But HOW to stay calm?!
It is possible to move from feeling angry / mad or other negative feelings a lot of the time to clearing out your mental space and being much more present and aware. I know because I did it! This has also enabled me to be much more calm and nonreactive with others in my life.
We all get triggered; the key is to recognize when it happens, see it clearly, and then learn to respond from a state of presence vs. reaction.
Our children are here to wake us up and help us see where we need to grow.
We are all programmed by culture and our primary caregivers; if we are not aware of the programming, we will unconsciously repeat it with our children.
The way I learned to be more present is by working through all the reasons I get triggered. I learned about myself, my mental programming, learned to re-program and be more aware of self talk and habits that weren’t serving me. Then I was able to make different decisions in my day to day life that overall made a big difference in how I felt.
An important step was for me to recognize the “voice in my head” and pay attention to what it is saying all day long and to realize this voice is NOT me.
The next, and most challenging part, was to “go within” and really pay attention to my internal mental health. To catch myself when triggered before reacting, and instead to seek to understand my feelings and allow myself to actually feel them.
I also needed to learn to set more boundaries and practice self care. If I am not taking care of myself, then it is so much harder for me to take care of others.
When another person or a life situation annoys me or makes me mad, I need to ALWAYS go within to figure out why vs. blaming others for my negative feelings.
I can only control myself, so I learned it is very important for me to take ultimate responsibility for the moment by moment energy that I am putting into this world, how I act, and what I do and say.
To truly feel healthy and well, I need to be present, aware and make choices minute by minute that I can be proud of and that reflect my true self.
Although it can be hard, this work is life changing. For me, it is the key to a fulfilled, connected, and harmonious life and essential to being the parent I want to be.
This blog post is most important to me. For years, I’ve followed Janet Landsbury on Facebook and also just chatted with other parents...and I’ve heard over and over “Yes, I understand I am supposed to stay calm and not yell, but HOW do I do that?” I will try to answer this important question in this post, in hopes that it will help others find the answer for themselves.
I’ve been told that I was a hard child. Today, I’d be called a “spirited” kid. I was on behavior charts weekly in second grade. I cried a lot and had a lot of feelings. I was an extremely picky eater. Later on as a teenager and then as a young adult, I seemed fine on the surface, but I unconsciously numbed a lot of my feelings. I was defensive and angry a lot of the time (even if it wasn’t always obvious to those around me). I hadn’t learned how to feel my feelings vs. blaming others for “making me feel bad”.
Over the past 5 - 10 years, I have learned to harness my “a lot-ness” and understand myself and have great compassion and respect for myself. I’ve learned to listen well and to pay attention. To make space for others and temper my big extroverted nature when needed. And most importantly, to feel my feelings when they come rather than discharge them on others. I’ve gone from feeling mad a lot of the time and constantly blaming and judging others to owning my stuff and assuming everyone is doing their best. To empathizing with and trying to understand where others are coming from. In the past I was often in my head and not present. I was constantly thinking about:
What others were thinking about me.
Replaying conversations in my head over and over either of things I would have said differently in the past, or...
How I would do something different or tell someone off in the future that had wronged me.
Catastrophizing (thinking about all the bad things that might happen to my loved ones or me…"life is just too good these days! It can’t last!” I’d tell myself).
It was crazy making! But the thing is, I was COMPLETELY unaware that I was doing this. I didn’t understand the thinking wasn’t me, or that I could change it. I’ve gone from all of that terrible, horrible, crazy making mental noise to a place where I can be much more present with my family. Present with my coworkers. Really listen because I find others interesting. To a place where when these old habits rear up, I can see them for what they are (ego) and not truly me. I can pray or think how grateful I am for my blessings / family, instead of spiraling in my mind to unhealthy and wasteful thinking.
And OH how much sweeter life is! How much better of a wife, mother and coworker I am. How much more productive I am. How much better I am at setting boundaries and taking care of myself. How much easier is it to communicate with others because I genuinely listen to them and care what they have to say. I am very aware of when I make a choice that I regret, and instead of wallowing in those choices or berating myself, I choose to see those incidents clearly, learn the lesson I need to take from them, and move on. My goal is not to be right, it is to stay curious and to better understand both myself and others.
