Ep.51 – Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Conscious Parenting: The Stories We Tell Ourselves
- How the stories we tell ourselves colour everything that happens in our lives, parenting and otherwise.
- How the stories we subconsciously tell ourselves come into being.
- How unresolved childhood trauma will affect parenting as children reach the same age as when those traumas occurred for parents.
Every moment of every day our subconscious mind runs stories that perpetuate our perspectives and practices that affect our parenting. We all do this!
In this episode, the insightful and vivacious Dr. Vanessa Lapointe shares from her newest book, Parenting Right From The Start, exploring the implications of the stories we tell ourselves, and how “Conscious Parenting” is about bringing those stories to the surface so that we become consciously aware of our narratives that serve us or no longer serve us, and how we are showing up for our children.
Dr. Vanessa LapointeDr. Vanessa Lapointe is an author, parenting expert, and registered psychologist who has been supporting families and children for more than twenty years. She is the acclaimed author of Discipline Without Damage and Parenting Right From The Start.
Dr. Vanessa is known for bringing a sense of nurturing understanding and humanity to all of her work, walking alongside parents, teachers, care providers, and other big people to really see the world through the child’s eyes.
She’s a regularly invited media guest and contributor, educator and speaker, a Huffington Post Parent blogger, and a consultant to research projects and various organizations promoting emotional health and development.
Ep.51 – Conscious Parenting: The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Rachel Cram -Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, it is so good to be face to face with you again, for your third interview.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love it.
Rachel Cram – You’re the first person we’ve ever interviewed three times.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I feel very honored.
Rachel Cram – I feel very honoured. You are one of our very first interviews, and then we pulled you and David fresh off the plane, returning from Australia right when Covid hit. You were on a book tour there and had to do that mad scramble back.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – It was crazy.
Rachel Cram – And you talked to us about anxiety in the midst of the process of COVID. And here we are eighteen months later, still in Covid.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. Incredible.
Rachel Cram – It is. But thank you so much for talking with me again today. I have just finished reading for the second time, your wonderful book, Parenting Right From The Start. I basically underlined the whole book.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s terrific.
Rachel Cram – Oh, it’s so good. Do you enjoy the book writing process?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – You know, I love writing. I have a story that I wrote in grade four where I talked about wanting to become an author and what my life was going to be like being an author. Hilariously, I thought that it was going to be a great life and that I would get gray hair very early. These were my two takeaways. What I’ve discovered, though, I’ve realized that it’s when I write, it’s actually like my soul speaking to me.
Rachel Cram – Oh, well, that is totally how it reads. Oh, it’s so good. So I’m very excited to introduce this to listeners. It’s a wonderful book. The first half discusses what it means to be a parent and how the parent-child relationship takes shape and the second half is filled with practical information on things like sleeping, eating, siblings and so much practical parenting support. And I loved the comments from your colleagues at the end too. They were capturing what they thought of your book. And Maggie Dent, who is a dear friend of both of us, and actually, when this releases, I think a new episode with her will be the one prior. She just wrote this beautiful comment. She said, “This book is the absolute best exploration of early parenting, gifting parents with so many beautiful understandings of this ancient and sacred dance.”
That must feel really good Vanessa, after all your hard work.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Incredible actually, to know that it lands that way, particularly with people like Maggie Dent, who I have just an infinite amount of respect for in terms of her journey as a mom, but also as a parent educator.
Rachel Cram – And I think that’s probably mutual between the two of you, which is wonderful.
Well, although this is your third interview with me, I have never asked you the question that I typically open interviews with, because the first time we spoke together, I hadn’t thought of the question yet, and the second time we were just in so much crazy Covid mode, the question didn’t even come to my brain. So I would love to introduce this part of your life to our listeners now.
So here’s your question, Vanessa. Aristotle stated, “Give me a child at seven and I will show you the adult.”
And I’m wondering, Vanessa, is there a story or experience from your childhood that has shaped the adult that you are today?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yes. And one of the gifts that shone down upon me when I was growing up is that my parents were running a recreational camp facility for the church that we attended, and that meant that I lived out in the wilderness. There was a river that ran through. There were hills to climb. It was just the most idyllic setting. And it was a different time, which meant that from the time I was quite young, like around five years old, I would head out of the front door in the morning and come home when the cows came home, literally. And so I have gorgeous memories of, jumping on a horse bareback and riding through the river up the hill on the other side, getting cornered in a pasture with a bull, like, kind of unhappy that I was there, and having to problem solve my way out of it.
