Remaining calm in the face of your child or partner’s anger or sadness is indeed a challenge.
However, if we step back to one of our biggest mistakes
which is to make it about ourselves, we can see why.
If you partner comes home in a mood and immediately begins
to snap at us, we usually meet that with our own anger and outrage at them taking it out on us. Ideally, it’s at this point, we need to be able to stay calm and respond in a way that defuses their mood and relieves the tension. I’ll admit this is not easy! The first thing that pops up in our way is our need to feel accepted and respected and when they go off without provocation on your part, it’s hard to remain calm and not get triggered into a negative response.
I sometimes think that being calm is a super hero power and one well worth cultivating, when you’re calm you:
- think clearer
- don’t say things or do things you later regret
- feel more in control of the situation
- can react and be heard in a way that brings the
other person’s emotional temperature gauge down.
Much like focusing on the positive (see previous step)… it’s harder for the angry person to remain angry if you are calm and open to listening and helping them to let go of their anger by letting it out.
We can be in a position of influence and help for them if we:
- recognise that the other person is having a problem and it is their problem not ours
- recognise that their behaviour and words are not about us
- allow them to own their own feelings without taking them on for them (by getting defensive)
- can be strong enough to separate ourselves from the other persons feelings.
It really means separating yourself from their reaction/emotions/words/actions. See yourself in a bubble so that you can’t be brought down by their depression, frightened by their fear, engulfed by their dependency, or destroyed by their anger. Recognising and feeling the strength of being a separate person can empower you and allow you to help them instead of feeling helpless yourself and responding to that with anger or fear. Instead seek first to understand what’s happening for them… what’s their need? What’s driving this behaviour? What’s the cause?
How do you do this?
The first step is to recognise when you can’t remain calm… who pushes your buttons? Ask yourself the questions below.
Who you do it with?
What you feel when you do it?
Is it with one of your children, your partner, your boss or a brother/sister?
Who set’s you off and when and how?
The second step is to mentally practice doing it how you would like to react next time… with calmness… an open mind… a curiosity as to what’s going on for the other person. Allowing them to own their own problems… knowing you don’t need to defend yourself at all until their emotions are calm and they are ready to listen.
The third step is to practice.
Choose a time you know you are likely to have reacted before and mentally practice it before hand and then practice it for real.
OK, let’s take the example of the cranky partner snapping at you when they come home. Instead of defending their accusation of what you did or didn’t do, what would happen if you acknowledged they were angry?
Partner says “Didn’t you pay this bill? We’ve got a late notice!”
You say “You sound frustrated with me” (calmly)
“Yes! I’ve got enough to do without having to worry about every little bill, besides I asked you to look after this!”
“You’re feeling overwhelmed and I’ve let you down by not paying this” (calmly stated)
“Yes… I’ve got so much going on at the moment and seeing this late notice makes me feel like we’re dropping the ball”
“You’d really like me to help keep on top of everything” (calmly stated)
“OK, I can see that you expected me to pay this bill and I can understand that it frustrates you that I didn’t pay this bill on time. I admit, I forgot to and I’ll get on and pay it after dinner. But I can see a more important issue here and that’s your stress level… if you’re feeling overwhelmed, is there something I can help you with or did you want to talk about it? Because when you come home and you are stressed it seems like the little things really get to you and you react more than you normally would. I’m concerned that if your stress levels remain so high that your reaction will be stronger next time and it may even be affecting your health.”
“Yeah, I can see what you mean. I did over react a bit then…”
In this conversation, by remaining calm, reflecting on what the partner is saying, the conversation leads us to uncovering a need for the partner which is not to feel so overwhelmed and responsible for everything. So in reality, their initial outburst was really just a symptom of this need. It wasn’t about the bill at all… the unpaid bill was a trigger to bringing this need out.
This practice of not getting defensive and reflecting on what is being said has been a god send for me and made a huge impact on my family life. We went from being a dysfunctional blended family to a cohesive unit! As a result it’s one of my helpful pointers in my family and relationship session. I encouraged clients to try this out too and they too have described big changes in the family dynamics.
One particular client was going through a breakup in her marriage and had enormous worry and guilt around her children not having a mum and dad around all the time. By dealing with her own guilt and worry, she was able to step back from her children’s emotional outbursts which were a mixture of anger at her and fear about the future. By listening to them, being calm, she was able to identify their need and listen to them and reassure them that they weren’t the problem. It took a few months of conversations and she now reports that her children are in a much better place emotionally and so is she. Considering separation is one of the biggest stresses that any family unit can experience, this little family bounced back quickly and without lasting damage.
When we step back calmly and look at someones emotional reaction and are able to meet that with attitudes of warmth, curiosity, caring, liking, interest or at least respect then we are able to respond clearly and defuse issues quickly.
‘Losing it’ just creates more ‘losing it’!
Now… onto step 5 (coming next week)
This series of blogs is born out of our 10 Steps to Peaceful Parenting. You can download (for free) the recording of this live event and listen to it on your computer or on your smart phone. More is coming over the next few weeks, including understanding how your family history affects your ability to parent!