Have you ever felt disappointed by your cranky behavior towards people you love? Me, too! The stresses of daily life can do a number on our relationships if we don't know how to handle ourselves when we are overwhelmed.
I recently had one of those trying difficult days. It was a rainy sunday, and the baby had been sick for 5 weeks, leaving us sleepless, I had something in my eye that I couldn't get out, I was anxious about the fast approaching chaos of having 3 kids at home all summer , and we were running out of time to design the house that we are about to build, and so on...
I bet you have your own similar list! Having talked with my clients and friends, I know that what I'm about to confess is a very common, albeit concealed, problem many of us face.
Anyway, It was a big pile of stress and strain and my tolerance was fading fast. I hate to admit it, but, when the pressure gets to be too much, my kids or partner often bear the brunt of it. Even if they did nothing other than make excessive noise or ask me “too many” questions.... The are just so reliably there, making them an easy target. My tone of voice got snippy. I was about to say something mean that I would regret later...
For many of us when the pressure builds, swelling beyond our capacity to hold it, like a molten mountain of lava, we burst, spewing blame all over our loved ones in the form of stinging comments, pissy remarks, bossy commands, and even screams of resentment. I remember as a child in bed at night covering my head with my pillow in distress while my own parents argued downstairs in the evenings, due to too much strain in their lives, and no education on how to handle it with maturity or grace.
It's an unfortunate truth that most of us have not been taught how to handle our intense emotions wisely in our culture. Thus, we have a limited understanding of how to cope when things get intense. We then go about hurting others and damaging the relationships that nurture us. Not a good scenario.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
For the most part I have learned how to restrain myself. As it turned out that recent stressful sunday, I did nothing I regret. Despite the total inferno of tension inside me, I was kind to my family. All it took was to hear the sour note starting to show up in my voice as I spoke to them and I was back in control of myself. How did I do it?
I call it the Emotional Fire Alarm Process. Basically, it is just consciously letting our emotions do their job ( yes! They have one, too, and we'll talk more about that in days to come), instead of letting them unconsciously rule our lives.
Here's how the it works:
1)When you are in good spirits ( like right now) affirm that you are willing to own your own emotions and not blame others for how you feel. Then, when things get heated...
2) You will sense the intense emotion rising up or will you hear your voice start to become tense, whiny, or snappy. ALERT ALERT ALERT!!! Let this emotion or tone of your voice, whichever you notice first, BE YOUR ALARM!
3)Let your “alarm” guide your attention to what you are experiencing inside your body (emotions are energy in the form of sensation in the body, such as a tightening of the shoulders and facial muscles, a boiling in the gut, heat in the arms and face, and shallow breathing). This simple act of noticing inside yourself will cool the fires some.
4)Ask yourself what you need to do to get back to center, your core of peace, ASAP before behaving in a way you regret. (There are some ideas here and here).
Instead of blaming your volatile feelings for causing trouble, let them do what they are best at: alerting you to awareness and calling you to action (in this case, alerting you of the need for taking time to care for yourself).
Your crankiness and emotional intensity is simply information guiding you towards getting what you need. Usually you just need to engage in an activity that gets you back to peace, like walking, yoga, journaling, or whatever works for you. Sometimes , though, there is a deeper message that the emotions are trying to share with you, and once you are calm you can mine them for their wisdom.
Next time you are not your kind self to your loved ones don't beat yourself about what you are doing wrong : take it as a helpful signal to take a cooling calming action for yourself, so you can get back to being who you want to be in your relationships. Over time you will grow in your awareness so that you will catch your tension earlier, before you utter a single snide remark. And you will have found a huge key to self-care and being the person you want to be: listening to the wisdom of your emotions.