Category Archives: Connection Parenting

Parenting through connection instead of coercion, through love instead of fear, and continuing the work of attachment parenting through adolescence and into adulthood.

“Spanking: The Ultimate Disciplinary Failure”

Let’s begin with the essential distinction between punishment (arbitrary, harsh or cruel mistreatment for wrong-doing) and discipline (which is an organized method of instruction). So zen is a discipline, and mathematics, and Aikido. Hitting children for any reason is not discipline, it’s abuse and punishment.

Next let’s agree to the assertion that for the most part, parents are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have at the time. If they could do better, they would. This of course does not include those who are Cluster-B. People with that level of psychiatric pathology have entirely different agendas which may include feeding off the emotional pain of others. I’m not talking about them – separate conversation there.

A second assertion is that most parent are unaware that there are radically different options for interacting with their children that produce optimal outcomes for both parent and child. We tend to parent the way we ourselves were parented. Most of us were raised in some version of authoritarian parenting – do as I say or else…

Kids raised under authoritarian parenting grow up and become parents who will either apply authoritarian parenting with their own children (I turned out ok) or were so wounded by it that they rebel and become permissive parents.

Unfortunately, permissive parenting doesn’t work any better than authoritarian parenting, because kids need boundaries. They need to know where the edges are. They need to know that their parents are in charge, that they will keep them safe, that their parents are on their side and will teach them how to be people who can self-manage and be effective problem-solvers.

What does work is connection. Every shred of research over the last century – since John Bowlby wrote “Attachment”  has reinforced our understanding that the more secure our bonding and attachments are with others, the healthier and more functional we are as human beings. People hear important ideas best from those they trust most. This is especially true in the relationships between parent and child.

As Pam Leo says in her essential book “Connection Parenting” – “In every interaction with a child we can determine what to do by asking one simple question: Is what I am about to say or do going to build and strengthen the connection with my child or will it weaken and break it?” and then just act accordingly. This applies at every level, scalable from one-on-one to considering an entire parenting philosophy.

Punishment doesn’t work because it doesn’t teach. Humans cannot learn when they are being hurt. Furthermore, hitting kids creates an attachment break – a drop in connection, loss of trust, and generates fear instead of respect.

It is absolutely unnecessary to rule children through fear. In fact ruling children through fear is counterproductive and dangerous. Fear literally alters the structures of the child’s growing brain. When they are in fear, when kids are being hurt by those they love and trust who apply fear, the result is that children CANNOT learn. The punishment itself destroys any possibility of learning – the child’s thinking shuts down – they cannot process their painful experience, and their attention is focused on how to be smarter – to not get caught next time. Punishment and the use of fear creates liars and bullies. Kids who are hurt are far more likely to hurt other children as well. We have known about these correlations for decades.

Negative behavior is caused by unmet needs. Decode the behavior, meet the unmet need and the behavior will change. Works every time. What keeps these assaults on children in place is a combination of poor skills in emotional self-management among adults, lack of empathy and compassion, ignorance, denial, laziness, and the idealization of abuse and abusers.

As I said above, humans cannot learn when they are being hurt, our thinking shuts down completely. The lessons a spanking teaches are:

– that you are powerless and I can hurt you whenever I wish,
– that might makes right,
– that love is pain and when I hurt you that means I love you,
– that violence is an acceptable resolution for conflict,
– that you must learn to lie and deceive so you will not get caught,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to hurt you,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to violate your boundaries,
– that your consent doesn’t matter,
– that your physical integrity is not safe,

Spanking locks resentment, anger, fear into an internal emotional conflict with a confusion that conflates love and pain, and frequently turns to hatred. It damages self worth and creates behavioral problems that take up to two years to begin to manifest. And mostly it is a behavioral demonstration that our own needs are deeply unmet and we lack sufficient resources as a parent. We lack emotional self-management skills, and we need to find, learn and apply methods for conflict resolution that do not include assault and physical, emotional and mental violence.

Spanking is also a set up for domestic violence in later relationships, for sexual abuse and furthermore, if you did that to me I would have you in court and charged with assault. Why should those laws be any different for a child?

We absolutely have real clarity about what it takes to raise children into healthy, fully-functional, kindly and capable adults who are able to have nurturing relationships and make meaningful work. We (in the human domains of knowing) have understood most of this for decades, but convincing parents to give up their barbaric practices and to do what works best is an appalling uphill battle.

As Laura Markham says, “If we’re serious about raising good kids, we need to use methods that teach kids to manage themselves. Spanking does not do that. Instead, it teaches kids to be afraid of us, which is no basis for love. It teaches them to be sneaky so they won’t be caught doing something wrong. It teaches kids that they are bad, so they are more likely to behave badly. It teaches kids to use violence when they want to solve a problem. And it keeps them from taking responsibility to improve their own behavior, because they “externalize the locus of control,” which means they only behave because an authority figure makes them, rather than behaving because they want to.”