And so fast forward to now, you know, there’s so many things that can come up that when you’re writing a book, trying to publish it and get it out in the world, when you’re running a clinic, when you’re growing children, there’s so many road bumps along the way, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, check it. We’re going to clear that one.”
Rachel Cram – Bring on the bulls.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – I did not know that was your childhood. What an amazing experience. Wow, that’s a gift.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I also thought for most of my childhood that I was the modern day embodiment of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so my mom actually sewed me a Laura costume. I had this long skirt and a matching bonnet, and I wore it every day for probably four years.
Rachel Cram – Oh, I feel like we need a picture of that to post on our social media.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. I’ll try and dig one up.
Rachel Cram – We’ve got to get ahold of your Mom.
Oh, well, thank you for sharing that. Well, I would love to start to dig into your book, and the thread I would love to follow is your description of ‘the stories we tell ourselves’. And you say this right in the introduction, you say, “The mind only sees what it believes, and what it believes is based on our experiences. These beliefs will color everything that happens in our lives as parents and otherwise.”
Vanessa, to start us off, can you give an example of where you’re discovering that storytelling, that coloring of a belief, as you call it, in your own life?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – You know, that is my lived experience of being a human day in and day out, that the lenses that we look through ultimately determine what it is that we see out in the world. Everything is a story. And if we don’t like the story, then we can choose to tell ourselves a different one.
I mean, I have 10 million stories that I could share with you about how I’ve really needed to come and see something differently. And one of them, that is, I think really kind of telling, actually speaks to an interaction that I had several months back with my children’s father.
We are divorced and so in the world of co parenting, and he had sent me a message to say that he had found some keepsakes of the kids in his crawl space in his house, and he just really thought that I would like to have those things.
And I remember getting that message from him and thinking, “That’s so lovely,” and feeling like this could be a turning point in our co-parenting relationship, and just being so thrilled to have gotten that message.
He said, “I’ll send those things home with the kids when they come on Monday.”
Terrific. So, the next day, I arrived home from work early in the evening, pulled into my driveway to the sight of 12 giant trash bags sitting on my front porch. And I was like, “What is this?”
And I wandered up and realized that these were the so-called keepsakes. They were full of rugby cleats that hadn’t been worn in five years, telephone bills from eight years ago. It was the randomest, strangest pile of, in my mind, garbage. And I immediately had this flare up inside of me, a story, where I thought, “How dare you? How dare you pull at my heart strings only to throw garbage at me? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to load all that garbage right back into my car and I’m going to, in classic x-wife style, drive over to your house and chuck it all in your front yard and we’ll see who wins this one.”
Right? But I didn’t do that because I’ve learned that when I’m in that kind of a state, the stories are loud and the stories are going to color my perception and muddy my clarity. And so I know that I must come to a neutral feeling state in order to conjure the story that’s going to work best for me and for my children and for our family. So I did nothing for three days. I pulled all those garbage bags into the corner of my dining room and let them sit, and increasingly worked my mind to alter the story.
On the third day, I was settled enough that I got to the point where I could actually open up those garbage bags and sift through what was inside of them. And do you know, that every single one of those bags had some kind of really wonderful treasure inside of them? A note that my child had written to me in kindergarten, a craft that they had made, one of my son’s baby calendars where you write down all of the things that happen day to day was in one of those bags. I swore that I had that calendar in my own storage, but it had turned up at his house and he was kind enough to set it aside and understand that that would be important to me.
And so, yeah, there were random smelly rugby cleats and old telephone bills, and there was so much heart that went into him knowing that I would want those things and that that would be really important to me. And I really just think that he couldn’t organize it any other way. It was all so overwhelming to him. So he’s like, “I don’t even know. I’m just going to put all this stuff in these bags and she’ll figure it out.”
And in that sense, the story went from literally trash to treasure. So then I’m able to respond with a grateful heart, and that response adds another layer of connectedness and healing into the dynamic of our family, which ultimately trickles down and affects the lives that our children are living day to day.
