How to Turn a Tantrum into Something a Little More Productive

I love it when life gives me the opportunity to apply mental health strategies in my own world that I spend my days encouraging others to apply in theirs. Said opportunities are usually amplified in the form of Very Hard Times so that I really notice them and am left with no choice but to apply said strategies to them.

The other morning there was a mix of pain, stubbornness, need, and frustration going on. I was feeling not healthy/strong or independently wealthy enough. My back hurt a lot, and college tuition looked a lot like Mt. Everest. As a result of my personal pain and frustration, my daughter seemed never realistic enough, my business seemed never productive enough, and, taking it a little further, donald trump would forever and always be an absolutely irredeemable jerk.

It was an ever-extending tantrum of sorts, with me not feeling ok and everybody and everything else therefore appearing just as not-ok. I was working with a lot, legitimately hurting and concerned about important things. But momentary helplessness was making it all seem permanently unworkable. The feelings were not the problem -- they were logical given my history and current take on what was happening -- but my unawares projection of them outward was changing the way things looked to me such that I couldn't see or navigate life accurately.

This is dangerous, this panicked projection of personal experience onto other people/situations such that they cannot be seen clearly -- and it is the primary topic of really good therapy sessions.

Here's what I tell others during really good therapy sessions:

Listen, there's intelligence to that pain, fear, anger, or worry you're feeling. There's heart in there, too. There's something you care about here, something you value that's threatened. Don't avoid or discharge those negative feelings before you identify what's at the center of them, driving them. Let the feelings swirl there for a bit, acknowledged but unencouraged, and just hold them loosely until they fall apart some. Whatever is left of them after a little while will be wise and workable, something you can cultivate into a helpful next step.

Great. So here I am in a literal bind -- my back is so tight I can't move in most directions -- and I've got to let my feelings 'swirl' and 'fall apart'? Oh and there will be something 'workable' at the center of this physical and financial stress? I don't think so. This mindful approach, it's just plain dumb. It's not going to pay for college or unkink the back or get the daughter to understand what's gotta happen next.

Hold on a minute. This resistance is probably what clients think and feel when you say such 'dumb' things to them, and you gently push them onward, through tension or panic, toward their own good sense... And more often than not, things improve.
Ok... I actually have to relax and not project this helplessness any further, I think. Like right now while it's hard and I would rather pointlessly search for answers in my flurry of pessimistic thoughts. I cannot not personally do this -- can't not apply mindfulness strategies toward some kind of practical mental health benefit -- and still be a legit clinician who guarantees said strategies will work for clients.

Do it then, I said to myself. Like now! Calm down. There's no bear here, no gun pointed at my head. Put the phone down. Crate the dogs. Take some time. Find some space. Walk around, let go, hang on, give up... These were random helpful thoughts that came and went in the service and process of trying to relax -- not avoid or discharge, but self-regulate to the point where I could simply abide -- with exactly what was happening.

Five minutes went by... Then: bllllooouuurrrp (that's a bubbling-to-surface sound in my mind)... A new thought happened while I was looking out the kitchen window checking out a beautiful big pine tree outsdie:

Eff everybody and everything... I'm gonna grow my own kale! Right on the deck. Square foot gardening. There's no reason I can't do that. I don't need a single person's help. I really can do that. Like right now if I want to. Then I don't have to spend a dime on kale ever again. I'll even grow tomatoes and spices, too. Yeah. Eff the grocery store! Eff tuition! I'm doing this.

There's a whole bunch of analysis we could throw at where these apparently irrelevant thoughts came from in my psyche and how they actually do connect to the specifics of the overwhelming stuff I was working with this morning. But suffice it to say there was power in these statements. Possibility, purpose, and intention had arrived. The texture and vibe of the moment changed, a lot. And with that, everything outside me this morning -- all those specifics of physical pain and tuition and tension with my daughter, none of which had changed a bit -- began to look and feel different to me.

Borrowing from teachings I practice and study: The sky of possibilities had opened up.

Importantly, those thoughts about growing kale made their way to my locked up shut down heart, too. I thought of my late sister, who has, I admit, become the idealized One and Only Person Who Will Ever Really Understand Me since she died, and who occurs to me in my most difficult moments. In her lifetime, she faced everything I was looking at this morning and then some. She also very successfully did the square foot gardening thing. She said, "Yeah, Jen, you go grow your own kale..." That felt pretty sweet.

OK. Mind open... check. Heart open... check. Body open... well no, but two out of three's good enough.

Within a few minutes of this shift, believe it or not, I received three communications from people it did me a lot of good to hear from right then, and my day and immediate future opened up with new options. I'm still in pain, still don't know exactly what to do about college tuition, but -- and this is so very much the point -- it all looks different and possible when space is recognized and wisdom has some room to gather itself.

Very Hard Times really are found to be workable when feelings, which mark the human experience without exception and are basically good and fundamentally intelligent as they are, aren't flooding the entire picture and coloring it completely hopeless. When the flood recedes, there are stretches to be done, other colleges to be explored, meaningful conversations to be had. Everything can work, maybe not the way I had planned, but somehow. Everything must be workable, in fact, even the most unimaginable traumas and tragedies. I say this in many different ways at work, with a huge respectful humble inner bow to people and their suffering:

This is your life, and it's a basically beautiful one at that, which must be able to accommodate all the stress and struggle of a hard morning or decade -- the stress being inevitable and the emotional struggle with it originating from a place of goodness and warmth and want for things to work out, for ourselves and those we love...

And if we're feeling saintly, even those financial aid gods and presidents we don't like so much. No idea if I'll grow my own kale, but I'm very glad for the possibility of it that occurred in the ever-present space of a claustrophobic moment.

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