‘an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration, typically in a young child.’
I like getting what I want. I want you to read my mind.
What’s that? I can’t have that 24-7, 100% of the time?
Ok, cue tantrum: closed off body, cold, unresponsive, brows furrow slightly, eyes give a look that could pierce steel and make you feel like you’re the scum of the earth, and a few sarcastic and defensive comments to close the show.
Now can I have what I want?
Still no eh? Damn…well time for me to walk (scratch that, run) away.
I’ve gotten pretty good at reflecting after an emotional incident. I journal, I meditate, I talk to people I trust and respect. But during the incident, in the throes of being triggered, well I’m just beginning to learn to pause during such an episode to see what is happening, to be the observer.
The findings are fascinating. Here’s what I have noted about my behaviour:
I become a child.
I may not stomp my feet, throw things, bite people or scream but I sure feel like it sometimes.
A child’s tantrum can be accepted, they are learning to manage emotions, to communicate their needs, to understand their surroundings and to interact with others. Parents take deep breaths, and through amazing patience and love, guide the child out of the tantrum. They distract them, hug them, sometimes give in, and sometimes explain the options.
I, on the other hand, am far from a child. And yet at times I really struggle to separate myself from my emotions, to recognize my needs, and communicate them effectively.
I take no responsibility.
During a tantrum I take no accountability for my reaction. It is the other person’s fault and I believe they should do everything in their power to fix it.
I am stuck.
I find it next to impossible to snap out of it. I can feel that it’s harmful to stay in the triggered state. I certainly don’t feel good and I can see that I’m not making others around me feel good either. And yet, I remain frozen, paralyzed, unable to snap out of it, waiting desperately for someone else to come to my rescue.
So what to do?
Here are the steps I use to notice the tantrum and come out of it.
Be aware and call it out.
When you notice yourself heading into a tantrum, call it out to yourself. Mentally say “I am triggered from what just happened”. Calling it out and being specific helps the mind to see it as something separate to work with instead of being completely engaged and taken by it.
Recognize the stress response.
The body responds very quickly when it feels threatened. We skip past the rational thinking part of the brain and go straight to the protective part that tells us to freeze, flee, or fight. This evolutionary response that was designed to protect us from physical threat, reacts the same to emotional threat.
Note all the physical responses that are wired into the nervous system: the tightened muscles, the closed off stance, the increased heart rate, the rapid breath, and the desire to run.
Take a few deep breaths. Relax the muscles that feel tight. Bring the body into an open posture, roll the shoulders back, uncross the arms and keep them by your side. Take a few more breaths.
See the spinning story and the fear.
How are you at risk in this situation? How does not getting what you want threaten you?
Does the situation risk making you feel unaccepted? unworthy? unattractive? unloved?
Know that this is simply the play of the ego. Nothing external can impact your worth unless you allow it to.
It is the meaning that we attribute to the occurring event that creates the volatility. Usually, the meaning we have attributed to the situation is not true and in the event that it is true, it doesn’t come close to defining our entirety or anyone else’s.
Come to your own rescue and respond wisely.
The opportunity lies in responding from a place of worthiness, compassion, and love instead of fear. Only you can do the work to find that place inside yourself. Others can inspire you, give you tools, they can help, but you have to show up, be courageous, and do the work to connect deeper, see your stuff, and heal old wounds.
In my experience, responding wisely takes a lot of work and discipline but it is completely worth it. The alternative is that we keep reacting based on fear and insecurity, ceasing to evolve into our highest potential, the best version of ourselves, where we experience deeper connection, joy, and peace.