Rachel Cram – Well, and this is part of the importance of understanding the power of story, because, imagine if you’d not taken the time to work your mind to settle the story, if you hadn’t taken the time to settle yourself before responding with the big x-wife retaliation. That would have had a very different impact on your family and on your children.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Totally. It would have been very divisive. And so that’s a bigger example, but there’s small, tiny examples that happen all around us every single day and we get to choose how we are experiencing all of those moments.
Musical Interlude #1
Rachel Cram – You know, with regard to your generous example of stories we tell ourselves, I was driving to pick up one of my kids from an activity and I saw on the back of someone’s car a bumper sticker. It said, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Have you ever seen that bumper sticker?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I have not, but I love it.
Rachel Cram – I love it. I was like, “That’s the slogan for what I think you’re talking about. Don’t believe everything you think.”
Well, in Parenting, Right From The Start, you offer a number of lenses through which parents unconsciously create stories that ultimately determine what it is they/we see in the world, and I’d love to use quotes from your book to highlight some of those lenses and then you can expand and expound from there. Does that work for you?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love it.
Rachel Cram – Ok! Well let’s do that then. So, to begin, you talk about past trauma unconsciously shaping the stories we tell ourselves. These trauma’s could be experiences from our own childhood, or even experiences from our parents or grandparents childhood, that trickle through to us. And you wrote this, “A parent who carries trauma from their own childhood can be triggered when their own child reaches the same life stage at which the trauma occurred.” Can you describe why and how that would happen?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Well, the thing is that we are all the ages that we have ever been. Which means that we carry inside of us who it was that we were at age 2 and at age 9 and at age 17 and at age 34, we carry all of that with us, and it literally lives in our neurons, the collective experience of all of those ages.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, who’s a psychiatrist and an interpersonal neurobiologist, talks about how experiences shape the brain, said that, “The environment creates the mind and then the mind creates the environment.”
So when you’re a child, the environment that you’ve been incubated in is literally forming your mind. You grow up and become an adult, and that mind then forms the environment around you, in which your children live. And so, when we are parents, we actually end up reliving our own childhoods, for better or for worse, as we observe and witness our children growing. And so it is not uncommon, if at around age 6 or at around age 10 some significant trauma happened,
Rachel Cram – Happened to the parent in their childhood?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yes. And let’s just take a moment to identify what we mean by that word trauma. It would be anything that was experienced as unsettling and intense that was not really resolved. So it could be a loss of some kind; a loss of a relationship, particularly with a key care provider. It could be a loss of environment, a move that was really sudden or unsettling. It could be witnessing an experience that was violent or frightening in some way. So trauma is always in the eye of the beholder and what is traumatic to me may be very different from what is traumatic to you.
If we’ve experienced those kinds of things as children, and they live on in us in a wounded kind of way, and they haven’t been resolved, then we can find that it’ll be brought up within us as our children reach the same ages as when those traumas occurred for us.
Rachel Cram – But we don’t necessarily see the connection between our past trauma and what is happening with our child. We don’t necessarily realize that we are being triggered into a story based on something from our past?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right. Sometimes it’s a very subconscious thing where all of the sudden out of the blue, a parent will feel like they’ve gone a bit off the rails. They’re in this kind of funk. They’re feeling depressed, they’re feeling stock, they’re feeling anxious. Sometimes it’s that they’re just engaged in very challenging interactions with their children and they can’t really make sense of where that’s all coming from. And as we do some digging, we’re able to connect the dots and link it back to a time in that parent’s life when they were the same age as their child and the world around them felt like it had fallen apart.
Rachel Cram – So, the parent is caring forward this unresolved trauma into the life of their child, unconsciously weaving that story into their child’s life experience? Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah. So, that subterranean subconscious mind is the bulk of how we experience the world and we’re not even aware of it. The narratives in the stories lived down underneath the surface. And our job as we grow as human beings is to bring all of that up to the light of day so that we can be consciously aware of the narratives and stories that we have lurking underground which well and truly no longer serve us.
Rachel Cram – Is there an example you can give from your practice, perhaps of a story in a family where that happened and how they discovered what it was?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So, you know, there’s different things that can play out. And I remember working with one parent whose own parent had come through the Holocaust as a child. And when this mother’s children got to a certain age, she began to experience a lot of what I would term as separation anxiety.
Rachel Cram – The mom was having a hard time separating from her kids?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right. So having them head off to school or off to extracurricular activities was very unsettling to her and alarming to the extent that the children were then schooled at home because she couldn’t be away from them for long stretches of time like that. She was very exhausted and not sleeping well and yet was choosing to co-sleep with her children because she felt safer that way. They were closer to her.
