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Hey it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. And today whether you are a parent, you hope to be a parent, or even you have parents, I think each of us wants a more loving and connected relationship to our families and my guest today is gonna show us how.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary is a clinical psychologist and author of the award-winning book The Conscious Parent. Oprah Winfrey has hailed it as one of the most profound books in parenting she’s ever read. Her latest book, Out of Control: Why disciplining your child doesn’t work… and what will, is breaking ground with its revolutionary perspective on how to create positive change in families. She blends mindfulness with western psychology, integrating wisdom from both traditions. Dr. Shefali has a private practice in New York City.
Dr. Shefali, thank you for being here.
Of course, I’m so excited.
So as we were talking before the episode I was sharing how we have so many parents in our audience, but then we have this unexpected amazing audience of people like age 9 or 10 and up. So I’m so excited to have you here today so we can talk not only about conscious parenting, but also really the underpinning spiritual principles that can help all of us relate better to ourselves and our teams and our parents and our kids and just have better relationships across the board.
So let’s start off. What are some of the basic ideas around your concept of conscious parenting?
So like you said, even though I talk and write about conscious parenting, it’s really about all relationships, but particularly the parent-child dynamic because that is just such a personal relationship. I mean, I don’t think anyone gets more defensive about their issues than a parent because the child is yours, you know, it’s the one person you believe, narcissistically disillusioned, to believe that it’s yours. It’s a delusion, but you believe it’s yours. Right? So the eagle comes roaring in such ferocity, in such velocity and you believe you can, you know, possess and control and contour this person into the ideal image of yourself. We’re doing this in all relationships but we do it full force in the parent-child relationship, and my approach speaks to this in position of the parental ego on the child. And asks parents and takes them to task on it. Challenges them to become aware that there is this thing called the unconscious that we put on our children and impose on them burdens from our emotional past that are not really theirs to hold, to bear, to contain, to heal. This kind of internal fixing needs to be done by ourselves. Internal fixing needs to be done by ourselves. But we’re unconscious of this, so onto our children comes all our past baggage and all our desires, all our, you know, wishes for our own ideal self to be manifested that we couldn’t but we make our children do it. So in this process of imposing the ego on the child, the child loses its authentic self. Right? And has to forsake its authentic self, give it up for its parent. And the child loves its parent and doesn’t even know that this is happening, so will just give it up. And in that process year after year after year the child becomes increasingly more disconnected from their authentic voice and then you have an adult who’s lost, directionless, purposeless, not knowing how to access that inner voice. And that’s what we see in teenagers, we see that in adults, and that process starts in the parent-child dynamic.
This is so fascinating because everything that you’re suggesting and all of your work, I think, is so revolutionary, so beautiful, but brings us back to our own wisdom both as a parent, which I’m a step-parent, I don’t have a biological child, but also as an individual. You know, listening to our own inner guide. And I think something that you said that I see so much throughout my work and I’ve tried to keep a balance of in my professional life is even though I may have suggestions, is guiding people back to their own inner voice and their own inner wisdom because they know better than I do. I can give little guideposts or suggestions, but they’re usually sparks.
But that’s because you’ve learned to so honor that inner voice in you that you don’t wanna mess it in anyone else.
Because you realize how sacred that is, what a valuable, inestimable gift that is. Right? So you’re not giving that up. So therefore you hold it sacred in the others you meet. But imagine being raised having that inner voice being trampled. Right? That inner voice being disconnected from within, so then you don’t even know that you need to be honoring this voice. So when your child comes you’re thinking, “Ok, I’ll just do what my parents did and just slap on my huge ego onto them,” and thus goes on the process of generational trauma, generational pain. It just keeps going on and on.
Yeah. You’re giving me so much respect for my mom right now. I just saw her in Vegas not too long ago and since I was a very little girl she would tell me that I have this small voice inside and she’s like, “What do you think? How does it feel?” And I love hearing this because it really is, we all have this beautiful gift that guides us to decision making, relationships, how to be a great person. And I love this approach because you’re giving parents such freedom and so much more soulful connection with the little beings they created and they love more than anything.
