When You Don’t See Progress

Yin and yangJanuary’s the perfect time to take a fresh look at what progress looks like, not just in your relationship with your estranged adult child, but in general.

The Chinese concept of yin and yang is a helpful one when you’re pursuing a goal, whether it’s improving a relationship, increasing your income, strengthening your body or becoming everything you’re meant to be.

Yin and yang are a philosophy, not a religion. Thus, if you have religious beliefs, this article shouldn’t conflict in any way with those. Instead, I hope to simply add another resource to your toolkit as you navigate your relationship with your estranged adult child(ren).

Invisible Progress

Whether in therapy or consultation, the Number One question I get from estranged parents is, “What do I do now?”

Often the best answer is, “Nothing at all.”

But “nothing” is the toughest thing to do when an important relationship is in trouble!

It’s hard to believe there’s any power in doing nothing.

That there’s movement in stillness.

Action in passivity.

Forward movement can and does occur even when you think nothing is happening.

I once had a favorite houseplant that eventually became tall, scraggly and too weak to hold itself up.

I decided to cut it down to just the stem, hoping it would regrow.

For weeks I walked past that stem sticking forlornly out of its pot, worried that I had killed it. There was no way to tell what was going on beneath the static surface.

It took a lo-o-ong time … but then one day I noticed a hint of green near the top, contrasting with the light brown color of the stem.

The plant had been silently healing all along, taking nutrients from the soil, preparing itself for the next phase of life.

You could say it had been in a “yin” phase, quiet and dormant.

When it was time, that plant stepped into “yang” and put forth glorious green leaves again. It grew back fuller and more beautiful than before.

Yin and Yang

There is yin and yang energy in every aspect of life.

Yang is active, bold, loud, high, busy, hot and fast.

Yin is passive, shy, quiet, low, still, cool and slow.

Together, yin and yang create perfect balance. When they’re out of balance, WE are out of balance.

In the U.S. and perhaps other places, active (yang) energy is overvalued, and passive (yin) energy is undervalued.

For example, we revere the high achiever who never seems to sleep. And we revile anyone — including ourselves — who strikes us as lazy, passive, or depressed.

But this emphasis on yang is misguided. When yang is out of balance, only yin can bring healing, rest, and ultimately, renewal.

What does this have to do with your estranged adult child?

Balance Activity With Stillness

The desire for constant forward motion, ideally in the form of more frequent contact (activity, visible progress), is hard to ignore.

Yet lack of contact doesn’t mean lack of progress in the relationship. And applying too much energy to the goal can push it further away.

Once you’ve put your best foot forward with your child (yang), it’s appropriate to adopt a passive stance of waiting for a while (yin).

Whereas yang seeks to penetrate like an army advancing on an enemy, yin is simply receptive.

Yin is an essential aspect of healthy living, both mentally and physically. An exercise scientist will tell you that muscles aren’t built during workouts. They’re built while your body is resting, between workouts.

Trust the yin in all your relationships. You can afford some downtime, but you can’t necessarily afford the havoc created by too much activity.

Don’t fear doing nothing. Embrace it.

Soon enough, if you pay attention, you’ll sense when it’s time to get active again.

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