And as we dug into what it was that was going on, she was actually, in a way, reliving the trauma of her own mother in the act of parenting her children.
Now, that particular example is one generation removed, but imagine how her own mother would have been having had the experiences that she would have had as a child. We parent as we were parented, and we will bring that previous environment into our current reality when we’re parenting our children.
Rachel Cram – So, how many generations can trauma trickle down? How many consecutive generations carry the impact of trauma forward?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So when we look into the literature we can see that those kinds of traumatic experiences can actually be passed along in significant ways for about seven generations. And so we saw this come alive. And once we were able to work through that, bring all of that up to the light of day, then the separation anxiety resolved. And you can imagine the shifting that occurred for the children in that family when their mother was released from her story about, “It is not safe for my children to be out of my sight.”
Rachel Cram – And this Mom’s doing her own work on the, what did you call it, the subterranean narrative? Amazing. Wow, and this changes the story for her children in the future. This is so complex.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – It really is
Rachel Cram – So much thinking, right?
Musical Interlude #2 …………………….
Rachel Cram – So, that’s an example of a story we tell ourselves as a result of trauma. I’m going to read another quote from your book to introduce another lens that creates an unconscious story. You say, “When you were born, you were thrust into the most intimate space of the parent child relationship. This first experience of relationship is so potent and formative that it serves as a template for all other relationships to come. The way our parents interact with us shapes our brains and ultimately our sense of who we are in this world. This first relationship can dictate much of what we may become in life.”
I want to explore this in two parts with you Vanessa and my first question is this; when you say, “our parents serve as a template for all other relationships to come,” what does that look like? How does that relationship shape our parenting and the stories we tell ourselves?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Well, how we were parented is deeply, deeply ingrained. Most of us do our best parenting before we become parents.
Rachel Cram – What do you mean by that?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – You know, we think we’re going to have it all sorted out. Like, I have these fanciful illusions of being very on it, very organized. And I was going to be the picture of patience and compassion. I was just going to bring it home. You know, I was going to be ‘that mom’.
And my parents are wonderful human beings. I like to think that they did a reasonably good job. And there were things about how they parented that I was determined I would change. Right? I wasn’t going to do it the same way. And yet I get thrown into the reality of what it is to be a parent, which at times is incredibly overwhelming, at least that’s been my experience, and all of a sudden my mother is coming out my mouth and I’m like, “Oh, well, what is happening? How did I just become her?”
Or at times my father’s coming out my mouth. And so these pieces will bubble up inside of us. They are deeply, deeply ingrained at the level of programing, at the level of the neurons in our very cells, these stories live on. And of course, changing all of that, the first step is to be aware of it, to become conscious of it, and then to work backwards in time to rewrite the narrative.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, because one day we will be coming out of the mouths of our children.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Oh, thank you. That’s so good. And how do you want to sound to them?
Rachel Cram – Now, I think this carries on a little bit from what you’re saying. In your last sentence of that quote you use the words ‘can dictate,’ and not the words ‘does dictate’. So my second part to this question is, in the parent child relationship, what is the difference between ‘can’ and ‘does’ in affecting who we become?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah, it’s such a great question, because it really shines a light on the ultimate humanity of what it is to be a social species and what it is to have neuroplasticity be alive and well across the lifespan.
And so if early experiences were a resolute determinant of long-term outcomes, then it could feel very hopeless and dark, like there was no way out of it. And nature would never have been fool enough to create a human being that didn’t have a way through because collectively, we would come to a screeching halt.
Rachel Cram – Well, especially when you think seven generations are piling on, and we have accumulating traumas; how would we climb out from under the weight of all those accumulations if we don’t have the power to change our stories? How would you find your way out of that?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Exactly. Yeah. And so we know a few things now. We know that the brain is incredibly open to external influence. We know that openness to external influences is particularly alive during the first six to eight years of life, but notably until about age 25 to 30 and after that point, the brain has reached full maturity and continues to be open still for the rest of our days until the moment we take our last breath.
