” water but it definitely does not taste like lemons and sugar or maple syrup, so I became very curious to what this “lemonade” would taste like to this little girl, and looked over at her while she sipped.
I saw two things happen simultaneously; the little girl scrunched her nose when she tasted it and then squirmed a bit, as she looked up to her mom, while her mom frowned and her body collapsed, shoulders and all, with disappointment.
I felt empathy for the mom, who so wanted her daughter to be excited about the green water. She even presented it as lemonade to help convince her that she was bringing her something yummy, but boy did she have an agenda; “You need to agree with me and be happy for what I did for you, or I will be disappointed”
Those types of conditions never seem to add up to anything good in my experience.
I felt even more compassion for the young girl of course who knew how that drink tasted to her. It just happened to be different then how her mom said it would taste. And for a young child or even an adult, disagreeing with or disappointing someone’s expectations can mean conflict. I imagined what she wanted to say would go something like this. “No mommy. It is not yummy to me and it doesn’t taste like lemonade at all.” But I also sensed she knew that if she shared her truth she would disappoint her mom’s expectations and that wasn’t a good option.
By this time, I admit I was eavesdropping full on. Here’s what I heard.
Mom (Unconvincingly): “So whatcha think? Yummy huh?”
Toddler (Head down): “It’s ok”
Mom (Clearly upset): “ Just Ok? I think it’s yummy. I love it. How can you not like it? You will. Try it again. Give it another try”
Toddler (Closed her eyes, for a moment, then opened them): ” I’ll try it again. I’ll think of it as green lemonade” Then she drank more and smiled, and so did mom.
What Really Happened?
Her mom’s authority caused her to over-ride her own body-based knowledge so she drank more, pretending that she liked it to please her mom, not her pallet.
What seems like a harmless pool interaction with her mom, is all too common and teaches the child to not listen to or trust their own BQ tm, your body based intelligence, which I coined in my book, What’s Your Body Telling You in 2009.
I’ve heard many times, from children and adults how their parent, coach or spouse ignored what they felt and how that negatively impacted them. Even though the person didn’t necessarily over ride their feelings deliberately, it was still unconscious behavior, driven by inconvenience or emotional overload and it can hurt.
It should. Most of us had many of our experiences and feelings invalidated or controlled by someone else. And most of us even if it was benign and with great intentions did (do) the same thing to others too.
One client shared a story about when he was 8 years old he was feeling faint in his coach’s station wagon on the way home from a little league game. He asked the coach to pull over as he was hot, dizzy and sweaty and wanted to take his heavy jacket off. His coach didn’t flinch. “You’re not hot,” and then insisted he keep his jacket on. The whole way home, the child was sweating bullets and getting dizzier. Too young to rebel or even question his coach’s authority he simply waited it out in a disassociated numb trance, something many of us did (do) when our feelings and needs get ignored, rejected and overruled. For this young boy incidents like this set up a pattern wherein he could neither register, nor trust signals coming from his body anymore. To survive he began to shut down the intricate guidance system that his brilliant body could bring to every day choices. His BQ tm became very low.
And he is not alone. Many of us have been similarly trained to ignore our in built bio-feedback system. Parents, teachers and role models trained us to disconnect from our feelings and somatic intelligence in order to fit in and please others. When a child expresses physical or emotional discomfort and is repeatedly met with frustration or disapproval, he or she soon learns that it isn’t safe or acceptable to feel. S/he gets the message, loud and clear—your body isn’t reliable—and begins to adapt and conform to misguided demands and expectations. The cost to the child is tremendous; both spontaneous self-expression and the simple joy of being are all but lost.
I don’t Deserve it
In the case of the green lemonade, and other events like these, the young girl could also form a mental and physical habit of doing things to please other people, devaluing her own experiences around what she tastes, feels, and senses.
As a survival tool she may get in to the habit of disconnecting from what she feels and form a behavior pattern of not honoring her own feelings. Along with that she could adopt the belief that she doesn’t deserve to have what she wants, like real lemonade so she instead is always intent on wanting to please someone else and just drink the cucumber juice and pretend she likes it if she has to. Peace over confict!
What’s key here for me is that we as parents, teachers and coaches can become more of aware in the moment of how someone else’s feelings and emotions may not be “convenient “so we unconsciously override them. It may have been inconvenient for the coach to pull his car over and check to see if one of his players was overheated, so he drove on rather then pulling over and getting home for dinner 5 minutes later.
At other times we may be challenged by our own stress and emotions and want to avoid any feelings that might get triggered by our child’s or friends or spouse’s feelings. It takes balance and practice I find to take a breath and listen to someone else share or emote when we ourselves don’t have the capacity to feel what we are feeling.
Yet when a child or adult needs to express their feelings, at home, school or work it is common to have someone else squash them to avoid having to feel any extra emotions on top of what we are already feeling from other challenges.
Since that day in the hot springs I am being more vigilant to listen to someone else’s tastes, feelings and opinions before I react, even when they don’t think that my morning green veggie smoothie is more delicious then a whipped cream mocha latte’.