Through a bit of formal therapy, and through a lot of informal therapy with excellent listeners in my husband and a few close friends. Through a lot of reading, podcast listening, and thinking about myself and why I do the things I do. Through dissecting moment by moment what happened each time I was triggered and figuring out the “why” behind the feelings. By never telling myself “I’m crazy”, but instead being endlessly patient and kind to myself as I go through these processes. Never trivializing any of my feelings, and starting to feel more and more power as I gained more control over myself and became more aware. It wasn’t easy, and it's a process I know I’ll need to continue to practice my whole life, and there are a lot of two steps forward one step back, but it has changed everything for me. I might seem the same on the outside, but internally I am completed changed.
Here are two key areas of work for me on this journey:
1) Much more self care
I know “me time” and “self care” are kind of buzz words these days...but really, when I am frazzled, overworked I can’t stay calm or enjoy my family. For me, it is so important to set boundaries, and it is hard to do this. I hate saying no. No to helping others. No to interesting projects at work. No to watching TV with my husband at night when I really should do yoga. I work hard to say no when I need to, and I try to do things for me without guilt (away from the kids!). As I noted in the “Helping & Feeling Feelings” blog post, this means for me date night with my husband, taking a bath, doing yoga, reading, going out post kid bedtime for tea or dinner with a girlfriend, a couple times a year going away for a yoga retreat, etc. If you are feeling angry a lot more than you want to, you most likely need to set more boundaries and take better care of yourself.
2) Awareness / consciousness work
0-5 years is such an important time for our children where so many patterns, feelings about oneself and defense mechanisms are established that can last an entire lifetime if we don’t get conscious. I know so many parents who are working hard to be present with their kids and to break cycles that get passed on through culture or from generation to generation. If I was serious about having a meaningful relationship with my children, I had to start with myself.
For me, this has been an evolving process over especially the last 5 years. I remember one day I was driving home from Tahoe with my husband probably 4 years ago now. We had just spent the weekend in Tahoe with our first child (probably about 18 months at the time). I was feeling so angry! And I couldn’t understand why. I had just spent a lovely weekend with my family and friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth, so why was I angry? Nothing seemed to have happened. I was dimly aware that it didn’t make sense. I knew by this point that when I was angry (especially at my husband), it was time to go inward and figure out why I was hurting, (because anger is always masking hurt through ego being engaged for me), but I was still relatively new to the process.
I spent some time in quiet reflection. Trying to pinpoint what incident(s) had upset me. Once I had thought it through and realized the triggering incident, I got up the courage to tell my husband about it. I walked him through it in minute detail and what I thought had originally set me off. In that moment, I had wanted to blame my husband, which likely would have set off our cycle and ended in a big argument. But this was one of the first times I had been able to objectively see that the feelings didn’t entirely make sense, to watch my feelings vs. acting on them, and to catch myself before I made the situation worse, (and then felt terrible about my behavior as well).
After I walked through the whole thing with my husband, I took a deep breath. I felt so cleansed! I understood myself and why I was hurting, and it came down to me feeling like I was “not good enough”, (which was a common underlying feeling for me). I had owned my stuff vs. blaming him. My husband looked at me and said, “Wow. It is great you are doing all of this work...but, isn’t it exhausting to spend so much time doing that and going into the minute details of everyday occurrences?”
Yes! Ha! The answer is yes! But soon after that it started to get easier. It was like a flywheel...once I knew how to do it, it started to pick up speed. And the thing is, the more I figured out, the more I was able to start letting things go and feeling my heart clear up like I read about in Untethered Soul. I was less reactive, more aware. I was able to start setting boundaries and ask for what I needed. I was able to listen better and pay attention to those around me more. All things I couldn’t do when I was constantly in my head thinking, trying to protect myself from being hurt, or being mad at people who had “wronged me”.
I’ve made so much more progress over the last 4 years since that day. I am happy to report that it has gotten easier and easier. I am far less reactive and much more present and joyful. :) As a person who works in public policy, I’ve also come to believe that doing this self-work is the key to many of the social ills that we face as humans.
