The other day, one of those very wet gray days which are common in Manchester (and they feel particularly gray and wet if it happens to be Sunday), I had a bright idea: I will teach Lara how to ride a bike without training wheels. A great idea, isn’t it? She is 5 and enjoys riding her bike, wouldn’t it be fun for her to learn to ride it without training wheels?! My imagination quickly painted an idyllic picture – a sunny day, a happy child on a bike, a smiling parent (me) running behind them gently supporting the kid at the back etc. etc. I liked the ‘picture’ so much that I ignored the fact that the reality was far from the image in my head, it wasn’t a sunny day and my child didn’t actually ask me to teach her to ride a bike – she was happily occupied by drawing and coloring.
Filled with excitement and enthusiasm (on my part) Lara and I went downstairs to the underground garage to practice – there is an ample empty space, an even floor – perfect!
Within a few minutes my ‘idyllic’ picture crashed into reality. Lara found it very hard to keep balance: “I am scared….I can’t do it….You aren’t holding me properly…It’s your fault that I am losing balance….You aren’t helping me… You are an IDIOT!….” Yep, she went from “I am scared” to “It’s all your fault. You are an idiot” within seconds. And I was quick to join her in her frustration: my body tensed up, my heart started to beat very fast, and the heat rose towards my face – I was very close to exploding. The voice inside me was raging: “It was supposed to be fun!!!”
Her struggle and frustration about being incapable of riding a bike without training wheels triggered something deep inside me.
At first, I wanted to blame her: “Come on, why do you give up so quickly? What’s so scary about it? I am here, holding you, running behind you, and you are calling me an IDIOT!?! Then, a familiar voice ‘spoke’ loud and clear: “She is just like you, lacking in confidence, ready to give up at the first hurdle”, and I sensed the heaviness in my heart and noticed tears burning my eyes ready to flow down my cheeks. The next moment, I ‘saw’ myself, a little Elena, on a bike: struggling with it and scrambling under the pressure and expectations from my ‘big people’. They didn’t like me to be slow, timid, uncertain, and quick to give up. They wanted me to be good at achieving and accomplishing things – that was important to them! The moment a ‘memory tape’ started running I noticed myself getting filled with shame and guilt, and I felt annoyed with myself for feeling those feelings. The annoyance wanted to come out in a scream: “I am doing my best, I am trying so hard, and you are calling me an idiot? That’s unfair!” Gosh, a little Elena, powerless, helpless, incapable to do what’s required, was here again – the little girl, who has never succeeded at the first attempt.
In that moment of clarity, I stopped. I sat down on the floor, and the reality of the moment hit me: I felt powerless, helpless, and ashamed seeing my daughter struggle. Powerlessness and helplessness were such familiar feelings to me and covering them up with either people -pleasing or self-aggression was my ‘go to’. A few more deep breaths, and I was able to feel the deep sadness inside and see the reality for what it was: my 5-year-old daughter was having a first go at riding a bike without training wheels and found it challenging! I looked at my sweet little girl – body shaking with sobs, tears rolling down her cheeks – she was really struggling. I said: “Let’s go home, sweetie, I love you. We can try again another time”.
The situation shook me to the core. I felt as if it was about me. I knew I wanted to take it to my Sacred Seat and stay with it until I got more clarity and peace.
In the SacredSeat a question kept coming up: “Was I really that slow at everything?” Yes, that is what I was told by my parents and teachers, but what if I was simply different from what they expected of me? What if they were simply trying to remove ‘training wheels’ from my bicycle too early, long before I was ready to ‘ride’ on my own? They called me ‘slow’, and the label stuck. Kids make up meaning and are conclusion-making machines, so I concluded that being slow at learning is bad, hence I am bad and/or something is wrong with me. And, as a kid, what I learnt to do is to hide my so-called slowness, which meant not to participate. Not to get involved. To play small and hide behind people who are strong, quick, and outwardly capable. Acting helpless, incapable, ‘bad’ at everything was my identity. It was my safe place: I play small, so you feel big, and because you like feeling ‘big’, you are going to like me, and that’s all I wanted – to be liked, loved, and accepted. How very innocent!
For as long as I remember, I preferred to do things by myself to avoid being compared. And I never questioned my ‘being slow’ until Purejoy. That evening, sitting in my SacredSeat I wondered: “Is that really true that I am slow? Or does it simply mean that I do things at my own pace?”
Watching my child demonstrating similar traits brought back those familiar vulnerable feelings of helplessness and shame for who I am. To avoid the discomfort that came with those feelings, I first wanted to blame my child, then I wanted to run away, shut down, and withdraw love. But instead, I chose to open my Purejoy toolbox and get out the magic tools of SafeSeat and Sacred Seat. In the moment, ‘SafeSeat on the go’ allowed me to first notice and stay with my emotional experience which made me available to see the situation from my daughter’s perspective: she was trying a new thing, it was much harder than she expected, and that brought a lot of strong feelings. Those feelings were too uncomfortable, and she tried to discharge them by crying and blaming me. (Of course! That’s what you do when you are 5!)
The SafeSeat practice supported me to pause, notice my experience and the story that was attached to it, and then separate it from my child’s experience. Lara was having HER experience that had nothing to do with me! The moment I became aware of that, I knew that all she needed from me was my presence, my support, and my validation of HER experience. When we got home, I sat on the floor and opened my arms. She threw herself in, still sobbing – “It was so hard…. It was so unfair…. You didn’t help me…. I couldn’t do it…. I am not good at riding the bike…..” “I know, sweetie, I know!” – I kept saying, holding her in my arms. From time to time, I would ask: “How are you feeling? A little calmer?” “Not yet”, she would reply, and we continued staying on the floor, embracing. At some point she said: “Your heart is beating so fast. Are you OK?”. “Yes, I am”, I said, “I too felt upset, so let’s stay here and calm down together”.
We held each other until her tears stopped and her breathing became slow and regular. A huge emotional wave had passed, and we got on with our day. I am SO grateful for my Purejoy toolbox! It’s magical!
By Dr. Elena Nalimova
Elena is a Purejoy Coach and Purejoy Group coach. She is a mother to Lara, who is 5, as well as a classical pianist, accompanist and a teacher.