Yeah. It’s the biggest gift to give parents, it is ultimately freeing, but parents get threatened by this approach because it’s all about them. It’s about them doing the inner work. They can’t be misguided into believing, seduced into believing, that there’s some therapist that’s gonna come and fix their child or fix them. They’re gonna have to do the inner work. But the minute they are on this journey they become liberated because they can trust that inner guide, they can re-access their own, you know, purpose for living and reorient themselves to their inner compass. Right? What greater liberation? They don’t have to read another parenting book, they can… right? It all starts from within. So that’s the core principle and authenticity then becomes the core principle of the family life. Authenticity, worth, self orientation, inner introspection, inner reflection. So these become the pillars of raising a child, not success, not grades, not beauty, not wealth. It’s all the inner dimension.
Which leads me to something that we talked about on the phone and I thought it was excellent. Let’s say our child or ourselves, we’re struggling with something as common as overeating. You know, and so many times we wanna go right to perhaps the action. Ok, well, we need to adjust the diet or start looking at how much food. And perhaps that’s a component but you said, “No, no, no, no, no, there’s something much deeper that we need to look at.”
Well, so this approach really stays true to the premise that it’s all happening on an internal level. So all external behaviors are a mirror of the internal landscape. And so it is with the people we encounter. So first, you know, you orient yourself constantly that if another person is being mean to you or said that you’re ugly or you’re fat or you’re lazy, it’s coming from their pain. So this is the first thing you teach your children, that everyone has this looming, dark unconscious and when that unconscious is triggered, pain comes out. And pain often looks hurtful and looks mean and looks cruel. And then the second thing to orient children and parents to is that when our sense of worth is based on how one feels and how connected one is to one’s voice, then we are free from the external tentacles of, you know, either the looks or the grades or the achievement. So the orientation to this inner work liberates you from being controlled by the other and liberates you from being controlled by what society puts on you in terms of how we should be on the outside.
Yeah, because who knows. Who makes up these rules of what’s perfect, what’s successful?
We were talking about this on a recent episode that we just shot just about success, you know, society can’t even define it clearly. It’s like something that we really need to take back for ourselves and really look at, you know, orientating it around what’s happening on the inside.
But we have to be mavericks in this. We have to be kind of rebellious and go against the tide because especially for parents, I mean, the pressure we have. You know, if you enroll your child for ballet at 5 you’re already 2 years behind the curve. You know? You’re already falling behind. The race to nowhere is treacherous, it’s uphill, and it’s constant. But everyone’s on it so you feel kind of like you’re not doing something right, you’re not being a good parent by not, you know, entering that herd.
So what a maverick parent you have to be but, let me tell you, when I tell parents that they have the freedom to become maverick parents they’re so, you know, enlivened by that. They’re just waiting for permission. You know, can I not go crazy if my kid doesn’t go to an Ivy League school? Can I allow my kid to just be? You know, this doing, this fixing from the outside. So like you were saying, if a kid overeats or if a person overeats, the behavior is always speaking to the inner feeling, the inner landscape. So always taking the external to the internal.
Yes. One of the questions that we got, and we get thousands of questions from our viewers, and there was one that really broke my heart and then when I knew you and I would be talking today I said, “You know what? Dr. Shefali, this is one that I really wanna hear her perspective on.” So I sent it to you earlier and I’m just gonna read a little bit to orient everyone for this question from Alisha who is struggling with perfectionism, which is not only something that a teen struggles with but, of course, many people and a lot of women. So she’s a very high achiever, she’s the president of the future business leaders of America, she’s the vice president of the national junior high society, assistant editor of the yearbook, she’s maintained a 4.0 GPA for the past 5 years, and she has high school level classes even though she’s in middle school. Check this out.
“I have a boyfriend I love, my family that I love, and for some reason whenever I mess up, which seems to be a lot lately, I find myself wishing to start over. Start a new week, a new month so I can just try to make it perfect again. I can’t tell you how many weeks I’ve beaten myself up for not making it a ‘perfect week’ where I follow my schedule each day. No one around me is extremely hard on myself, in fact, most of the people I surround myself with are very forgiving of any mistakes I make. So why can’t I stop obsessing over starting anew and making things perfect?”
What do you say to Alisha?
She’s insightful, she’s courageous. At least she knows the traps she’s falling under. And she’s not unlike millions of us who have put this mantle of perfection.
I can identify with that. Absolutely.