Violence against children is what is most broken in this civilization – physical, emotional, mental. Until we change this, nothing else in the overculture will ever change. Look at the world around you. I rest my case.

“However we treat the child, the child will treat the world.” – Pam Leo

Carmine Leo – ©2001-2023

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Who Are You?

Yes. I mean that.


Who are you?

Most people have no idea what to say when asked that question. In fact, most people have no idea even of what to think when asked that question. It’s a show-stopper.

And Byron Katie ( ) adds an additional layer of confusion and exponentially-explosive possibility when she asks that question in a marvelously expanded way, “Who are you without your story?”

You want to cause trouble, ask THAT question. It’s a sure-fire way to stir things up. Works every time.

One of the deepest and most troubling curses of the modern age – and I suspect with a few rare exceptions this has been true of humans for millennia, at least since that moment when we left our lives as foragers and took up agriculture – is this mis-identification of self (identity) as form or content. In other words, we believe we are our story: our thoughts, our feelings, our roles, our beliefs, our doctrine and dogma, our jobs, our cars, our relationships, our wounds, our bodies, our history and so on.

We have come to believe we are the construct – that survival-driven, painfully and carefully-built assemblage of identification-with. We have lost touch with the magnificent experience of being (in the moment and in the felt-sense experience of our bodies) and have come to believe we are the story about the doing and having of our day-to-day lives. The relentless machinery of our survival mind now identifies content as self and self as content, and our survival is dependent upon the persistence of our point of view. We are completely convinced that this is THE WAY IT IS! And sadly, that conviction leaves us utterly powerless.

Additionally, the machine mind (ego) believes that its content – our story – all those thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, beliefs, identities, and perspectives – are true and real, and that we MUST act on whatever feelings come up connected to those thoughts. Because the survival mind machinery cannot differentiate between our thoughts and feelings in the story – between what is real and what is in our heads – that toxic confusion of thoughts and feelings becomes hypnotic and compelling drivers of words and actions based in fear, disconnection and otherness. And all that is amplified because our limbic system cannot differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat. Our biology cannot distinguish between a co-worker throwing a tantrum and a hungry bear.

This is a problem.

Every example of what we consider to be real evil in the human world (other than the presence and behavior of true psychopaths, malignant narcissists, and others with Cluster-B disorders and their related identity disturbances ) is a result of this confusion of identity (self as content) and the resulting disconnection from being and presence (authentic self). As a result of the imprinting, constraints and distractions of the overculture, the machine mind, its thoughts, perceptions, assumptions, interpretations and conclusions are profoundly disordered. We have no access to the present moment, and the felt-sense of the feeling body is numbed. We are disconnected from the real world as it is and dwell almost entirely in the fictional world in our heads – our story.

This state of spiritual unconsciousness has truly disastrous consequences for all of planet earth, every being and every species, globally. As a species we humans are the planetary apex predator. We consume everything and we really need to own that about ourselves. We must either grow through this numb unconsciousness and disconnection from our being in the natural world or we will die off, taking nearly all of the planetary biome with us.

Well, all of that still leaves us with the primary question – who are you? Perhaps we now have a bit more clarity about what we are not, but how do we answer the question of who we are?

This reminds me of the zen lesson embodied inside one of the most famous koans of all time:

The zen master sat in stillness with the student for the entire morning. Then, without preamble he said, “The two hands, when brought together quickly will produce the sound of two hands clapping.” and he demonstrated this by clapping his two hands together loudly. Then he held out only one hand and posed the question, “What is the sound of the one hand clapping?”

Now, this is where it gets really tricky, because you see – there is only one true, correct answer to that zen riddle and it’s not possible to figure it out. You can’t think your way to it. You can’t use logic, reason, science, math, art, music, past experience or serendipity – nothing in our culture prepares us for that question. It is intended to actively confound the mind. You can only get there through genuine insight. The masters know this, and every time you respond with an answer from the mind, they know it. They can tell exactly where you are in your mind by hearing what you have to say in response to any of those hundreds of koans. It’s like the punchline of a great joke told by a cosmic comedian. Understanding is not the same as getting it. You know you got it when you are sitting there trying not to wet yourself because you are laughing so hard. When you get it, you get it and you know you got it. The direct experience of being is the same way. Understanding may come later and actually isn’t all that useful, but the moment of awakening is unique to itself. You just can’t fake authenticity.

The sound of the one hand is like that. So is the answer to the question, “Who are you?”