Rachel Cram – So neuroplasticity does not end.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Never, ever, ever ends. There are windows where it’s more profound, but it never, never ends. The basic rule of thumb is the older you are, the longer and steeper you can expect the climb to be, but the climb is surmountable for all of us. With that in mind, we know a few things about how the climb must proceed. For children whose brains are still actively growing and forming, we can retroactively heal the mind and actually rewire neural circuitry within the brain in terms of our stress response system, through caregiving relationships.
Rachel Cram – What does that look like? How do we offer that kind of healing?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So the number one indicator of whether or not a child will be able to resolve the traumas and inevitable bumps in the road along the way is whether or not that child has a big person for whom the sun rises and sets on their child. You know, that person who’s got the light up in them for that kid, that person whose eyes sparkle when that kid walks into the room. If a child has somebody like that showing up for them, the literature on adaptation and resilience is powerfully indicative of how healing that can be. So that’s one thing.
When we become adults, the window closes in terms of who can actually offer us that healing. And in adulthood it is no longer going to be up to other people to bring that new lens into our lives. We actually must then take that on ourselves, that we parent ourselves, we grow ourselves by bringing a new narrative to the previous experience.
I recently listened to a book written by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey on the concept of trauma. It’s a wonderful book called What Happened to You? And he so eloquently described what trauma is in the book as, “It’s not just what happened, but it’s your experience of what happened.”
So when we reshape the narrative, we reshape the experience.
Rachel Cram – You know, listening to this as a parent, there’s, and I think this is a story that I would be telling myself, “I want to give my kids such a fantastic childhood that they never need to reflect back to change anything, because I’ve done it all perfectly.”
As parents can we get it all right?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Never. You can never get it all right. And what’s wonderful is that we have this concept of the “good enough parent.” There’s a man out of Harvard by the name of Edward Tronick who’s very forefront in related science and writing around this. And he’s actually said that you actually only need to super-nail-it 30 percent of the time.
Rachel Cram – That’s doable.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And the rest of the time, what he identifies is that you’ve kind of fallen out of the ideal interaction and then you’re finding your way back into the ideal interaction. So there’s this dance of coming in and falling out and coming in. He says that the real trauma, that egregious, significantly damaging kind of experience for the child, is not the falling out and coming back in, but a falling out that stays stuck where there is no repair, there is no return, where the dance has stopped. That’s when the problems really present.
Rachel Cram – So, as long as we’re showing up well for our kids 30 percent of the time, and as long as we’re committed to continue dancing the relational interaction dance, there will always be room for repair.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right. The other piece that I think is worth talking about, because it’s a pretty universal story that we as human beings run, especially those of us that are parents, and the story is that we aren’t good enough. We didn’t show up enough. We didn’t get our toes to the line enough. And so we go forward in life with that subconscious story. We become parents and then we have this worry, like, “What if I mess my kids up? What if I’m not good enough? What if my yelly- shouty tirade of last week actually was the thing that tipped the scale that they’re going to be traumatized by.
Rachel Cram – Be in therapy for.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right? And so we all have that story. And the wonderful thing is that when we can release ourselves from that story it doesn’t mean that we just throw caution to the wind and who cares how we show up for our children. We will endeavor always to be our best selves and we will have endless compassion and grace on the days when we feel like we’re not really meeting the mark.
Rachel Cram – And what’s the benefit of that self compassion lens? What will we do with that kind of story?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – We will care for ourselves. We will accept ourselves as the parent who had the yelly-shouty tirade. We will find a way to hold space for our own growth in a beautifully compassionate way and be released from, this is the ultimate kicker, be released from an attachment to form or outcome in terms of how our children go and grow. We will show up and be our best selves, whatever form that takes from day to day. And we will know that they’re on their own journey and we are not able to script every step of the journey.
Music #3 31:33 ………..
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with child psychologist, and author Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.
In our next episode, we’re back with Vanessa for part 2 of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, and further explortantion into the second half of her newest book, Parenting Right From the Start.
In part 2 she offers practical suggestions for shaping our stories towards plotlines that best serve our children and us as parents. Please join us!
Rachel Cram – Your book has really had me thinking over these last weeks in preparation for your interview and one of the questions that I was asking myself is, ‘What stories do I have in my head from my childhood?’
And one of the stories that came to my mind, and I actually explored it with my mom a few years ago, was I remember when I was around 10 years old, I started getting headaches and my mum took me to the doctor and I sat in the room with them as they discuss why I was getting the headaches. And he said to my mom, “They’re, tension, headaches.”
