When my son got very comfortable with water and taking baths by himself (with someone present), he really enjoyed playing with water as it was being tapped, or playing with the showerhead extension while filling the bath. Though whenever it was time to turn off the tap there’d be a big cry and/or tantrum as he wasn’t happy to see his playtime end so soon.
Sometimes he’d get so engulfed in the tantrum/crying that he wouldn’t be aware of how he was moving and then slip and hurt himself. Though this only happened once or twice before he got that massive bath tantrums aren’t exactly a good idea. I didn’t like it when this would happen cause I had the tendency of taking his crying personal – where I would interpret his crying as a judgment directed towards me.
After it happened a few times that bath-time ended in tears, I started dreading bath-time in anticipation of the not so happy ending which would follow. The moment he would ask to take a bath or when we needed to get clean, anxiety would immediately creep up as I would already imagine him having a cry out at the end of it. And then sure enough, it would happen and we’d go through the motions once more.
This was not a fun experience as I would like to enjoy bath time and have him enjoy bath time regardless of how it ends. Applying the principle of getting the message behind an emotion, I opened up the anxiety experience inside myself. Within this, I could see the following lesson within the emotion of anxiety:
Whenever we experience anxiety towards a particular event or playout, it’s not so much the actual event or playout which we fear, but are experience as a reaction TOWARDS the event. Where, we once went through such an event/playout before and experienced this as being unpleasant in some way or another. Then if we anticipate the same or similar event to play out, we project our past experience unto the future playout – and end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I went into anxiety, it wasn’t because I was fearing him crying or having a tantrum. I was fearing my inner-experience, my experience of diminishment inside that I had gotten accustomed to, to his crying. I was in fact: fearing myself. In my head, these two aspects – the physical aspect of him crying/having a tantrum, and the aspect of me taking his crying personal – were fused as being ‘one and the same’. So when I went into anxiety and already imagined the future playout of his crying or tantrum, it made it seem as if I was fearing the actual physical event.
We assume that how we experienced ourselves in the past will be how we will experience ourselves in the future. But we also assume that we cannot experience ourselves any other way. In this, we have already defined and accepted ourselves as a particular behavioural trait or pattern, such as: when my son cries/throws a tantrum = I take it personal. If this, then that. When we enter into anxiety, we don’t fear the ‘if this’ part of the equation, we fear the ‘then that’ part.
Anxiety as a message, wishes to tell us that we have allowed ourselves to succumb to a pattern. That our experience is confined and limited to that which the pattern dictates, and believe there to be no way out (unless we avoid the event connected to the anxiety which we fear, which is merely avoiding the trigger to the experience, but the patterns still remains existent within us).
If we do not take heed of the message anxiety wishes to show us, anxiety remains because its message is put on hold. We remain a victim to our pattern and will feel less and less in control of our life. What anxiety is demanding, is for us to become the Author of our own lives. To not passively accept a pattern to overrun and overwhelm us, but to decide who we are and how we will experience ourselves in any given moment. When we become the author of our own life and script our own story, we establish Authority inside ourselves.
Are you going to remain a slave to your reaction-pattern, or are you going to script and author your own outcome?
I decided that I do not want to keep taking his cries personal. I decided to change the pattern.
His reaction never was personal to me. His crying merely indicated his sadness to a desire which couldn’t be fulfilled. When I made peace that his crying didn’t make me a lesser parent or person, the anxiety disappeared and soon enough so did his tantrums. Children have very sharp perceptual senses. When we are in a heightened state of distress, for instance when we are in anxiety within anticipating an unpleasant event, the child picks up on this. Our whole body and state of being is in essence screaming to them: “Something bad is about to come our way!” So when the event happens, the child reacts in distress because he or she assumes it is the appropriate way to respond. They don’t necessarily believe that was it happening is distressing. They are merely following our example. As long as I was in anxiety about having the tap turned off, where the turning of the tap was followed by an experience of diminishment inside myself – he assumed that it is only appropriate for him to also feel diminished when the tap turned off and play time was over. If I however showed him that turning the tap on or off doesn’t affect how I feel about myself or my levels of enjoyment, then he learns that turning off the tap doesn’t mean turning off enjoyment inside himself.