What Is Vs What If And How It Impacts Parenting

I have worked professionally since the mid ninety’s and have worked with thousands of adolescents, young adults, parents, and grandparents who experience anxiety and in turn, seem to become confused and overwhelmed with how to deal with all that follows. I’ve often thought the work anxiety was misinterpreted from our early clinical theorists. Anxiety is simply miss-converted energy. Take a wave in the ocean at the beach for example. It’s just energy. If you dive under it you miss the impact this energy has. If you stand in front of it you tend to get slammed down dragged over the rocks, urchins, and depending on the impact you may spend the rest of the day or your life trying to figure out how and why you were so damaged. If you turn and ride the wave you may enjoy it or even get a surfing sponsorship and live a life filled with more beaches, resources, and time in the sun. It’s all the same energy, however; how a person processes this is what leads to the outcome, not the wave itself.

A different way of looking at this is a concept I work with my clients on where I say what is and what if are two very different things. My clients tend to balk at this some as they invest in the feelings they are having and seek validation they are out of control and unable to manage. I give this example, “What if I get back home tonight and my family has all been lost in a house fire. I wouldn’t know as I don’t have any contact with them when I’m at work. I could think about that and become paralyzed by the what-if anxiety that follows this simple thought.” My clients tend to pause then as they understand that I too as a clinician am human and I too have to process through things. I then say, “What is, is that I’m talking with you, it’s a beautiful day, we’re having a conversation, and I trust that you are willing to work on yourself. I will leave work today and go face the what is, however; if we don’t take care of our basic needs today and stay balanced with our minds, bodies, and emotions, I could easily fall asleep on the way home and create a whole new what is that ends or changes my life forever.” With that, my clients tend to pause and offer me some water to drink or to go to lunch with them at the programs I’ve worked at. It humanizes the treatment process and I believe it helps my clients in that they see they have options to take control of their own anxiety, not simply spinning with the fact they have an anxiety disorder that has overwhelmed them and spinning and harming themselves seems the only way out.

With my own children, I’m often caught in what if conversations as it’s part of the development process for developing children. Sometimes it works to let them know things will be ok and our what is seems to be getting us through each day. Sometimes I hear them cry to themselves and wonder what if’s as the peer pressures of elementary and middle school can be more overwhelming than being a CEO of a company. I say this with assurance as I’ve experienced it.

Many say, “I’m so glad high school is over. At least I don’t have to deal with all that false drama anymore.” In my experiences, the drama only gets louder and more confusing if you don’t evolve within yourself and learn how to take care of yourself before you take care of others. I’ve been fortunate to spend my career with adolescents and young adults and I’m reminded daily of the pressures the emotions have on them as their bodies and minds are changing so rapidly.

For parents learning to manage our own concerns as we do our best to guide them successfully to the next day while managing our own relationships, work, and ideas on how to successfully parent our children can at times be paralyzing. Remembering what is and what if are very different really helps in getting some sleep as they will be up regardless with a new day and facing another opportunity.

To see a video to visualize this concept I encourage you to watch the first video currently posted at clinicalconcierge.org.

Toby Mautz, LCSW will be a guest writer on our monthly blog. He runs a national Clinical Concierge service. You can learn more about his work at clinicalconcierge.org