You'll Be Fine
The Healing Power of Loving Indifference
Lee came to me the other day, asking me to check out a rash on his back. I noted it—raised red bumps, looked fairly inflamed—and he asked me if I had any essential oils (or whatever) to treat it, knowing I have shelves of the stuff.
Ah yes, I said, dispassionately. You’re fine. I could splash some potion all over it, sure, but it’ll probably be gone by tomorrow.
And it was.
Loving indifference is, I believe, highly undervalued.
This is something I’ve had to learn over time.
I remember feeling somewhat bereft, admittedly, when my mother would tell me to go take a nap if I felt off, or to just “think it away”, if I was mildly injured.
Another favourite response of hers was “stop being so ridiculous Yolande.”
I hated that at the time, and now I’m immeasurably grateful.
Because I was being ridiculous. (Sigh. I often am. Still.)
I now recognize that having that reflected was, and ultimately is, outrageously powerful.
The surface assumption might be that she was harsh, or unloving—and yes, her approach to crisis-management in general was very low-key—but she didn’t lack compassion at all.
Nor was she attempting to inhibit or sublimate my feelings; she was simply intolerant of self-indulgence (which isn’t authentic feeling at all).
It might sound as though this kind of response is invalidating—and certainly according to the histrionic parenting culture of obsessive affirmation, it would be considered so—
But it was really quite the opposite.
She was, in fact, fully validating my capacity to heal myself, and my ability to choose to heal; to know that healing is always possible, and always mine to claim.
I realize now that the excessive “validation” of decadent self-pity is an invalidation of our strength.
I see this reflected in my own commitment to allow my children to fall, without interference or melodrama.
Because Lee and I have always refused to mirror to our children fear, panic, or sentimentality in the face of minor scrapes, they’re free to simply experience the physical dynamics of their environment—a fall, a skinned knee, a stinging sensation—without the fiction of tragedy or breakdown.
They’re free to simply pull themselves up and keep going—or, in some cases, to look around, and to find me there, off to the side, witnessing them with steady, confident neutrality: Ah, yes. That was a tumble indeed. Look how strong you are.
If they want to tell me their account, I’m totally here for it. But I think it’s precisely because I’m not in the business of cultivating an atmosphere of hysteria, that mostly they don’t feel the need to go on and on about things.
I also think it’s true for all of us at times, that at a certain point, we may benefit from hearing a loved one tell us, Alright kiddo, time to get over it.
Often though, the flurry of worry itself that so many parents are dedicated to—the fussing, the fretting, the striving, the fixing--these efforts, I believe, actively inhibit the body’s ineluctable aptitude for self-healing.
When we see echoed in the person in front of us, an over-concern for our even momentary weakness, debility, or wounding, our cells respond in kind.
Assured, loving, detached indifference though, is the foremost healing balm.
Again, this is not an indifference to the person, or to their plight, or their true emotions, but rather a total indifference to the invitation to hook into the underlying story of their incapacity.
It takes courage to treat our child (or spouse, or friend) with this kind of respect— to decline to pander; to see them with penetrating clarity, and to reflect back to them the power they may not, in that moment, recognize that they actually always possess.