It happened a few times last week – something uncalled for, and pretty minor, that my children said or did – and I went overboard in how I reacted. As in lecturing, criticizing, making them feel bad about themselves. And then I struggled endlessly with the guilt, and tried to numb it with bags of Doritos and Facebook.
If you’re a mother, you know how that cycle goes. And if chips and ice-cream don’t cut it, and Facebook makes you feel worse by comparing your insides with other people’s best moments, you try and justify your reaction, to yourself and to your children, making no one feel any better about themselves.
I’ve learnt – and believe me it’s a lesson that dissolves in the face of an emotional hijack, that when I’m stressed, overwhelmed, scared or uncertain, I look for every opportunity to pass blame around to deal with my own fears and unmet needs. And I know I’m not the only one.
The reality is that overwhelm, uncertainty, shame, and most fear base emotions initiate the stress response where we try and run away from our pain because that’s what we’re wired to do. And because we’ve shut off our caring system as a result – the two systems are largely mutually exclusive – we dump our pain onto others, especially onto those we have control over.
Which is why, in this ‘me’ mode of survival, it’s next to impossible to be caring, empathetic or open to the life or perspective of others.
The price we pay comes in the form of guilt and regrets. Because our justifications can fool cognition but not intuition. They can help us weasel our way out of a tough situation, but shroud us deeper under the masks we wear to hide from our own selves.
The way out is to embrace our emotions. And there’s no better way of doing so than with self-compassion by our side. Because research shows that self-compassion taps into the mammalian caregiving system, soothes and comforts us, promotes empathy and connection, and opens us up to move past ourselves and do the right thing.
If you find that there are times when the situation around you isn’t bringing out the best in you, or if you notice you’re feelings tense, upset or self-critical, here are 2 science backed steps to keep the negativity from spiralling out of control.
- First, place one or both hands on your heart, or try gently soothing your arm, or cross your arms around your waist as in giving yourself a warm hug. Even though this may sound silly, the body responds to it just as a baby responds to being held by its mother – by releasing oxytocin that makes you feel calm, soothed and comforted.
- Then say kind and understanding words to yourself – something that acknowledges that you’re facing a difficult moment, that you have you by your side, and that together you’ll make it through. It helps to know the situations that tend to trigger you and to have a self-compassion mantra for them, so you won’t be grappling for one in the difficult moment.
The best part is that in doing so, you reset your internal system to one of calm and connectedness – your resting state – that allows you to show up as your best self, to act in ways that are aligned with your values, and to find fulfillment in knowing that you’re living the life you want to live.
Try it this week and see how it goes!