My son just pissed me off. But so badly, I wanted to hurt him, and myself; both really violently. Him for being a little dick; me for feeling that way about my child. You know those ridiculous moments when the child, partner, or parent before you has a textbook-classic, full-fledged temper tantrum over nothing? They are imploding, hysterically, right there before your eyes, blaming you for every wrong since the beginning of time; and you can only stand there, arms stuck in a shrug, jaw dropped, with that “no fucking way…” look in your eyes. You are utterly clueless as to what you are meant to do here.
A few ideas do artfully pop into your head: (a) slap him silly as perhaps, perhaps a forced bam will get the wiring back to functional; (b) turn around and run for your life and get away, far away, and fast; (c) say something wise and enlightened, like I would on my parenting radio show back in Israel, and just hug him and tell him you are there for him.
I would love to claim that I was in a higher place; but, I went for real-life multiple choice b. Wanna guess how badly it went down? I’d like to teach you how, the next time someone pushes on all of your buttons, how not to explode in their face. For that next time someone throws up their emotional baggage on you; I have ten really helpful, critical tools to fall back on. You don’t have to explode back
I’ll be answering your questions (in red) as we go.
1- Let It Be
Next time someone attacks you; stop a second, before you attack back. They are clearly upset about something, something has hurt them. Let them be. Let them be angry, sad, victimized, and furious without making it your story. Even if you are a part of that story, allow the person the dignity to feel sad/mad/hurt/furious. Just let them get it out of their system. Let them express it. Let them be.
And how do I “let it be” when he is kicking, screaming, freaking out at me?
2- Show Empathy
Whatever has upset them, has upset them. Genius, I know. (I also love when someone states the obvious.) When we have a very strong angry reaction; always, always, always the core is pain. Always. Find out what hurts. They are hurt, very hurt; or scared, or worried. Find out, with empathy what hurts. Just say it, and care, like this, “What hurts?” Repeat with love, until you get that truth that hurts to come out. [Often not possible when we are in anger and rage.]
Nice, in theory, but how to I show empathy when I am being blamed and attacked? If I say “What hurts” I will get an avalanche of accusations and shit thrown in my face?
3- Don’t Accept the Invitation
When we hurt, it hurts too much. We can’t face that hurt so, unconsciously; do whatever we can to deflect that onto someone else. When it hurts, we seek the closest person to us to throw that pain onto, in the form of blame. Just because your partner or child is inviting you to a fist fight, doesn’t mean you have to accept the invitation. Tempting. Very tempting. But, don’t take it. (Ekhart Tolle in The Power of Now speaks of ‘pain bodies.’ This works excellently here!)
How do I not take it? I’m being pushed into the corner? He’s pushing all of my buttons? Attacking me, saying exactly the things that drive me crazy?
Not for life (even though that may seem ideal at the time), but for now. Get out of the room, go to the bathroom, talk a walk around the block; let the fireball before you explode by himself, and not onto you. You can’t fight when you are alone in the room. I know; I’ve tried. Make your exit as fast and respectfully as you can. Say something clear, but not arrogant or blaming, like, “I feel like right now things are getting out of hand. I will come back in 30 minutes, and we can talk.”
I can’t walk out every time we fight, and I can’t leave the kids alone every time they freak out on me; I need to be there, to face it, to fix it! No way will she just let me walk out the door when she is like that.
5- Bathroom Break
If you physically cannot leave the kids alone, or you feel like your partner will take things waaay out of proportion if you walk away; take a seven minute bathroom break. Excuse yourself and b-line for the mirror. Get yourself in a state of mind that can face this storm, without getting violently sucked into it. Talk to the mirror and say, “He is in pain right now. I love him, even though I’m so mad at this situation. I will listen, I will be logical. I am strong. I will work toward solutions. I will not get wrapped up in fire. I am powerful and loving and can do this.” And face your fire.
Really easy to say that to the mirror, but as soon as I enter the room again, and get attacked, I can only take it for so long before I explode too. What do I do?
6- Listen to Just One Thing
A few years back, in 72 hours the four things I needed most in my life died/threated to leave/broke down: my computer, my car, my washing machine, and my husband. The financial strain and emotional fears that came out of it were intense. We’re standing in the parking lot screaming at each other, when I got it. “Just One Thing” I was being blamed for everything under the sun and felt like there was no way I could not crumble under the weight of it all. “Just one thing,” and that is all I focused on. I picked one thing, one single thing in that long list raining down on me; “one thing” I could digest and focused on that. And, I got by, staying logical and calm and focused on my ‘one thing’ as the storm continued around me.
So you became someone’s punching bag? So, I’m supposed to just stand there as someone pounds onto me every blame in the world?