Now, I can tell you who I am, and while this comes directly from my experience, my telling you isn’t going to do you any good unless you can be in the direct experience of being for yourself – without the filters of the mind. Part of the challenge in this is that my speaking of being reduces into language something that words cannot contain. As Mikhail Naimy so famously said in “The Book of Mirdad” – “Words are, at best, honest lies.” Or spoken another way, “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The most I can hope for in my coaching work with clients is to point at the moon. The rest is up to the client. We get out what we put in.

So – things that make you go hmmm – here’s one:

Who I am is the witness – an aware, compassionate, presence of attention – an empty space in which experience occurs.

The trouble is, that’s just bullshit. Self is an illusion. If I can say it, that’s not it. Who I am is not any thing. As someone famous may have said – not this, not that. To be more precise, who I am is no thing. Nothing.

See? I just delivered my punchline and it’s useless to you. And I warned you it wouldn’t do you any good. All you have is a bunch of words describing something that happened to someone else. Perhaps if you are lucky, it’s a finger pointing at the moon. But that’s my experience and you’ve gotta get yours for yourself. Figuring it out and understanding it will not work here.

It’s kinda funny though. Hysterical in fact. That’s exactly the point. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to to do, and nothing to get.

You got it.

And as they say, when you really get it, the truth will set you free. It will also royally piss you off. And then you’ll giggle like a five-year-old who just heard the preacher fart.

Go ahead. Wet yourself laughing. It’ll be awesome.

© 2016
Carmine Leo

What’s Up With Boundaries?


If we grew up in a family or a society (such as this current overculture – industrial civilization and most of its ancestors) that does not have and/or does not accept, acknowledge and respect healthy boundaries then we have no models for what they are, how they work, or how we manage boundaries for ourselves or with others. Although we can feel the consequences, typically boundaries are invisible to us and those around us. As a side note, if we grew up in an abusive family then we are certain to have all kinds of trouble with boundaries. It can take years of inner work to repair that childhood damage.

This issue – boundary failure – is the dividing line between taker-societies driven by domination and power-over versus giver-societies living from consent and respect. First thing to know: if we have trouble with boundaries it’s not our fault. AND: as adults we are responsible for figuring out what boundaries are, how they work and what we need to do to function well. No one else can do this work for us.

Healthy boundaries work in several directions: First, they keep you from taking onto yourself that which does not belong to you – other people’s crap, their judgments and criticisms, their values and beliefs, their agenda for you, the troubles and problems that are rightfully theirs and so on.

Second, healthy boundaries keep you from surrendering to others that which does rightfully belong to you – your power, your autonomy, your own choices, your agenda for yourself, your integrity, your ability to walk your own path and learn your own lessons and etc.

There is a third piece around boundaries – and that is that healthy boundaries allow IN those things others wish to give us that we DO deserve – love, affection, the gifts of generosity and kindness and etc. Healthy boundaries support and encourage these kinds of reciprocal bonding exchanges that allow us to receive and accept what others want to give to us because they love us and wish us well.

Remember also that anger has a significant evolutionary role that has contributed to our survival as individuals and as a species. Anger lets us know when our boundaries are being violated in some way and it helps to keep us safe. There absolutely are times when the full expression of anger really is totally necessary, appropriate and effective. The trick is knowing which is which and then coming from choice and intention in expressing the right emotion to the right person to the right degree at the right time. Women especially get disconnected from their rightful and righteous appropriate anger by the varied oppressions of the overculture.

These emotional intelligence skills are deeply rooted in our biology, as we only have ancestors who could quickly read motive and intention and differentiate between friend and enemy. Those who could not do this well simply did not survive.

There is another source of anger that can be quite difficult, and that is managing our expectations of how we think our life should be turning out. When we believe that someone or something is in the way of what we need or what we want we then argue with reality – we say, “It shouldn’t be like this!” or the reverse, “It should be different!” In either case, I am reminded of the old saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” And of course as the brilliant Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” We only suffer when we believe our thoughts and argue with what is.

If we have not fully integrated our anger then it manifests as aggression. Once we do that inner work on emotional integration, then the emotional energy of anger becomes assertion, and assertion one of the primary gateways through which we create, have and hold healthy boundaries.

Usually, people who have not done that inner work themselves cannot distinguish between assertion and aggression in others, so they tend to see what they themselves hold. So if you are being assertive, they can misinterpret your strength as aggression and will often try to gaslight you into doubting yourself, either your perceptions or your actions.

Boundaries can be very difficult until our emotional body awakens and our attention and consciousness is fully present in the now. Only then do we begin to see the connections – the inner links between cause and effect – and our behavior, our choices, our decision-making and problem-solving become both accurate and wise.

© 2016
Carmine Leo