Jane called and said, “I just screamed at Max, my two-year-old. Now he’s crying, and I feel terrible.”
“What did he do?”
“He dumped red juice all over the carpet, and now the stain probably won’t come out.”
“Do you care about Max?”
“Of course,” she said, with more than a touch of offended irritation.
“Max doesn’t believe you, and why should he?”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you how many times people tell me one thing with their words while completely contradicting those words with their behavior. Words mean almost nothing. Most of us believe that if we say a thing—especially if we say it very sincerely or forcefully—it becomes true. That simply is not so, or I could fervently say that I could fly, and it would become so when I flapped my arms.”
“You’re seriously telling me that I don’t care about my son?”
“Oh, that’s a bit dramatic, especially with the tone you’re using right now. What I am saying is that in the moment you screamed at Max, you valued the carpet more than him. You PROVED that with your BEHAVIOR, which is truthful far more often than words. Behaviors come from what we really believe and feel, while words can easily be manufactured from what we want or what we believe would be ideal.”
“So what would my behavior have looked like if I’d cared about Max?”
“It’s a lot of things. If I just gave you the right words to say, for example, it wouldn’t make any significant difference in the long term. First you have to freely admit what you’re doing now, see where it comes from, and then be willing to change how you believe, how you feel, and what you do. It’s a lot of stuff.”
We talked about how her unproductive reactions came from a lifetime of fear, which is always a product of not feeling loved. I told her how she communicates her true feelings to Max with her tone of voice, choice of words, facial expressions, posture, and more. Then I helped her see what it would be like to see Max from a place where she felt loved, after which caring about him—and showing it—would be relatively effortless.
What we really care about is demonstrated by our behavior, not our words, and we must be vigilant about looking for the occasions when our words are not true. Only then can we take the steps to find and share the love that will change our beliefs, our perspectives, our feelings, and our actions.
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Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.