And decided that this is the only way to validate your sense of self. So she’s actually kind of doomed because she is good at so many things. You know, whenever a parent starts out by telling me, “You know, the problem with my child is that my child has so much potential,” I go, “Oh, the child is doomed.” You know, “My child is gifted.” I go, “Doomed.” Because this is all coming from the outside. So as you can see with her, she’s now created markers of her identity not based on much internal but all things external. Now, here lies the trap. If one of them doesn’t fall into place you can hear her obsessing over it. You know, if in the day I don’t meet all my markers, which are high markers, she almost doesn’t have a sense of self. She wants to erase it and start all over again, rebirth herself. So her as is-ness in her humanness, in her ordinariness doesn’t exist, cannot exist anymore. So she has to live at this vibration at all times, which it’s unreasonable, it’s unsustainable. So she’s crumbling under that pressure, but she’s put this on herself. She’s so brilliant that if she could now learn to put all that energy that she’s put in the external world and take it in and go, “Did I live with my authentic voice today? Did I speak up today? Did I do what my heart told me to do rather than just staying in my intellect, in my head, in my mind? Was I allowed to be in stillness? Did I detach from all external pressures today?” She has to do the reverse. Right? She has to go really inside herself and use that as markers of success. So that’s going to be her challenge as an adult. She’s already realizing that she’s in a loop. Right? So she’s gonna have to really make that shift.
You know, I think that’s fascinating because I can even hear in my own mind as you’re saying this, my spirit softens, my shoulders soften, and I can hear my mind, which is very driven, very go, go, go. But, yes, but I’m striving for excellence. And I think a lesson that I’ve learned and the older I get it’s like I can have excellent standards, but my happiness and my well being has to trump everything and that always comes from within. And I think one of the things we can share with Alisha, I know from at least my own experience having had the blessing to achieve success on some external levels, there’s days where if you’re not feeling good inside, none of it matters.
It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t even sit for a second. The next mountain is right there.
So it’s almost like the universe gave us these gifts but we’re not happy yet because now we see the next horizon and we’re still racing with the same restlessness. So that’s not fair. The universe is like, “You know what? That’s it. This girl can never be happy. I’m stopping right now.” Till she learns. Right? So it’s about slowing down and remaining steady wherever we are. You know, achievement is great, achievement is purposeful, it drives us, it keeps us living, it juices our life, but if we’re not steady within and we’re doing it from this gnawing hunger, then the hunger… we think that, oh, you know, the flowers will make me feel happy and a pretty light and a beautiful dress. But that hunger, because we’re feeding it with toxic things, the void just gets wider and bigger.
And I think this is such a fun challenge for all of us, especially in our digital world where, you know, for young kids, for teens, for young adults, for adults, people of every age, you know, you can go on social media and if you let yourself be sucked into, you know, I can say even for me in our own business and career it’s like all these things that quote unquote I should be doing and I should be striving for. You should want your own network television show and I’m like, “Actually, no. I don’t.” When I pay attention to my own internal voice I feel really good about the things I say no to. I feel really good about disengaging from social media so I can stay in touch with my own truth.
And it’s hard because the world is coming at you. This girl is doing what she was supposed to do. This is what she was told would get her to her successful next life. So she thinks she’s doing great, but it’s creating more hunger in her, it’s creating more anxiety in her, so it’s insatiable. Right? The success driven, achievement driven world is an insatiable monster. It’s up to us to say, you know, this is who I am, this is what makes me happy, and I’m gonna go in pursuit of this.
Yeah. So this is something I was so curious to ask you. I know you’re a mom, you have a daughter named Maya, and I know from my own work, you know, we work really hard to try and give the best suggestions and resources we can and when I find myself in a place of doubt and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know what’s going… I should actually go watch my own… I did a show on this.”
What would Marie say?
What would I say? Yes. Do you ever find yourself with your daughter…
All the time.
… like your daughter’s like, “Mom, wait?”
All the time. Every day. And worse that now they’re following me around with the video camera, my daughter and my husband. They’re like, “Oh, let’s go show everyone how Dr. Shefali is being so unconscious.” I look back and they’re with a video camera right there. I’m like, “What is this? I’m being stalked in my own home.” And my daughter is constantly telling me, you know, “Mom, that’s a punishment. You said punishments are manipulative,” or, “That’s not in your book. Go read… yeah, read your book Mom.” Or the one day she said, “Mom, you’re being so, like, centered and so sweet.” I said, “Yeah, I just read my book. I just read a few chapters.” So I have to… this is why we do the work. I think we do it for ourselves. It’s completely self serving. It’s only about me. You know, it’s always about us, and even working with my clients on a daily basis it’s building my muscle. They’re giving me, you know, and I get paid for it, but they’re constantly teaching me. Our children are constant… everyone, every relationship takes us back to ourselves if we’re willing to take the invitation.
