Sometimes life is hard. Things happen over which we have little control – sick kids, sudden deadlines, unexpected guests, and it seems that there’s only so much we can do to hold everything together. Which is when we fall apart…
And so it was with me this morning. I had not woken up feeling rested – and I was still trying to gather my energies when the kids began to drive me crazy. I bore it quite well for a (very short) while, but before long, I had completely lost it.
As I began shouting louder than I’ve done in a while, I could hear another much weaker voice reminding me of my over-reaction. But I didn’t want to hear it. It almost seemed as though my loud voice was arguing with that little one as I began defending my anger through justifications that made little sense, making my already startled children guilty about a regular sibling squabble.
In hindsight, this is what was going on. My emotional brain had completely run amok. Lack of sleep and too much on my mind had temporarily shut down my ability to self-regulate. This can also happen when we’re hungry, upset for some reason or when a certain incident kindles the subconscious stories of our lives. What I needed to do then was to take a break and disconnect from the hampster wheel of my emotional thoughts, so that the slower, rational capacities of my conscious brain could’ve kicked in.
Perhaps simply getting outside and breathing slowly and deeply would’ve helped return me to a state of equanimity. Since the breath is the only physiological response we have control over, regulating it by taking slow and deep breaths is the quickest way of ensuring our nervous system that we aren’t facing a life or death situation.
After the kids had left for school and my conscious brain had finally kicked in, I did what moms do best. I began shaking my head in disappointment at my own behavior and ended up feeling terribly guilty and ashamed. I had to remind myself that I’m human and thus fallible. I had to remember to see the big picture – of the many many times I was loving and supportive – and the rare times I was not.
Once I was able to let go of the shame, I felt a strong desire to make it up to my children. Our children look to us to make sense of their lives. When our messages are confusing, or demeaning, they grow up disconnected from who they are and from the stories that run their lives. Their self-worth becomes dependent on external messages and on the implicit and explicit demands they grow up with.
I learnt through this experience that losing it is part of being human. But so is realizing it, forgiving ourselves and then opening up to the worlds of others. To do so, we need to be aware of the sensations, images, thoughts and feelings going on in our minds and bodies. There is no empathy without insight. Together they connect us both within and beyond.
Now I’d love to hear back from you! What helps you in your meltdown moments?