When adults throw tantrums, I want to say, “Grow up!” I don’t actually say it; it doesn’t work with adults any better than it does with toddlers.
However, the words are a true description of the problem. Emotional maturity is lacking, at least during the tantrum.
I consider myself self-aware. I pay attention to my reactions when they’re outside my personal range of normal. Given that knowledge about me combined with my temporary increased levels of stress, I thought this personal story might be helpful.
Recently, I couldn’t find MY PURPLE TOP. It’s in CAPS in the story wherever I was emotionally immature and screaming; let me emphasize: I was running very late and COULDN’T FIND IT!
I opened four drawers in about 45 seconds as the slamming after each one grew louder. “Where is IT?” I marched to the laundry room, then back to the laundry basket in our closet. There were a few expletives that I may or may not have said in my 180 second whirlwind of looking for the PURPLE TOP!
With complete courage, Jeff asked, “What are you looking for?” Without acknowledging his attempt to be helpful, I said, “My purple TOP.” He started opening my drawers to help, as I reminded him, “It’s NOT THERE!”
Despite my encouragement to engage battle, he continued until I heard, “Is this it?”
CRApppp. He found it.
With raised eyebrows, he noted, “Wound a little tight today?”
We laughed a lot. His comment and timing was really good. It helped. He accepted me. It reminded me to accept me.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh. Don’t take others too seriously. Laugh. Whether it’s a little or a lot, laugh.
Hint: Don’t laugh if your spouse is in the midst of a tantrum. Timing is critical.
It’s not my fault and It’s my fault are the opposing extremes on the continuum of The Blame Game.
In abusive relationships, people stay in their role pretty consistently. In toxic relationships or when people are frequently in power struggles, they take turns jumping between positions. Conflict erupts when they both want the position of It’s not my fault.
When people believe they are flawed, worthless, or dispensable, which shows up in feelings of depression, anxiety or anger, they are stuck in believing It’s my fault. They have countless stories of what’s been said or done to them by others. It gets twisted into the evidence they use to keep themselves convinced that it’s true.
However, there’s often a long path of unhealthy relationships with people who just don’t play nice in the sandbox with others — they’re not well! Even with that evidence, they grab onto one tiny thread and twist their lives around it: if all these people think it’s ok to treat me like crap, they must be right — It’s my fault.
With some insight, they often recognize the source of their beliefs. Even then, however, the road to un-twisting their thoughts is a tough one. Regardless, it’s worth the effort to replace those distortions with new beliefs, the truth.
An important note: It’s not my fault people actually have an incredibly deep belief that they are flawed at their core, so they hide it by anchoring themselves in this category. If they convince you to accept blame for all the relationship problems, they hope you will feel so lucky to be loved by them, that you will stay with them. Their goal is to not be abandoned.
Living on the continuum of blame is where we discover that we are indeed human. Being human means that we voluntarily visit the full spectrum of blame regularly.
Although our lives are sometimes messy, we often have more in common with others than we recognize.
People have asked me, “How do you do that? You described exactly what I feel, but I’ve not told you that much. How do you understand me so well?”
I remind them that while they are special, they aren’t that special. I don’t know that much, but I do recognize and understand patterns of behavior. Their comments demonstrate hope that things can improve.
At the other end of the continuum, I’ve had people get pretty upset and direct it toward me personally, “There’s no way you understand. You can’t figure me out that easily!”
They are somewhat correct. I spoke too quickly. I failed to recognize their belief that they are that different. I missed their need to be heard. Their comments demonstrate lesser hope that things can improve.
I can get so anxious for them to have hope that I lose patience. When people recognize that their life contains shared experiences and feelings, it tends to remove a sense of isolation, validates their experience, and improves self-esteem.
Learning that you aren’t alone or that others understand is one of the most effective tools to help people get unstuck. My role is to point out things that they may not be able to recognize, or to offer a different perspective on their situation.
Yes, everyone matters. They just don’t matter more than anybody else. You are not alone.
I’m in a time of change, now and over the last couple months. Change brings stress. Forming a business, office space, website, liability insurance, HIPAA compliance, and tax questions are a few of the details needing attention. It takes time for things to unfold, and most things are dependent on something else.
Stress is real. It consumes thoughts, heightens emotions, disrupts sleep, shortens the breath, and causes stomach problems. Basically, all the indicators that relaxation is needed, and yet all the things that make relaxation more challenging.
I’m on the other side of the worst part, I think. Sleep seems to have returned to normal, and my stomach has stopped hurting.
The reality is that this has been really good for me. It keeps me humble. It heightens my compassion for people struggling with their marriage, finances, health, kids and extended family, addictions and depression.
In the midst of it, all the things I knew to be true slipped away. Jeff asked me, “What would you say to yourself if you came to you for counseling?” It’s a good question that helped but slightly ticked me off.
Yeah, I get it. I am being proactive on the things I can get done, I recognize what things can’t be controlled, but I was missing the serenity to accept the things yet to be determined. Knowing that didn’t make the feelings go away. The more I tried to make the feelings of stress go away, the more stress I felt.
There’s a lot of change, and a lot of unknown factors, so expecting that I won’t feel stress is unrealistic. The best thing I can do is accept that it’s a season of stress. It really helps to stop fighting reality.
Exercise. Eat well. Go to bed. Create space in the early morning for solitude and quiet. Breathe deeply and slowly to slow down the mind. Do what you can.
Accept that it’s a season of stress. It just is.