Being a parent is hugely triggering once you get to the toddler years. You have these little beings who are entirely separate from you, yet such a huge part of your life. You have little control over them, but society tells you that you’re supposed to entirely control them. There is a lot of screaming and crying from our toddlers over what seems to adults as "not a real reason to be upset", which can make it so hard to stay calm. And there is so much judgement from others when you are a parent. It can be so taxing!
And yet, if we can figure out our own stuff, we can absolutely teach our children to listen to, feel and honor their own feelings. We can model behavior that is authentic and honest. We can show them how to make mistakes, argue, and apologize. And we can raise whole, aware children who will be able to navigate this world from a place of consciousness rather than reaction.
Below you will find the books / resources that most helped me along this journey over the past 5+ years, and the main takeaways from these works for me. Hopefully if there are items that are of particular interest to you, and you can further pursue them. I also highly recommend therapy! Especially if you don’t have people to talk through these issues objectively with.
Brene Brown: This work all started for me with Brene Brown. I found her main TED talks about 5 years ago or so. And that led me to her books...she is literally my gateway drug to total consciousness. She is a Texan and speaks clearly about how all of this stuff is “woo-woo” for her, but she is grounded in research from the field, so she got me into this stuff before I even knew I needed to be into it. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher, and she also shares personal stories from her own life. She is an inspiration, and she is a great place to start with all of this stuff. She also has lots of resources for leadership in the workplace. My biggest takeaways from Brene’s work:
She helped me figure out how to have my own style as a female leader in a male dominated world (being vulnerable as synonymous with courage - life changing!)
She helped me to realize that vulnerability is strength.
The “Rising Strong” process (also the name of one of her books), which is basically one path to looking closely at your triggers and thinking them through.
She is also the one who is personally very skeptical of but still pushing the “assume everyone is doing their best” concept which has greatly changed my life
If you aren't into reading books, you can also just watch her TED talks, or google her...she has training courses, a new podcast series, she has been on the Oprah show, etc. Lots of material!
Glennon Doyle: If you don’t already, I highly recommend you follow Glennon on instagram (but if you don’t do instagram, good on you, then I recommend you continue to not waste your life away!). Such an honest, truth teller. So thoughtful and caring. I really admire her. She is a huge activist and philanthropist. She is married to Abby Wombach (my husband says she is the famous one, but I clearly don’t agree and had never heard of her…#thesports). She is an honest, brave lady telling other women (and men! All people!) to get out there and be “Untamed” (her new book that just came out and is amazing). In Untamed, she gives a first hand account of "going within" and doing her own self work that is both highly amusing and helpful.
Glennon is for sure the reason that I had the courage to write this material and share it. I really appreciate her and the leadership role she has taken on in this world. I also am pretty sure she, Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert are really good buddies, and I just imagine they are having this amazing life hanging out together being honest and authentic and talking about feelings. How does one get in on this???
Shefali Tsabary: I have read Awakened Family 3 times in the last 5 years. I love how she says (paraphrasing) that children are brought here to bring us into consciousness, to help us work through things we need to work through. Her work is hugely influential for me. I’ve heard her speak in person (I was sobbing when I saw her - I told you, I’m spirited / a feeler! I just appreciate her work and am so grateful for what it has meant for my relationships with my children). And also on podcasts. She has the truest and most authentic, clear voice. I don’t know how else to describe it. Main takeaways from her writing are vast and so important to me:
Our children are here not to “complete us” (we are already complete), but to be on their OWN journey. We need to just help them blossom and be whoever they are meant to be (only they know this information and will follow their heart if we can stay out of the way)
We don’t own our children. They are separate from us, and they are who they are from birth.
We are programmed by our parents and culture when we are young, and unless we become aware of that programming, we will just unconsciously repeat it with our own children and pass it along (this can go on forever if we never wake up!)
There is no such thing as “good children” or “bad children”.
To move the focus away from achieving.
If our child is having “issues” - we need to look at ourselves first.
That parenting isn’t about “raising a happy child” or that it isn’t our job to make our children happy (it isn’t?!)
So much more! This book really helped me to pay more attention to our culture and the messages I receive day in and day out, and how those impact me as a human and a parent.
