It Just Might Not Be All About You

As parents we believed in the presence of a trusted, "non-parent" adult with whom our children could safely confide and sort through their life experiences. We repeatedly saw the value of this more "objective-other" as each child carved out his/her adolescent path. These adults help to serve as guides for our children when they had grown more than weary of listening to us. We wonder if our children ever knew the paradoxical influence these adults would offer for our own guidance?

A most powerful lesson came from the therapist working with our then teenage son. Following numerous unsuccessful interactions with our son regarding his choice to lie rather than tell the truth, I scheduled a meeting with his therapist to discuss my parental angst over my son's dishonesty. Honesty is a principle that I consider to be one of the most valuable when it comes to relationships. I was feeling very wounded by the fact that my son would choose to look me in the eye and lie to me, knowing how I felt about honesty.

"Kary," the therapist said, "you're going to have to learn to not take it so personally. [He's] not lying to intentionally hurt you. In his own, age-appropriate, ego-based way, he's just trying to get what he wants. It's not really about you, at all." My first reaction was to ask myself "Who gave this guy a license? How the [expletive] am I supposed to not take this personally?"

However, as I continued to process this, I realized how right the therapist was. My own narcissism caused me to be hurt and angry. Once I accepted the premise that my son's goal really was not about challenging one of my most protected principles (i.e. honesty), I was able to let go of my woundedness, to not take it so personally, and to not waste precious energy on being angry - an emotional reaction that only exacerbates any volatile relational environment. I realized that not taking it personally did not mean I had to give up my principle regarding honesty. I could still adhere to that principle and continue to try and teach my son the virtues of honesty, but without all of the woundedness and anger.

I have shared this lesson numerous times with my own clients over the years. Sometimes our emotional pain and anger is more about our own self-importance than about the presumed motivation of others. It has certainly helped to remind myself on those occasions that it just might not be all about me. What a humbling thought.