The first email is from a listener, who says,
I have a teenage daughter, 16 years old, who recently tried to commit suicide. How does a parent handle or even prevent this desperate situation?”
Now, I have to say to this listener that parenting is a very inexact science and of all the inexact sciences, parenting of teenagers must be the most inexact. And I have three teenagers so I know what you’re dealing with right now. Teenagers on the one hand, know exactly how to play a parent, how to manipulate you, how to press your buttons, how to get out of you what they want. At the same time, you also know that deep down thy have a lot of struggles, a lot of pain and a lot of issues, so the question always becomes, “[00:01:46]<inaudible> manipulated or played?” And “when is this person trying to communicate to me something that is real, something that is of grave concern, something that I need to address?” and the trouble is that very often the teenager herself is not even sure which issues are the really serious ones and which are not so serious. For instance, a teenager not being allowed to go to a party that’s really important to them, might seem like a really really big and serious issue at that time, even though in the parents’ mind it’s not a big issue and they might be more important reasons for the parent why the child should not go the party. So, it’s very difficult for the parents and for the teenagers themselves to judge which are the really important issues and which are not so important. “When are they playing up?” And “when do I have to really really take this seriously?
Another problem with teenagers is that often teenagers don’t make themselves available to be understood or to be supported. Teenagers are very self-conscious and don’t like people to know what’s going on in their inner world. They feel uncomfortable about it very often. Sometimes the person feels in a chaos and she feels, “if I start to open up this chaos by talking to someone about it, I’ll really fall apart or get out of control.” Also, teenagers are somehow in the in-between stage between childhood and adulthood. There’s a part of the teenager that feels very adult and very strong and ready for independence, wanting to be trusted and treated like an adult and there’s another part that really wants to be a child and still has child-like feelings and wants to be supported, and so, the child-like part of the teenager is often an embarrassment for the teenager because she feels on the one hand, “I’m this adult or this young adult person, on the other hand if I start to show that I have these really childish needs and feelings, then I would humiliate myself. I will undermine myself.” And so, its very difficult for a teenager to show you what’s really going on inside her and often the feelings of that in a child get hidden under the bravado that parents often feel so intimidated by in their teenagers and because the teenagers relating to us sometimes from the position of the child, sometimes from the position of adults, and we never know what the program is. Very often as parents, you feel as if you’re in the situation of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” if you’re supportive then you get accused of treating the person like a child, and if you demand responsibility and you demand that the teenager acts more like an adult then they feel that you are not giving them the support that they want, not being caring, being indifferent etc. And so, this makes it very very difficult for a parent because often as a parent you feel like you’re trying your best and you feel as if you constantly getting it wrong or even getting attacked in return. As a parent of a child, in particular a teenager, all you can really give is consistency and love, and it’s very very important not to react—become reactive to what the teenager is doing to you, because very often, you feel personally attacked by what your teenager is doing and if you think about a suicide attempt, for a parent, there can be no greater form of attack than your child attempting suicide.
Suicide is always a communication and whether it’s a communication that’s meant by the person who attempts or achieve the suicide or not, the people around them always read messages into it and they always read very personal messages into it. So as a parent, when the child attempts suicide, you can’t help feeling that it’s a personal attack on you, that something that you did or didn’t do precipitated this attack until you come to believe, which is implicit in this question, that if you change what you’re doing as a parent, you’ll be able to prevent such an event like an attempted suicide occurring again in the future. Now, the danger with taking the circumstance personally is that if you believe it’s up to you to prevent your child from committing suicide in the future, you could really give away all your power as a parent and live in a sense in a state of emotional blackmail as if you’re trying to parent all the time with a gun to your head and being so disempowered, could actually stand in thee way of you giving your daughter what she really needs, which is your love and act of support and believe in her, because she is feeling so insecure, because she is feeling so alone and vulnerable and despairing, she needs you to be strong. She needs you to be a constant, stable, powerful force in her life, that can support her, that can guide her, that can hold her and reassure her, and if you become insecure and wanting to only protect her, then she’s got nothing stable or strong to fall back on. It’s very important therefore that you maintain your role as the strong, supportive adult in her life and that you don’t give up your power in the relationship. It’s also very important and relates to what I was saying about the sense of a suicide attempt being an attack on the other people in the family, is that if you feel personally attacked by what’s she’s done, the chances are that you could react by becoming critical or attacking her back, or becoming defensive and reactive, and if you become defensive or if you counter attack her, then your relationship will become adversarial. It will become a war zone and this could mean, either that you’ll get into fighting with each other or it could become just a cold war of blame and recrimination, where the communication just breaks down and in the silence there’s implied blame, implied criticism, implied recriminations, and it’s very very important to not take this personally from the point of view of not putting yourself into a position where you feel guilty and want to counter attack, so in essence the power that you have as a parent is thee power to stay loving and this where I’m going to come to the theme of self-remembering, which I mentioned at the beginning of this program.
When people behave in ways that are destructive to themselves or to others, what they are showing is that on a very deep level, they have self-forgotten. They have gone to sleep to their own truth, to their own agendas, and when a person goes to sleep to their own truth, their own agenda, fundamentally, what they have gone to sleep to is their own lovableness. The sense that they’re lovable as a person, and so the way to heal somebody, in essence, is to wake them up to their truth, to wake them up to the person who they really are deep down, to help them to self-remember, and the key to helping someone to self-remember, the remedy for self-forgetting is love. By helping someone to recall their essential sense of being a lovable person helps to wake them up to their truth. And so, as a parent, its very important for you to hold on to the knowledge of who your daughter is as a person deep down, not the person that she’s behaving like today, who is a person who’s confused, who’s maybe angry, who is maybe chaotic or unsure of herself. You’ve watched her grow up. You’ve seen her develop. You’ve seen the special, good, enjoyable, lovable qualities that she’s shown through her life and by you holding on to the knowledge of those qualities, you’re holding on to them not only for yourself, but also for her, because your job, fundamentally, is to remind her that she still is that person. She still does have those qualities, and because she still possesses those qualities, she is as lovable as she always been and if she wakes up to those qualities, she will have all the resources, all the well-being, the sense of wholeness that will enable her to deal with whatever that she will have to deal with in life going forward. As the custodian of this knowledge, of your daughters essential lovableness, which you’re holding on to for yourself, but more importantly for her, it’s also important that you don’t make demands on her in the sense that you remand her of her lovableness without expecting anything in return, because by being able to give unconditionally, by loving her without expecting her change or to be a certain way to please you, you’re really showing her that she is essentially lovable, that her lovableness is intrinsic and that you’re not loving her for something that she could give to you or some way that she could be that would please you, that this really is about her and that you are there entirely for her. Obviously, this doesn’t mean giving up standards or giving up values, but I’m just making this point in the sense of being unconditionally loving, of helping her to self-remember through your support, through your knowledge of who she really is, and helping her to wake up to who she really is and ultimately grow into their person in her adult years.
We’re going to come back to you after this break and we’re going to be on-time dealing with the problem of procrastination.