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The Other Protective Mechanism of Counterwill: Chapter 1 Section 5

What is the purpose of being alive in the human body?

While we could go round and round about this, possibly we can distill it down and agree that we are alive with the opportunity to explore and stretch our capabilities as we make choices to create our experience of life. This goes for children and adults – all of us.

The other protective mechanism of counterwill directly relates to this purpose. When we, well meaning parents, try to influence the process of this purpose unfolding in the lives of our children, we can be imposing our will in ways that incite counterwill to arise.

For example, if your one year old is doing some really creative stuff with toilet paper in the bathroom, your teenager has decided that smoking pot is cool and kind of makes him feel good or your middle schooler thinks playing video games is better than doing homework – you might not agree. You might come in and say, “Hey, you know what, I’ve been watching this. I’m a little concerned and I want to talk to you about this. Or, nope – that’s not okay.”

You set a limit, basically. Whether the limit is to stop and discuss something a bit or it is to say no, you may not do this, counterwill can rise again because the will, the choice that child is making, is seemingly being thwarted. When a purpose is not allowed to function what happens? A blockage is created. Counterwill seeks to address the blockage through communicating the blockage is present and needs attention (often by resistant behavior on the part of the child).

Depending on where we are coming from as parents, there may be a real flare up for the child because he is responding not only to the limit but also the parent’s way of communicating the limit. What messages are we sending through the way we are communicating and what nonverbal messages are we sending? Children (and adults) pick up on incongruence so if we’re not coming from a space of respect for the child’s innate purpose to explore and create, they sense this.

We don’t always know our child’s perfect path. There’s a fine line here. To say no to the baby who’s being creative with toilet paper may be very practical because we would like to keep the toilet paper for wiping and encourage proper habits with that child. We can share this practical need that we have with the child in a very straight forward way such as, “Let’s leave the toilet paper on the roll for wiping.” Repetition may be part of the process; we all require this to learn. We can also acknowledge the baby’s purpose as we say no about the toilet paper while offering something the child can play and create with, such as scarves or blocks, or bring the child to an area where he can find something else to explore from a selection of suitable items for play.

It can be a little bit harder to discern when our child is interested in wrestling (or video gaming and smoking pot) instead of playing saxophone, or something else we are interested in them doing. Becoming aware of the tendency to control or influence through manipulation due to our own desires for the child is important. We can also benefit from recognizing the protective mechanism of counterwill helps the child actually express and create in life as he needs to so he can learn about himself, what makes him work, what inspires him to evolve, grow and serve in this life.

How can we meet counterwill with respect and understanding?

We all experience counterwill. It’s the resistance to having another will seemingly imposed upon us – through judgments, thoughts, feelings, actions or circumstances. Pretty much anything that we perceive is infringing on our rights or purpose in life. Some people may experience this with children, partners, friends, family, complete strangers, the weather – even God. As we connect with how this feels, what can this understanding provide for our parenting experience?

Maybe we can start to really acknowledge and appreciate this basis of life – in ourselves and our children. Possibly we can stop resisting them so they can stop resisting us. Possibly we can approach each situation with the notion that it is not necessary to force and that we really can influence our children in positive ways – even if they choose to participate in harmful activities.1

Today, notice the mechanism of counterwill that protects the simple purpose in life – to explore and stretch, choose and create. Notice any judgments and arguments you have, allow them to be what they are and see what happens when you honor this basic foundation of life.

Next, we will explore the role of personal power and boundaries.


Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.


  1. I will discuss ways to address specific situations like excessive video gaming and smoking pot later in the book

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