Do you have a toddler? When he reaches for the hot stove, do you yell “No!”? Consider yelling “Danger!” Kids, like adults, need to learn the difference between fear and danger. The problem with “No!” is that it doesn’t help you clarify that difference. If, when you feel fear and you think, “Oh no!,” not only are you adding fear to fear, but you also miss the chance to learn from it when it is teaching you that you are in physical or interpersonal danger.
Imagine if, when you were a toddler and a child and you felt scared, your parent noticed and explained kindly, “Your body is experiencing fear. Your heart is racing and you are sweating. You are feeling fear, but you are not in danger. Fear is just a feeling. Let’s observe it together. While you feel this feeling, how can you tell if you are safe or in danger?” It might have happened when it got dark outside, when a dog surprised you, or when you ran a little too far in the wrong direction at the store. These were all big teaching moments for you and your parents. If you then worried about your sensations or you had additional worried thoughts after the experience of fear, your parent could have said, “Now you have the feeling of anxiety. You felt fear and now you have uncertainty about what you feared. Uncertainty is also just a feeling. You can bring that feeling of uncertainty along with you while we go back to playing.”
As an adult, you might have wrong a little too far in the wrong direction in your life. You might have thoughts and sensations, add “Oh no!” and get stuck in them. Let’s create an internal parent for you! We’ll call your internal parent, Wise Mind. Wise Mind is participating in your life, and also observing your life, like a highly attuned parent. Wise Mind also has more experience than the part of you that is reactively or fearfully responding to whatever is happening in the moment. Wise Mind has been with you, observing you, your whole life. He knows the moments you’ve showed up with courage and also when you’ve lived less than your best life. Compassionate parents have space and time for all of it and want to be there with you. We all have an observational self. Some of us didn’t notice it was there or don’t pay attention to it. You can strengthen your Wise Mind by bringing attention to her. If it doesn’t seem like your Wise Mind knows what to say to you, we can teach her compassion together. Sometimes Wise Mind uses coping skills to care for you, but coping skills are not your path to recovery. Wise Mind is the part of you who relates to painful experiences with patience, perspective, and kindness. He doesn’t prevent you from ever feeling pain, but a strong Wise Mind alleviates additional suffering and creates the space for variability, flexibility, and richness in your private experience.
One way to strengthen your connection to your Wise Mind is to get clearer on the difference between your Worried Voice and your Wise Mind. We like Worried Voice too. Remember, Wise Mind has space and time for every part of you. Worried Voice probably problem-solves quickly. Sometimes he acts too quickly. Let’s teach your Wise Mind how to slow your Worried Voice down. We’ll teach Wise Mind to reason through stakes and odds and use a signal vs. noise framework to decide when to problem solve and when to let his thoughts pass.
Let’s talk more about your internal compassionate parent, Wise Mind.
- Who does your Wise Mind sound like? As you’re reflecting on it, consider family members, friends, teachers, coaches, religious or community leaders, health care providers, authors, musicians, and artists who inspire you, understand you, and ground you. Meditation and other self-care practices also strengthen your awareness of your Wise Mind.
- Under what conditions do you have most access to Wise Mind? How come?
- Under what conditions do you have least access to Wise Mind? How come?
- If you wanted to strengthen your Wise Mind, what might you do next?