We constantly react to the world around us, moment by moment. Sometimes our reactions surprise us, and it feels like we respond before we have even had a chance to understand what’s going on. When this happens, it is often because something is triggering us subconsciously, and we instinctively try to protect a thought that is very shaming for us.
Let me give you an example: Your son is running on a slippery surface and his feet are wet.
You tell him very directly and firmly not to run, because you know he is going to hurt himself.
He runs and he falls, and he starts to cry. You immediately shout “I told you not to run! Why don’t you just listen when I tell you something?” Your mood shifts, you become very angry and irritable and you lose connection with your son. Perhaps you punish him by taking him home or withholding a treat that you had promised him. Later, you regret this shift in your mood and you can't quite understand what came over you.
Here, the trigger relates to being listened to, being respected, or obedience. Your emotional reaction (anger) comes out so quickly because your brain is thinking something along the lines of “nobody ever respects me” or “why don't people ever pay attention to what I say?"
These self-critical thoughts are arising as a result of something even deeper that you believe about yourself and that feel very shameful about. Something is really boiling under the surface and you are trying to hide it.
We all have limiting beliefs, most of which were created in our childhood. And yes, they are stimulated now by the behaviour of your son or daughter!
The reason this happens is that you are thrown into such an intimate and vulnerable relationship that is very similar to the one you were experiencing when you were little. But now you are playing a different role. Am I scaring you? I know, it is a lot to take in.
The great news is that the latest research in neuroplasticity shows that the human brain, and the way we think, is actually “plastic” and therefore changeable. When we understand our limiting beliefs, we can consciously replace them with others that serve us better.
I believe that parenting offers a unique opportunity to access those limiting beliefs, and that your burning desire to be the best parent you can be, for the sake of your children, is the perfect motivation to shift your mindset.
I get angry when I'm running late for an appointment and my kids don’t want to get dressed… I feel it in my heart, beating fast, I feel the heat in my face and a rush of warmth coming from my stomach to my chest... my hands are looking for things to do as they need to discharge energy and tension, and I start to "over function"…I accelerate myself and my actions, and my voice gets direct, intense and snappy.
Sound familiar? Gosh, it can be hard to even breathe in those moments, let alone understand that this anger is merely a manifestation of an unmet need.
Stay with me, I am going to explain to you why stating the emotion is crucial in managing stress in your life. By following three simple steps, you can make it through these uncomfortable situations without regretting your actions.
1. Recognize that you are having an emotional reaction.
An emotion always has a physical manifestation. Once you start to focus your attention on your body, it is easier to feel the emotion coming in before it erupts.
Resist the urge to think that your kids are disrespectful, and that they are trying to "push your buttons" or make you go crazy… Bring you attention within and observe what's happening inside you, physically not mentally at this point.
2. NAME your emotion!
Give a name to that emotion. It might sound silly or trivial, but it helps to take yourself out of the moment. Once you name your emotion you can be mindful and take responsibility for it.
This might sound like: “I feel anger” versus “you are making me really angry now”. I will explain the difference in a bit.. keep reading!
3. Say it OUT LOUD.
Say those words out loud. Listen to your own voice, listen to take some space from the emotion. You will notice, as you state and claim your emotion, that you instantly feel more in control and resilient. Verbalizing your emotions, in the presence of your kids, is also a great way to model a healthy process, aiding the development of emotional awareness and empathy.
Understanding emotions and how they can control us, both mentally and physically, is important. They are the expression of thoughts or beliefs.
Think about it - nobody can MAKE you angry, for example... I know you are probably thinking of many people that can "trigger" you, but if you contemplate this for a little longer you will realize that your re-actions are entirely yours. It is your responsibility to own them, understand them and choose how you respond to them.
Train yourself to embrace the countless opportunities you have, every day, to OBSERVE an emotion, NAME IT and say it OUT LOUD. Train your brain to take ownership of your emotions and allow yourself to choose between a variety of words. We have the tendency to use only a few words. Expand your vocabulary.
Through this simple practice, you can begin to bring your subconscious thoughts and beliefs to the surface. This is the first step in restructuring your limiting beliefs so that, over time, you will naturally respond differently in such situations.
This morning I killed an ant. Squashed it with my shoe and broke it in two. It was a "biting ant" and it was coming close to my daughter's bare foot, so I killed it without thinking twice. It was a split second reaction.
Seeing the ant's dead body, both pieces of it, reminded me of the fragility of life. At any moment, life can be taken away from us by forces outside of our control. In fact, it inevitably WILL be taken away from each one of us, at some moment in the future.
I'm not going to say that we should "live each day like it's our last", as if there is some sort of impending doom just around the corner. Yet I find an immense sense of liberation in knowing that one day, just like the ant, my time will come.
Did the ant achieve it's purpose in life? Yes, I believe it did. It lived while it was alive, and that's all that each of us is tasked with in life. Our purpose is simply to live, to participate in the dance of earthly existence. No more and no less.
In each moment we have the opportunity to SHOW UP and dance with all that is going on around us. To surrender to what is, in the present moment, and engage with it fully. For in the end, when our final moment comes, surrendering is the only option we have. And with that surrender, chosen or otherwise, we are liberated from all of our suffering.
I am grateful to the ant for such a valuable reminder this morning.