The Way of Their What?
By Julia Liang, Resident LPC Integrated Psychology Associates of McLean
In a culture that is data-driven, creating measurable impact becomes our survival strategy. We are compelled to strive for the highest GPAs, the greatest number of trophies, and the strongest KPIs. There is no peak to our achievements, only a relentless quest for greater milestones. The same goes for our children. From honors classes, to sports, to performance arts to Science Olympiad, there is always more they can do to become successful. But what does success mean when our children are riddled with anxiety?
From cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to acceptance commitment therapy, the journey inward focuses not just on how we can better separate our bodies from our hearts and minds, but rather more on how we can integrate each of these processes to form an authentic self. This self that we speak of revels in major milestones, but also requires a close attunement to its needs. Are you feeling thirsty right now? Tired perhaps? Maybe you are craving some company. Whatever it may be, there is no need too small that we ought to ignore it. And yet, in our fervent pursuit of achievement, difficult emotions become our enemies and rest is a waste of time. One Google search on toxic positivity and we see the importance of allowing ourselves to be fully human rather than omnipotent machines. Although a strong sense of mastery reinforced by achievements is an undeniably crucial component to well-being, we might do better approaching the path to success in a humbler manner.
Consider this imagery of humble growth. When we work, we are reaching upward; our arms are stretched above our heads as we grasp for new deadlines, achievements, progress, and success. Our aim is to grow taller, get stronger, speak louder. When we assume a posture of humility, we can begin to turn inward and examine not only what we need in the moment but also what areas of limitations require our tender affections. We are then able to step outside expectations of omnipotence, rendering our voices soft, movements light, and our being small. We may learn that we are not always problems to be fixed or construction sites with work in progress banners stretched across the fields. Rather than compulsively growing our branches, we may allow ourselves to turn to our roots and focus on the absorption of nutrients that provide us with a sustainable foundation.
So how can we help our children who are riddled with anxiety? Perhaps the answer lies in the posture of humility. Perhaps even though we must urge them to march forth, self-actualize, excel, strive, and rise to the top as mini Übermensch, we might also guide them to cultivate an internal steadiness that is rooted in the why of their what. This begins with a humble introspection of their internal universes, or what we might otherwise call mindfulness. Our children might learn that the ever-expanding external universe is just as marvelous as the variability in their own thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Under this framework, the activities they participate in would not be a means to an end (e.g., a way to secure college admissions), but rather the end itself. Our children will be successful not because they have reached perfection, but because of a more solid sense of self capable of understanding why they do what they do and how to cultivate relationships with the people in their communities, the land they live on, and most importantly themselves.