Friday, October 29, 2010

The Work

The other day, my eight year old son was working on the computer. His ten year old sister was looking over his shoulder, bossing him, driving him nuts. They started to squabble. My husband wound up yelling at her, like most parents would with a typical kid. Nothing major, just "break it up, stop your fighting." That kind of thing. But our daughter has Asperger's, and she takes things hard, and interpreted it as an insult. She decided both her father and brother hated her and thought she was "stupid." She was in full escalation.
She came screaming upstairs and before she could slam her door I caught her and asked if she wanted to talk. Listening to her side for a few moments, I asked if she wanted to see if we could turn it around and help her feel better.
Amazingly she said yes, and agreed to lie down with me on the king size. She nestled in under my arm. I recently read Byron Katie's A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony With the Way Things Are, and had already discussed the concepts with both kids, so I asked her if she'd like to apply Byron Katie's "work" to the situation. She agreed, and what happened was very cool.   
Byron Katie's work consists of four questions.
The first question being ...Is it true?
I asked, "Is it true... Dad and Seth hate you and think you are stupid?
"Yes," she answered firmly. Her conviction made me chuckle inside, but I kept my poker face. 
I proceeded, "Question number two...Can you be absolutely certain it is true?"
"Yes," she said.
"Riley...could there be the teeniest tiniest possibility they don't hate you, and don't think you are stupid? Just the teeniest? Might Seth have merely been annoyed, without actually hating you? Might Dad have been having a hard day, and just not in the mood to hear you fight?"    
"Well," she considered.
"That's all you need to do Riley. It is enough to have the tiniest bit of willingness to see it differently. You are really growing up, to be able to do that."
She loves feeling grown up.
"Question number three. How do you feel when you think Dad and Seth hate you and think you are stupid?"

"I feel bad," she admitted.
Following up, I asked, "Do you want to feel bad?"
"Great. That's why we're doing this. Good for you! Question number four, Who would you be without that story?"
"I'd be someone who isn't hated and who people don't think is stupid."  
Then I explained the concept of projection. How what we see in others is something which is present in ourselves. If we didn't have at least a little of it, we wouldn't recognize it in someone else. That goes for good things and for bad.
"ARE YOU SAYING I'M MEAN AND HATEFUL?" She cried, folding her arms over her chest.
"I'm saying you are human. We all have good inside us, and we all have stuff we need to work on. Everybody does. It's no big deal."
She unfolded her arms.
"The next part of Byron Katie's process is turning it around. You take the statement apart and look at it from all sides. Instead of... Dad and Seth hate me and think I'm stupid, try...
Dad and Seth love me and think I'm smart."
She took a moment to consider this.
"Or, instead of Dad and Seth hate me and think I'm stupid, try...
I hate Dad and Seth and think they are stupid." 
She laughed.
This child who was EXPLODING not five minutes prior was now laughing at the absurdity of what was going on in her mind. 
We played with it a little more, looking at it from every angle, and when we were done, she was happy.
"Now Riley, aren't you glad this whole thing happened? It gave us an opportunity to explore our thoughts. Look how much we learned, and both of us can apply it the next time either one of us is upset! I really appreciate working through this with you!"
She went downstairs and thanked Todd for yelling at her, because she wouldn't have learned so much if he hadn't. The situation was totally diffused, except for Todd who was still irritated, and wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic by thanking him.
Then he remembered.
She doesn't do sarcasm.

One small victory. We don't always get it right, and when we don't I tend to beat myself up. This one is worth celebrating.
One more tool in our toolbox.
One incredible, very grown up, little girl. 


  1. I love this! Eve exploded the other day in the car, certain that we all hated her and that the entire day would be ruined for her. I love this approach and can't wait to try it! You are a wonder, my friend.

  2. What a great approach. And, so great that you had a chance to apply it right away. Hope it goes just as good next time. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dude, you're like The Cosby Show. Great job!

  4. Truly amazing Michelle! That is DEFINITELY worth celebrating!

  5. The Cosby Show. So funny. Suddenly I now feel like buying my husband a loud colorful sweater!

  6. Oh, Michelle, I LOVE Byron Katie's "Work!" It changed my life. Thank you for sharing this beautiful example of the simplicity of The Work and how it demonstrates that our thoughts are just stories we tell ourselves about a circumstance. If the thought/story causes stress or suffering, Katie's four questions can help provide some space and freedom from the pain and create a shift in such a short amount of time.
    The dialog between you and daughter is so gorgeous. :)
    "Loving What Is" is another one of her books I found very helpful. To take it a step further, with the turn around thought, providing evidence of how that new thought is true really helps anchor it in the brain to create a new neural pathway. The brain is amazing and we truly can rewire our thoughts.

  7. Awesome story! That's one definitely worth sharing!

  8. What a great teaching moment to take advantage of! This is a good day!

  9. YAMH!
    Now come work that through me me and all my ^%$#!