My favorite book: Awakened Family
She also recently wrote a book you can read WITH your kids! So awesome: Superpowered
Michael Singer: The Untethered Soul was also a critical book for me. Not a parenting book, but from this book I learned a great deal:
There is a voice inside my head! And that voice is NOT me. And most importantly, that I can re-program that voice.
The first step is to watch the voice...pay attention. What does it say? If you’ve never paid attention to it before (or you think that voice is your “true self / you”) then you’ll probably find that it says a lot of messed up stuff to you all day long that IS NOT TRUE (or at least mine did).
The idea that we spend all this time in life trying to not upset ourselves or be around people that upset us and always looking outward for happiness...rather than just facing all our inner stuff and realizing that no one and nothing can truly make us fulfilled / happy, only we can do that for ourselves. This is the thing we are all searching to know! Or at least I was. :)
The fact that when we get triggered we can “not close” our hearts and just try to stay open and breathe. The key to comfort is to accept the world as it is rather than constantly trying to change it or others or fight things the way they are.
We are made up of lots of energy. And we put off energy all the time through our thoughts and that has an impact on those around us, and their energy has an impact on us as well. I really am very susceptible to the energy of others, and if I am not aware (and I didn’t used to be), it can change my whole day / mood so easily how others around me feel and I used to get very drawn into it. So at least now I am very aware of it...and when it happens I can recognize it happening and see it in the present moment and often catch myself before reacting or getting drawn into other people’s energy (especially negative energy).
Here is the link to the book: Untethered Soul.
Eckhart Tolle: I listened to his podcast series with Oprah - they go through each chapter in the book A New Earth, which was life changing for me! These concepts helped me the most:
Accept life as it exists and then act. It is pointless to waste time and energy lamenting what is. He gives an example that always sticks with me about stepping into a big mud puddle. Do you stand there and curse the sky for the rain? Cry about your pants being dirty? Etc, etc. Or do you just step out of the mud, walk home, change your pants and clean up? The cursing and anger doesn't help you at all. I need to accept things first as they are, then act.
Nature and the healing aspect of being in nature. Being present in and appreciating nature.
The idea that most of our suffering occurs when we focus on past or future. We didn’t like something that happened in the past. We worry about or dread something in the future. But being present (especially when you have young kids who are SO present!) is really the key to a more fulfilled and healthy existence. Being in the here and now. :)
Here is the link to A New Earth
Layla Saad: This book brought me new awareness related to racism: "White Supremacy and Me”. This is a 28 day course! Part of the work I needed to do as a parent and citizen was around my privilege and moving from guilt, defensiveness, and fragility to gratitude and awareness. I need to teach my children about things I didn’t learn related to history and racism until I attended graduate school in my mid-20s (like redlining, etc.) I was taught “we are all equal”, and only recently was I made aware that although we might all be equal at a soul level, we are not all treated equally and how we are treated can greatly impact our outcomes in life. I am very grateful to Layla Saad for writing this book, and I plan to speak with my children about the contents.
Elizabeth Lesser: Elizabeth cofounded the Omega Institute which is very spiritually focused. Her first book that I read is all about how hard times make us who we are, and that we are all struggling and "bozos on the bus" just trying to get by and be loved. Her most recent book, which I just finished is called Cassandra Speaks and it is all about the importance of women sharing their stories and how the stories from our culture shape who we are and how we feel. In other words, words matter.
Janet Landsbury: Last but certainly not least, this awesome Janet Landsbury article was very helpful to me when I read it years ago. Janet’s work helped me on a practical level, so I talk about her much more in other posts than this one. But I appreciate this article and her being vulnerable and sharing from her own life, which I found very useful.
I’m sure I haven't done these amazing authors justice with this very short summary of each of their works that most spoke to me. There are many many other amazing insights their work afforded me, and I frequently re-read many of the above books, (especially if I’m feeling down for more than a few days and I need to be pulled out of a funk!) I am also sure there are lots of other similar books I just haven't found yet and will read in the future. Please feel free to send along any resources that you think I might enjoy!
Thank you for reading and good luck on your own personal work. I really do believe all of this is the key to so many ills in our society, and the “something” I was searching for for so many years.