These are big questions, and, if we are to approach these questions from the perspective of our highest Self, and not the part of us that longs to impress, please, hide, stand out, or conform, all of these questions relate to having a sense of personal integrity.
To be in integrity is to be in wholeness, completeness and connected to our most true, authentic and untainted essence.
In today’s material world filled with competition, virtual realities, false images, and a general tendency to conform, it’s not easy to stand in our integrity. Many of us don’t even know what that means, or how to access it. We tend to go to extremes, searching outside of ourselves for the sense of Self we are desperately seeking.
Perhaps if we make those around us happy, all will be well. Or perhaps we should be uncompromising and not let anyone steer us from what we are determined to stick to. In both of these extremes, there is fear, and that fear often stems from not wanting to be hurt. We don’t want to be rejected by others, so we please them and compromise ourselves, even when we know we would rather do something else. Or, we are afraid of being taken advantage of, so we remain inflexible and uncompromising, thinking we are being true to ourselves.
These fears around being hurt through rejection, being taken advantage of, etc. are usually imprinted in us during our childhood years.
We see others get hurt, or perhaps get hurt ourselves, and then we develop a fear that we carry into our adulthood. This fear stays with us until we are ready to face it and let it go. The thing I find most interesting is that fear is something learned. We learn to be afraid because others around us are afraid. We adopt the fears of our parents, peers, teachers, community and culture. This in itself speaks to how important a sense of Self is. If we have no sense of Self, we adopt our sense of self from others. We buy into the stories, the fears, and the perceptions.
Children don’t have their full sense of Self until they are past the age of 21. At 21, the child’s higher ego is born. This is when the individual’s true essence now has the opportunity to guide and direct as adulthood is entered. The years prior are spent building up to this point, beginning by developing our physical/willful self, then our feeling/emotional self, and finally our thinking/intellectual self. During these childhood years, we develop the capacities to think, feel and act for ourselves, and prepare to move out into the world in our own unique way.
Consider how fearless so many young children are. They explore, try new things, speak their minds, and think nothing of their appearance. They express themselves and move on, rarely holding grudges with each other. As time goes on, they start to become self conscious. They notice what others around them are saying and doing as it relates to themselves as an individual. They begin to slowly individuate. With this individuation comes fears, anxieties, longings, and confusion. They are seeking their own sense of self, and look for it in those around them.
As we struggle to find our wholeness and balance, our children also struggle.
When we are wishy-washy in our decisions, they feel it. Children desperately seek boundaries, even though we don’t always realize this, and of course they would never admit it. They experiment and test us to our limits. To keep the peace, and often our sanity, we give in, caving to their tantrums and incessant requests. We have a society filled with entitled children who feel lost and confused, and certainly don’t have a sense of who they are. If we cannot set boundaries and stick with them in a child’s early years, how can we possibly expect them to set them for themselves when it is their turn?
I learned early on when I first got divorced that boundaries are critical. I went through the typical motherly compassion, wanting to make it all better for my boys. The inevitable tantrums and acting out came as the family life changed. At first, I simply tried to comfort them, wanting to take away the pain, and not focusing on the inappropriate behavior they were exhibiting. Then one day my youngest had a full on tantrum, kicking and screaming. Nothing I tried would comfort him. I turned my focus from his pain to his inappropriate behavior, and set firm boundaries. He wanted to scream and be physically forceful. I sat him down on a step, and told him he may get up when he could be calm. He repeatedly got up, and I repeatedly sat him back down. I had to stick with this for quite a long time, perhaps as much as half an hour, which seems like an eternity when we as mothers try to keep the peace. Finally, he calmed down and got that I was not going to back down. He melted gently into my arms, breathing a sigh of relief.
What amazed me was what happened afterward.
Later that evening, he was so loving and gentle. He remained so for many days after that incident. I realized in this experience that while he certainly had pain from the separation of his parents and the change in the household, he was desperately seeking boundaries. He needed to know he would be cared for and held, regardless of the new circumstances. From that moment on, I have continued this practice of holding my children, even when the rebellion seems unbearable. We have had some very difficult and trying times, as most families do, and there will be many more to come. Yet I know, and they know, that we are all ok. They know they will be held, and as they get older, they know how to set limits and boundaries for themselves. I can only pray that this serves them as they approach the teen years, and new temptations requiring discernment and boundaries come into the mix.
What I have discovered over the years is that if I am clear in myself about my own boundaries and the boundaries with my children, they are clear. If I know who I am, they learn who they are. If I am too rigid, they push back. If I am too flexible or unstable, they push back. We are on a constant journey to find that middle way, and the balance and discernment that go with it. As we continue visiting these extremes of giving in versus being uncompromising, we learn what works and what doesn’t. From there, we grow, develop and make progress in our life.
The most wonderful thing is that we, with our developed thinking, feeling and willing, are able to overcome the fears and imprints of childhood years. The fears are able to be overcome as we tune into our sense of Self, and slowly learn to embody it.
Are you standing in your integrity? When do you tend to give in too quickly and compromise yourself, becoming unstable in your sense of Self? What might you do to be more authentic in your own feelings, thoughts and actions? When do you get a bit stubborn, not wanting to listen to others, admit your faults, or move out of rigidity? What fears are behind this stubbornness? Imagine how understanding your own integrity and how to stand in it can be a healing salve for your children and those around you.
Our children are amazing teachers. As we pay attention to their cries for clarity, we can become stronger in our own clarity. Our personal inner work is critical if we want our children to have a strong sense of who they are and how to share their gifts in the world. We don’t have to have it all figured out before we have children. We don’t need to be perfect parents. Our striving supports them. They learn from us, and we from them. This is the magic of the healing that happens. As we heal, they heal. As they heal, we heal.
The more we stand in our integrity, the more not only we, but also our children, will feel whole, complete and aligned with our True Self.
Please share with me what is most difficult about standing in your True Self. Is it finding your True Self? Is it overcoming the fear? Is it overwhelm, exhaustion, or something else? I would sincerely love to hear what your challenges are, and how you’ve worked with them.
May the journey toward integrity enrich you and your children alike.