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Two small but powerful words: Of course.

There is one short phrase I use with clients that elicits a visceral response; no matter how constricted and tense a person may start out, tied in internal knots, and bracing themselves for whatever discomfort they're facing in life, these two small words cause a big shift: Of course.

As in... of course you are scared, of course you are disappointed, of course you are overwhelmed.

I see shoulders drop, tension subside, and shallow breathing become deep and lengthy inhalations and sighs. In other words, I visually witness people dropping the fight with their own experience. What they are hearing is: Your feelings make perfect sense. I hear you and can sit with you while you are feeling this.

Let's talk about why this is life-changing.

For a moment, visualize an ideal parent caring for a tantruming toddler who is upset life isn't going their way. The parent is calm, warm and accepting. "Sweetheart," they say. "I know this is hard. When I said no, you felt so frustrated and I get it. I see your fists are tight and you feel like you're going to explode. It's ok to feel mad." (Before you roll your eyes at the suggestion of this "soft" parenting technique, know that I also believe in strong limit-setting with children.)

Many of us didn't receive this type of parenting. While our caregivers may have been loving and well-intentioned, perhaps they had trouble regulating their own emotions. When we were losing our minds over a dropped ice cream cone, their internal frustration felt impossible for them to tolerate. Maybe we were sent to our room or told to be quiet. These responses are far from abusive and are not indicative of terrible parenting; I've certainly used them with my kids when my patience was waning. But if this is the norm, it's less than ideal.

Here's why. When a child gets the message that a parent can't handle what is happening inside of them, the child learns to cut off from the internal sensations. Disconnection with a parent is highly threatening, so instead the child learns to bury anger and push down fear. Children fragment from the feelings their parents can't tolerate.

Fast-forward 20 years, and the young adult sitting in my office feels a layer of anxiety as they push away and judge the tender, vulnerable feelings underneath. Week after week we say of course to the anxiety, and slowly but surely, pain and trauma start to emerge. We say of course to that as well.

Take a moment to tend to the emotion you're currently holding in your body. Label it if you can... worry, exhaustion, fear, anticipation, regret. Then, with the soothing presence of an unconditionally-loving parent, place your hand on your chest or stomach (or wherever you're holding this emotion) and tenderly say, of course.

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