And the answer came back, “8 or 9.”
And then, a memory flipped by that I hadn’t thought of since it happened, when I was 8 or 9. I didn’t have time to unpack it in the workshop, but that night in the hotel I did.
I was underneath my bed, listening to my parents fight in the other room. My dad had come home drunk and late again. And my mother was ripping into him about him spending the meager family funds on his addiction; about his inadequacies as a husband and as a father. And he was saying, “Shut up! You better shut up or else!” and I knew his fists were clenched.
And then I heard a horrific crash and my mother screaming. I would find out only later it was the coffee table going across the living room. And I’m thinking, “Is there going to be blood? Is he hitting her?”
And then, my little boy mind gave me these words very clearly, “I’m going to do something.” And I realized there was nothing for me to do, nothing safe.
So, I scooted back farther and I held myself and cried. You get it?
I’m sitting there, watching those old bulls fight in the psychology department and yeah, I’m horrified, and yeah, I’m feeling anxious. But really what I would like to do is just to cry — in the department of psychology? Really? But, I didn’t have access to him. I didn’t have room for him. He is why I’m a psychologist, but I didn’t even know it.
And I got caught up in the articles, in the vita, in the grants, and the achievement. Woo hoo! But, I came here because he asked me to. To ‘do something’. And instead, what I told him was tantamount to leading down and saying, “Just be quiet. Go away. Shut up,” when I ran, and I fought, and I hid. It was so unkind and so unloving. To who? To me, and the parts of me that connect me even with my life’s purpose.
Because we hurt where we care and we care where we hurt. These two pivots, these two “turning towards” are the same thing. When you stand with yourself, even when it’s hard, you’re doing a loving thing for yourself and out of that then you can afford the risk of turning towards bringing love into the world, beauty into the world, communication, contribution into the world. And seeing that, I made another promise. Never again, I will not push you away, nor your message to me about our purpose. I’m not going to ask you to give the workshop, or do the TED talk either, but I want you here with me because you soften me. You make sense of why my life is about this.
And so, my message to you is to look at the science of psychological flexibility, yeah, but look at how it can inform what you already know, which is bringing love to yourself even when it’s hard will help you bring love into the world in the way that you want to bring it into the world. And that’s important. You know it. Your crying little 8 year olds in you know it.
We all know it. Because love isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
Thank you. I hope I’ve been useful to you.