I was shocked. One of my adult children was recounting a story that clearly called for a strong back and a soft front. What does that meant? Today we're going to talk about having a "strong back." A strong back means being courageous enough to face problems head-on, so that we are sturdy under pressure. It means refusing to hide behind a false personality.
A person who worked tangentially with this child was providing unsolicited feedback about my child’s personality. This, for the record, is bad behavior. My kid who has a working knowledge of the enneagram and resides in the dependent stance of this tool (if you do not know what I am talking about, no worries, I’ll provide more descriptors), was able to use enneagram language to describe the experience. For the sake of this post, I would say that those of us who reside in the dependent stance (1,2,6 if you’re interested) move “toward” others. We are referenced outside of ourselves, often looking for others to validate and even provide us input on what we should think, feel and do. Anyway, my kid was noticing that this person was giving themselves a lot of permission to speak about said child’s personality without really having the benefit of knowing my child other than through the most casual and limited of business interactions. The person concluded, “You know, I really do not feel like I have connected with you interpersonally.” My kid heard implied blame, even resentment on the other person’s part. (Is connecting interpersonally a job requirement? One wonders…)
This is when a strong back and soft front was not only a helpful metaphor but a good guide. Having just had a long discussion on the paradox of practicing daily courage AND vulnerability, my adult progeny did something very different than the dependent stance they live in would have predicted.
They paused. They neither moved toward the other person by getting sucked into this inappropriate and boundary-less discussion nor against them by getting all aggressive and ugly nor did they withdraw by wrapping a cloak of invisibility around themselves and disappearing into their own mind palace (these are common ways we humans response to a perceived threat).
Instead, they simply stood there, acknowledged that they heard the person, and offered no commentary. My offspring decided in the moments of pausing that no response was needed. This was unsolicited feedback from a questionable source. It could be received but did NOT need to be absorbed. Mostly, they decided that they did not need to chase after approval, apologize for their personality, or defend their place in the world. All of that means, I think, that this was a moment when a strong back and soft front did not require my child to seek out approval from a virtual stranger. This is an example of the strong back; tomorrow we will discuss the soft front portion of the interaction.