Updated: Dec 28, 2019
My son was upset he hadn't scored any points during a recent basketball game. By all means, this is a natural reaction, and it's entirely healthy to flirt with unpleasant emotions. I allowed him to carry on and continue expressing himself so that I could respond with compassion and speak directly to the part of him that was hurting. In an attempt to soothe his painful feeling, he began talking about how other kids on his team who scored points shouldn't have. As his ego began manifesting, I was thankful I was patient in hearing him out.
I helped him understand that what made him upset was not that he hadn't scored any points, but his disappointment came from falling short of the expectations he had placed upon himself. He asked what I meant, and I responded with a question: If you did not expect to score any points, would you have been upset that you hadn't? To which he replied: Oh, now I get it, no, I wouldn't have been upset. He went on to say, but I still wish I had scored. I told him that's fine to want things, and this is a perfect opportunity to understand that reality is rarely going to meet our expectations, and we can learn to replace our anger with effort to do better next time. To be sure he was tracking with me, I asked: Instead of being angry, what are three ways you can exert effort to increase your chances of scoring next time? He said: I can practice driving to the basket, shooting after grabbing rebounds, and meditate before my games. I told him how proud of him I was for thinking through his situation with such maturity and resilience.
Next, I introduced him to the term scapegoating. I illustrated how talking about his teammates was a way for him to push his bitter feelings away, and how his strategy would not only NOT make his situation any better, but would make him feel worse, and strain his relationships with his teammates over time. I asked him to name one emotion he was feeling, and he said mad. Then, I asked where he felt it in his body, and he said his stomach. Last, I asked how he would describe the feeling, and he said it was tight, like a knot. I prompted him to touch that area of his body and gave him permission just to feel that feeling and breathe into it until it went away. About 90 seconds later, he said I don't feel it anymore. I shared how, when we allow ourselves to feel our pain, it goes away, and when we resist feeling it, it stays with us.
For the next minute, I asked him to say a mantra out loud: I am not my performance; I am not my performance; I am not my performance. I asked: Who are you apart from your ability to perform? Because I have been empowering him with these insights, he responded: I'm a YES! I felt like I earned the dad of the year award, and he was able to transform his pain and develop resilience to uncomfortable situations.
"To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." Aristotle