Dr. Edith Eger has blown my mind. She is an Auschwitz survivor, author and an incredibly inspiring human. I am listening to her episode on the Feel Better, Live More podcast for a second time as one time was just not enough. I also just ordered her two books, The Choice and The Gift and can’t wait for them to arrive.
She offers so many ideas that I need to take time to sit with and reflect upon. Some of them include the following:
- “Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do.”
- “You cannot change the external circumstances.”
- “When you have the victim’s mentality, you are always going to find a victimizer.”
- “Anything we practice, we get better at.”
- “I don’t forget it or overcome it. I come to terms with it.”
- “The prison is in our minds and the key is in our pocket.”
- “I train parents to be good parents to themselves so they can be good parents to their kids.”
- “The more you suffer, the stronger you become.”
- “There’s no hierarchy in trauma.”
- “Change is synonymous with growth.”
- “Children don’t do what we say, they do what they see.”
It just hit me that I have been playing the victim card in regards to my kids. They act in ways that are absolute triggers for me — think messes, loud noises and unpredictability. As a result, I am triggered and enter fight or flight — generally, fight. However, it just occurred to me that this approach places me as the victim, essentially blaming my kids for my own behavior. Well of course I am going to yell, you just threw your sister’s milk across the kitchen!
Energy has been high
Energy has been high in our house. The break from school, increased screen time, insufficient outside time, typical 3 and 4 year old behaviors – what have you. The high pitched squeals followed by chasing, followed by crying. Most of the time, Keener and Grace get along quite well. Some of the time, hell breaks loose.
Keener, particularly, has been out of control during the evening hours and it has absolutely been a trigger for me. I know he needs me to be calm, yet, I find myself matching his escalated energy, almost as if I am competing with him for a prize.
He is spiraling – shoving Grace, screaming, high as a kite and appearing to love every second of it. I’ve tried yelling. I’ve tried getting really serious. I’ve even tried grabbing him – more forcefully than I care to admit. The other day, I tried something different.
I don’t always have the luxury of being able to separate Keener and Grace however, when there are extra hands available, separating them has proven to be a valuable first step. The energy they create together is just too much to bear.
Keener was throwing Grace’s stuffed animals, spinning in circles and screaming. He had already rammed into her and things were going from bad to worse. In previous days, this is where I would have tried my above tactics. Every time I yelled, he literally laughed in my face. Every time I forcefully grabbed him and told him to stay, he would move (and laugh). His turn, my turn, his turn, my turn. We were one upping each other in escalation. It was as if my goal, as the adult, was to see just how far both of us were willing to go.
With time, space, thoughtful reflection, and Dr. Eger, I can see why this approach has been completely unsuccessful. When he is flying high, matching his energy – or even trying to surpass it with anger, fear, or punishment doesn’t give the calming, steady, peaceful energy he needs. And it certainly doesn’t do me any favors either. When I get to that dark lonely place, I feel terrible. It’s A.) not working to help him calm his body and B.) I feel worse treating him so terribly given I love him with my whole being.
It’s so easy to fixate on his outward behavior — the throwing, shoving, name calling, personal attacks — and let those trigger me. How could I not lose it when he tells me he is going to poop on my face right after throwing a car across the room? But it’s just that. The ONLY thing I can control is myself. I cannot control my kids. (I cannot control my kids. I cannot control my kids. Think I need this as a constant reminder?)
Dr. Eger said, “It’s not what happens, it’s what you do with it.” This line has empowered me as it can be applied to anything. Whether it’s a high energy 4 year old, grieving the loss of my dad, the pandemic, or not having my amazon subscription arrive on time, I have the power to choose what to do. All of these can be challenging and she’s telling me I have the power to decide what to do with it. This is both the best news ever and also absolutely terrifying.
The Blame Game
I think many times, it’s much easier to blame the external circumstances than take ownership for our actions. It’s not my fault I lost my shit – did you see him hit his sister? They kept me on hold for over an hour! Traffic was terrible! While all 100% triggering, none are “responsible” for making us act, say, or do anything.
Dr. Chatterjee noted on this episode, “If I’m being triggered, what is this bringing up in me?” Eeek. Facing the music is hard. Blaming someone or something else is far easier. However, the more time I spend looking within, the more I fully understand why Dr. Eger says, “The more I suffer, the stronger I become.”
I also better understand why she says, “Change is synonymous with growth.” What I have been doing isn’t working. No change, no growth. Get triggered, react. Get triggered, react. And I wonder why this isn’t working?
Change is synonymous with growth
The last few days, I have changed my approach. Instead of competing with Keener for who can get the most out of control, I am being his teammate. I’m sitting down. I’m hugging him through his out of control moments. And I’m letting him know his big emotions don’t scare me. When I am calm, they really don’t. When I’m just as fried up as he is, his big emotions absolutely terrify me. When I am able to stay calm and level headed, I can remind myself that him not listening is not a threat to me. I am not a victim letting my behavior be tied to his behavior.
I’m working on my tone and my body language. To change the forceful and ineffective ‘I SAID STOP!” to a calmer “I can’t let you be unsafe with your body.” I’m getting at his level or even below him so that my presence alone sends the first signals of peace, not threats.
I am constantly reminding myself that when I am hinging my behavior to that of a 3 and 4 year old, I am not free.
I’m looking beyond the behavior and trying to chase the why. By focusing on the fact that behavior is communication, I am attempting to look beyond the thrown shoe to see what might be trying to really come out. The thrown shoe is absolutely triggering, but there is no way I can support what is truly going on if I let the shoe drive my mental state.
I repeat my mantras — I am safe. I am safe. Breath in, breath out, peace is near. I remain mindful of the stories I am telling myself. And I remind myself that I can’t possibly think clearly when I am jazzed. If my brain thinks I need to fight or flight, my words and actions will not serve myself or my kids. If I can keep my brain and autonomic nervous system in check, I will be able to be the support my kids need me to be.
This hasn’t been easy and I am not very good at responding calmly when triggered. However, as Dr. Eger says, “Anything we practice, we get better at.” I already know I am good at yelling so I certainly don’t need any more practice doing that.