But I didn’t know that word ‘tension.’ I thought he was saying they’re ‘attention,’ headaches. And in my mind, I interpreted that to be saying, “She’s trying to get attention from you. She’s telling you she has headaches, but she doesn’t have headaches.”
That’s how I interpreted that. And it wasn’t until a few years ago, and it landed with me again thinking about this because I hadn’t thought about it in terms of the stories we tell ourselves; I always have thought, right up into my 40s, that I wouldn’t tell people about my aches and pains anymore because it would be perceived that I was just trying to get attention.
And it wasn’t until I heard someone talking about ‘tension headaches,’ when I was in my 40s, that I was like, “Wait a minute.”
And I went back and I asked my Mom about this, and it just broke her heart. She was like, “I can’t believe you thought that all these years.”
And she said, “I totally remember taking you to the doctor’s about that and I just thought the headaches were gone because you never brought it up again.”
And I had headaches for years after that but I never told her again. And so, when you’re talking about the ‘in and out moments of parenting’, we don’t even sometimes know when we’re in or out, because you don’t know how our kids are interpreting those things. It’s their “experience” of childhood. Which is so often beyond ours to control.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – There’s so many layers.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So many layers. One of the ideas that I have given myself over to wholeheartedly is that nothing in the universe is random. So maybe, I mean, it’s just a thought.
Rachel Cram – I’m open to this. Ok.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I mean, just a thought. Just a story. Maybe you had to have that experience because there was something in that that was going to be so illuminating for you as an adult that it would entirely change the life course of one of your children. Who knows? We never know. So why is it that it needed to play out that way?
That also highlights another pretty universal subconscious story that most of us carry and it’s the story that we’re not worthy. And, of course our parents never set out intentionally to have us feel ‘not worthy’, that would not have been their mission. Yet, we live in a world where worth is often connected to performance. And so it would be near impossible to come through a childhood without having soaked up a little bit of that messaging. And then we find ourselves; like we won’t even talk, in your case, about aches and pains in our body, which would be something that a child typically ought to receive love and care and support around, but we don’t talk about those things because we’re somehow ‘not worthy’ of receiving that love and care and support.
Rachel Cram – Well, that’s why this conversation we’re having is so important, because we do learn and we discover new understandings, even revelations that allow us to connect to people we love in whole new ways, if we’re open to seeing ourselves and our stories differently, because that would never have occurred to me, that that was the truth of my story, when I was younger.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Absolutely, and so that’s a really great example of how those little narratives just continue to creep forward and follow us through life.
Rachel Cram – Oh, darn that hey.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Isn’t it something?
Rachel Cram – It’s really something. Thank you. I’m actually thinking to myself, what is the beauty of that story? That can maybe be interview number four.
I’m just going to keep moving with stories we tell ourselves with a brief recap. You began by talking about childhood trauma being a lens that shapes the stories we tell ourselves. And now you’ve just talked about how our perceived interactions with our parents shape our stories of who we are, and our worth. Another quote from your book that you offer on this subject is this. You say, “To believe that your thoughts are your concrete reality is probably one of the most torturous misconceptions of human experience.”
And you give this really great example about your son and his seat on the bus. Do you mind sharing that or do you not want to give away the spoiler for your book?
Because I just thought it was a really good example of this.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Oh, I’ll absolutely share it. And so first of all, who was it that said, “I think therefore I am?”
Roy Salmond – Descartes.
Rachel Cram – Yes, that’s right.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I knew Roy would know. So Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” Which is actually not entirely true. If we are ‘our thoughts’ then we’re all hooped. Right? If you think about how many thoughts we have in a day and how many of them are just random and crazy and have no real bearing on who we are as individuals and what is actually happening in the world around us, and some of them are quite catastrophic and outlandish, if we really were our thoughts, we got ourselves a giant problem. So just because you’re having a thought does not mean that it is real and you get to choose whether or not you make it real.
So my son was attending a school about an hour away from our home and so he had to get on a bus every morning. The school went from kindergarten to grade 12 and so there were lots of older kids on the bus, and I think he was maybe 6th grade at the time.
I was concerned about these older kids on the bus, and I knew that sometimes the language got a bit salty and sometimes they weren’t always super kind to the younger kids. And so I had been very on it in terms of making sure that my mama bear elbows were all sharpened up, and I was going to be very on top of them not treating my child in a negative way when he’s on this bus ride.
