Michael Anne Conley, LMFT helps people understand the body-mind connection to promote positive change in interpersonal relations and habits. You can find her at Habits Into Health.

Michael Anne Conley, LMFT, is an expert on helping people make positive changes to become better versions of themselves by overcoming limiting habits, such as addiction, anxiety and procrastination. She understands intimately how to perceive and process the connection between the mind and body as it relates to facilitating change in response to disease, addiction and the general pursuit of wellness. Her practice is Habits Into Health, in Lafayette and she spoke to therapists and counselors at the Sacramento Chapter of the Women’s Association for Addiction Treatment monthly meeting this week.

This is to provide an overview of the insights I gleaned about human condition from Conley that can help parents better relate to tech-savvy youth whose cyber-powered childhood and adolescent experiences impact their bodies as well as their minds. Their perceptions about power and control are shaped according to these experiences and they are seeking wisdom.

Somatic matters

Her talk addressed somatic work through stages of change, which refers to the science of the body as it is distinct from the mind in making meaningful changes to improve health. Recovery from addictions is a good example of how the power in the physical body drives behavior according to what it craves. “The body is vital to our very being; it is a major part of who we are,” she said, “And we are socialized to try to ‘think through’ to change much of what happens in our body [for better or for worse].” As an example, Conley encourages folks to consider what happens in childbirth. How much control does the mind have over the body in this transition? How much of the power of the body in childbirth process is a result of “thinking it through?” Having given childbirth twice, I can say that the body is in control, and my job is to think about how to understand and accept the process. This is why childbirth classes are so valuable. This example illustrates there are powers in the body that require a deeper respect and understanding.

Stages of change engaging the body

Conley explains that change in a person, this transformation, is a process involving stages of contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. “People try to change what they see and they do not notice what is underneath,” she said.  To that end, one of the key insights Conley shared is that when someone reacts negatively to something you have said or done, it is largely a reflection of what that person thinks about themselves, and less about you. She calls this truth “the two percent solution.” And it is premised upon the iceberg concept, that what we experience in interaction with people is only the very surface layer of who they are and what is going on inside them goes much deeper. These deeper aspects of our self-image become habits and body language. So on the surface, if we read the behavior, body language and speech of a person as hostile or negative, it is important to consider that the criticism or attack is less about you and more about them. Conversely, we do the same thing. We reflect in our habits and body language our deepest thoughts, or judgments, about ourselves and two percent is about the individual to whom we are responding. So she concludes from this somatic science: everything you experience from other people, positive or negative, is 98 percent about them and two percent is about you. “I encourage people not to retreat when they are confronted with criticism or attack. Consider that there is something, just two percent, that you can learn about yourself,” she said.

Conley’s talk inspires the question: How does our body language integrate with the language of our mind? For the body emits signals. And we are largely unconscious about those signals. The example she offers happened early in her addiction treatment practice, wherein she received a hostile reaction to her presence as a counselor for a group of women in recovery from alcohol addiction. Conley explained that after contemplation she realized they read her body language as judgmental about them. Her body language appeared to look down at them, which was actually her own self-judgement and fear of not feeling qualified or good enough. So she made an effort to retrain her body language and re-engaged.

Two-percent communication insights for parents

Conley’s insights are helpful for parenting children today who are easily seduced into cyber habits that can inspire anxiety, depression and aggression (sexting/cyberbullying). Our children are literally swimming in a sea of judgment, body, mind and soul.

If your child is hostile, or acting out, consider that the negative behavior or withdrawn interaction is a result of suffering. Of believing things about themselves that are not true unless they choose to agree with those judgment thoughts. This is the 98 percent of self-perception projected to you. Some examples include, “I am not good enough,” “my parents cannot understand my childhood experiences”, “my parents will not be able to accept me because of what happened.”

Parents today need to be prepared for this fact of life: your child is going to be exposed to shame-inspiring experiences that kill open communication so essential to imparting wisdom and instilling discipline to be free from judgments and become better versions of ourselves.

Change your two percent, and change the world

A good way to help a child become a cyber-secure citizen of the world is to reflect back the goodness that is in them, especially when they are hostile, angry, or just emotional. If your child has experienced bullying, sexting, is developing intimacy with strangers on-line, or is  simply not receptive to being present with you and to share what is happening in their world, the most important thing you can do is examine yourself. Recognize that 98 percent of your child’s hostility, withdrawal, secrecy, depression or anger is about their own perception of self that is full of condemnation or judgment.

I invite you to consider that there is perhaps two percent of their behavior that has to do with you. And the good news is, this is change that is in your own control!

Examine how you might be inadvertently communicating judgment in your comments, observations about what is happening in the world, and in your own fears for your children’s experiences and future. Is your body language contradicting what is in your heart? Are you communicating hopelessness? Or encouraging correction, change, without judgment?  Does your child receive somatic signals of hope and love, or fear in their interaction with you?

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.