7- Notice Patterns
If, and you must be honest here, if you are the punching bag, the scapegoat, the go-to man every time your sibling, child, or partner hits a wall; get up and go. If,( and you may need close family or friends to give you a more objective opinion), if you feel like you are being emotionally abused, get out. Not worth figuring out healing/negotiating/bonding tactics when you feel you are in survival. If the pattern is: whatever goes wrong, you are to blame; call them on it clearly, see if you have someone who is willing to change patterns, and if not, get out.
In the everything broke in my life in 72 hours example above, it hurt so badly. But, in our 18 and a half years of being together, this has never been the pattern. It was an instance. We all face instances. We toughen up, deal, and learn. What is the pattern of the relationship? The pattern.
How do I know if this is the patterns of emotional abuse or we’re just going through a phase here? How do I know if this is a rough time in our lives that will pass or a pattern that shows one-way stuckness?
8- Seek Help
It is impossible to find solutions within the same box or line of thinking that originally created the problem. Einstein said that. Seek a professional who is not emotionally involved to help you. Go talk to someone who is an objective outsider who you can speak with for help. If this is a partner issue, it is best if you guys can both go. (I prefer to work with couples , on a one-on-one basis as we spend a lot less time fighting before me, and a lot more time dealing with the individual issues that are the core of the pain, which comes out in fights.) Seek help either from a group, or one-on-one.
That’s the only thing I can do? Hire a professional? Are there other less intrusive or less expensive options available to me?
9- Change the Dynamics
Our default mode is to repeat what we know, to recycle (even the unhealthy) tactics we have to deal. In our relationships, we do that too; often, in a fun game called victim-blame. The winner is who can out-blame the other and be the more-suffering victim. Fun, fun, fun. Decide not to play the blame game anymore, but, yes, to change the relationship dynamics. When you are not fighting, talk about how much you want to be there for each other (works also with kids) and support each other, not hurt each other. Talk about how you can talk to each other, even in anger, in ways that will help you both find solutions. Can we make lists, can we email or write notes (pictures for kids) to each other, can we call a third party to help us share respectfully, can we take words talking, use kinder words? Think of a new, un-recycled ways to dance the dance of anger.
It’s sounds so nice and neat here, Gabi; but my life is infinitely more messy and chaotic. I want to create new modes of interaction, new dynamics but I don’t know how. I just get sweep up in the old ways.
10- Get New Information
Again, we all fall back on what we know, even if it’s ridiculously detrimental.
Insanity is putting the exact same figures into the equation, and being surprised when we keep getting the same results. (Einstein said that too.) If you want to get different results, you must change some variable in the equation.
See a therapist (one-on-one therapy with Gabi) who can give you new information, find website authors who get you and can inspire you to change, seek books that teach you the skills you need to learn to do it differently. (The Dance of Anger is a good one for anger; my Breathe is excellent for bringing new information into your life.) Go ask a friend who is more mature, who serves as a relationship/parenting role model for you; what they do in these situations. Find inspiration, find light, find new information to guide you in creating a new way of facing these blow ups.
It is not easy. Relationships never are. They are not meant to be. We are meant to learn great and powerful things from those closest to us. Our children, parents, siblings, and partners will always be our most painful (and most powerful) teachers. They were sent to help us be clean. Take the blessing of close relations, as that: a blessing, and be open-minded and joyful to learn what you are meant to.
What does this painful part of this relationship teach you? To value yourself, to develop patience which you never had, to learn to really care and be empathic to another? To solve your childhood wounds regarding your mother, being rejected, not being valued or listened to? Where does it hurt? Where does it hurt? Where does it hurt?
Our spiritual journeys are never that neat and easy. And if they were, we’d have nothing to learn and nothing to teach, and thereby, no purpose for being alive. I have a lot to learn. I have to learn how to take my exploding, screaming, pounding, blaming son and let him get it out, and then wrap him up in love. I have to learn how to accept that I’m a good enough mom doing the best she can on any given day, and yes, when he freaks out, it pushes on buttons deep within my soul that question if I am affectionate/available/ present/caring enough to my children. Yeah, his anger pushes on what I need to learn.
Thank God he’s there to teach me. Otherwise, how would I know where to clean next? How would I know what I want to work on next in my journey?
I’m going to my first 10-day silent Vipasana in Battambang, Cambodia on September 11. (Just dawned on me what an ironic date to go clean my soul, right?) As the days get nearer, I get more nervous. With each article I write, with each issue I bring to the surface; I wonder how bad it will be to sit dwelling for ten hours a day, in sitting position, in silence, with all that will come up. Woah. I like it further away, and yet, it keeps getting closer.
Always honored to hear you thoughts. You know you are welcome to share.
Have a day of light, friends.
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