And so I’m sitting in the parking lot watching my kid get on the bus and I see him go to the back of the bus and then I see all of these older kids talking to him and pointing, and I see him do this about face and walk to the front of the bus. And my blood begins to boil. Like, “How dare they? How dare they dictate where my kid’s going to sit? How dare they not allow him into their social circle?”
You can hear my own stories coming up, right?
Rachel Cram – From your own past.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right? How dare they? And I’m going to show them. And I already have my giant speech that I was going to give to the head of school, that, This is unacceptable. And here’s what I think the consequence, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Again, I do nothing because I realized, “OK, probably you need to sit on this a little bit Vanessa. You’re obviously stirred up and nothing good ever comes from being reactive instead of being responsive.”
So I take the day to sit on it even though I’ve got a lot of judgment and stories circulating around all of that.
My son gets home later in the day and he climbs off the bus. And I try to very casually say to him, “So, I saw on the bus this morning like da da da…and this happened. And then they pointed. And then you went and sat at the front of the bus. What’s going on with that?”
He’s like, “Oh mom, the older kids just know that I get a little bit carsick and that probably I would like to sit at the front of the bus. So they wanted me to know that they had saved that seat for me.”
And I was like, “Oh, ooh.” And initially, of course, I felt kind of ashamed that I had been so swift to judgment, so swift to allowing the story to completely cloud the clarity of what was actually happening. And then arrived at some acceptance for myself and was just like, you know, I have this experience, Rachel, over and over and over again, on at least on a daily basis, where I find myself just smiling and shaking my head.
Rachel Cram – At yourself?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – At the stories. Yeah. Like, I’m like, “Oh, wow, Vanessa, that’s a good one. Like, wow. that could have gone so sideways.”
Rachel Cram – It could have if you had allowed yourself to believe what you thought! Can you imagine if you had gotten out of your car and stormed onto that bus and taken those kids to task? Your son would just. Oh, my goodness. That would have been horrible.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – He would have been mortified.
Rachel Cram – But that does happen sometimes, right?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Oh, completely. All the time. I also think about how I would have absolutely hijacked that social dynamic for him on that bus,
Rachel Cram – Perhaps forever.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I would have been the one that ruined it rather than the one that was safeguarding it. So we really really do have to mind the mind. We have to make sure that we are constantly engaging in inquiry around our thoughts. Where have they come from? Do they serve me? If not, what thought might serve me better.
Rachel Cram – And that is called ‘conscious parenting’, which I would love to move into with you right now but, I am looking at my watch and as we kind of suspected, we’re already at the length of a full 360 episode and there’s still so much more to talk about, so Roy, I’m just going to turn to ask you, I think this might be a two part interview.
Roy Salmond – Is that ok with Vanessa?
Rachel Cram – She’s nodding her head.
Roy Salmond – Is she? Well, sure if it’s good with her and your game, go for it.
Rachel Cram – I’m game. Ok, so Vanessa, you and I will keep chatting here and we’ll use our next hour of conversation, because I’m pretty sure there’s going to be another hour because I’m only on page 4 of my 8 pages of notes, we’ll use the rest of our conversation as our next episode.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Awesome.
Rachel Cram – So, we’ll keep going and then we will pick up right from here where we’re leaving off. And I’m just going to summarize what we talked about today, just so we can leave this clearly. So, we talked about how we bring consciousness to our reactions that are being driven by those subterranial stories from past traumas, from perceived interactions with our parents, and from believing our thoughts are our concrete reality. I think that covers everything you just touched on, and of course there is more on all of this in your fabulous book.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – So Dr. Vanessa, thank you for your generosity of time and wisdom. You and I will keep talking, and listeners, you can pick up this next section in our next release on family360.
End Banter – There’s a quote from Shakespear that speaks directly to what Vanessa’s sharing in this episode. The concept of thinking about our thinking, and the stories we tell ourselves.
What does Shakespear have to say?
It’s a line Ceaser says to Cleopatra. He tells, “Make not your thoughts your prisons.”
He was concerned she was not minding her mind?
Well, actually she was and he was trying to trick her into thinking she didn’t need to mind her mind because he had it covered for her.
Never good advice to take.
No. So, that kind of goes against what Vanessa is saying here,
It does, but the quote is still a good one if used more nobelly. I’ll give you that.