I think it’s so exciting because at least what we hear sometimes and when I encounter our viewers or even when we’re interacting in online courses, people can have an idea. Someone like you who has written these brilliant books and has had and has the opportunity to work with so many people, like, oh, she’s got it all together. It’s like no, we are practicing every single day as well.
And when they say it that you have it together or they’re putting you on some pedestal, you know, it’s so seductive. Right? To think, “Oh, yeah. I do have all the answers.” But, again, it’s their projection of their insecurity and their need onto you. And then if you think that you are that, you’ve just been seduced by your own ego wanting inflation. Right? So it’s constantly understanding it’s a game of projection. This is what relationships are. It’s a constant, you know, ping pong of projection. Now one is projecting their need and the other one thinks they can fulfill that it and eventually it’s the understanding that only when we detach from the projection and fill our own need and feel satiated from within that we can truly be fulfilled and happy. And then we don’t have to jump from relationship to relationship and be filled with bitterness that, “I thought you could fill my need. I thought you’d be my mom or you’d be just like my dad.” But no because everyone is coming to each other with outstretched hands, you know, you give me, no, you give me. So it’s all about filling the inner cup. You know, going inside and doing that inner work.
Yes. Have you, just out of curiosity, you’re so compelling, you’re so good at what you do. I’ve watched so many of your talks online and seen you on various shows. All of these ideas, they’re very deep and very spiritual. Do you find that people ever come to you just for general therapy that aren’t necessarily a parent and just want help understanding this ability to be present?
Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, I have as much of my practice filled with parents as I do non parents and couples and teenagers and people who just want to find their inner voice again, you know, and how do they get rid of the din of society and din of achievement and din of you should be and, you know, you need to be and reclaim that authentic self. It takes grounding, it takes practice, and everyone’s asking but how but how. I get it here but I can’t do it. It’s practical but it’s also wisdom based. Right? It’s something you grow into. So it’s both, it’s a practical tool of seeing it in the moment and go, “Oh, this is the moment she was talking about. Right now I’m being triggered. This is what she was talking about. This is my ego. What about my ego? What’s being hooked?” Seeing it all in the moment, very hard to do, especially when you’re confronted with the child who is melting down or going through something. How do you stay present? And then it’s also growing into it. So it takes time… it’s in the moment but then you have to… it’s an accumulation of moments, right? Sage wisdom is something you grow into as well. So I tell parents and I tell my clients that you have to give yourself time. This… you’re at this point in your journey because this is where you’re meant to be. You can’t be where you think I am because where you think I am is not even where I really probably am. Right? So you have to just do you in all your unconsciousness, in all your chaos, in all your madness, and from this, you know, from this mud Goldie Hawn’s book the lotus will burst forth. So don’t look to make it something that it isn’t. It’s yours, so claim yours.
Really beautiful. Dr. Shefali, is there anything else that you wanna leave us with today? Of course, if you don’t have her books you’ve got to get them. We’ll put links below. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. But anything you wanna leave us with?
Just that, you know, our children are here to show us in so many grand and majestic ways who we are. And we’re not fully capitalizing on their wisdom. We’re so working from this top down approach and, you know, using children to get to where we need them to be that we’re failing to attune, failing to listen. Because they house the wisdom that they need to manifest their greatest destiny. We just need to get out of their way. And this holds true for ourselves, in our relationship with ourselves. This holds true in our relationship with our spouses, with our partners. It’s about detaching from the insatiable desire to have our needs be met from the outside. That’s, I think, the central premise.
Really, really beautiful. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you, it’s been great.
Now Dr. Shefali and I would love to hear from you. So we’ve got a two parter today for your challenge. The first we’d love to hear about, what’s something that triggers you? Whether it’s a trigger in your child or in your spouse or something in your life that just really gets that ego to come forward. And then part two of that, if you could step back and really ask yourself how is that trigger about you? What is it calling forth in you to look at, to be more present with, to really shift your perspective around? We would love to hear all about it in the comments below.
Now, as always, the best conversations happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so go there and leave a comment now.
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