I am a fixer. This became clear early in our marriage. When conflict arises, I like to solve immediately. I want to talk it out, hash it over, fix it. Right. this. minute. Jude, on the other hand, is a processor. He wants to think about it first and talk later, even if it's hours later. It has always driven me a quarter-mile from Crazy, even though I know his method is much safer than mine.
Twice in the last week, one of our sons has had an incredibly powerful, emotional rage. It has involved some physical violence and immense amounts of painful verbalizing of heavy emotions. Very, very hurtful statements have been aimed at me. The arrows have hurt. (Our family has gone through a tremendous change in the last two weeks as BD has been home from school. It's not a great surprise that we have had an abundance of Big Feelings as a result.)
However (there's that blasted word again), both of these emotional rages have pushed me past my limit. Both times I have become an emotional puddle, a sobbing, heaving mess in the middle of the living room.
This Thursday I was driving to therapy which provides more than two hours alone in the car. (I had forgotten how much I love to sing along to 80s music.) I was thinking about the recent rages and my own emotional reaction. I was remembering that both times I had pushed my boy for answers in the midst of his emotional upheaval. And then I had the realization that I was looking for a quick fix in the midst of the battle. I was engaging too soon.
As the child was raging, I was pushing with questions and theories. "I think you're pretty angry right now because __________________." My pushing led to more rage and more hurtful statements and more emotion from me. I was inadvertently agitating rather than helping my child become regulated.
My life as a blogger really hasn't included much advice. Mostly I share stories and look for answers and appreciate community. But today I have some advice that I have learned the hard way.
Do not engage. I repeat: do not engage. (Or if you have to, "Disengage," as Elastigirl says in The Incredibles.)
Sometimes it will be impossible. Sometimes you will be an emotional puddle sobbing as your traumatized child watches on. Sometimes you will find yourself pushed too far on the wrong side of Crazy, and you'll be making the situation worse rather than better. Forgive yourself for those moments. They will happen.
But mostly try to be present and be whole. And don't make my mistakes. Don't look for the solution with your child in the heat of the moment.
Wait for regulation when the upper brain is engaged again. Wait for the calm that comes after the storm to explore emotions and motivations and fixes.
My therapist and I discussed this on Thursday, and she gave me permission to walk away when the battle gets too difficult. I can say, "Mom needs to take a breather, but I WILL BE BACK. I will always be back." And then I can catch my breath without falling into a million pieces in front of my children.
Then later when peace has again come (and it always does come again....thank You, Jesus...) we can explore the emotions. "I can tell you were really hurting earlier. Why don't you sit with me for a few minutes, and we can talk about why you were hurting. You might not know all of the answers, but at least you can sit with me for a bit."
I'm still going to royally mess up. Our house lately seems to be the permanent residence of Big Feelings. But we're working as a team and aiming for more regulation. And that feels like a good place to be today.