When my youngest son was a toddler and a preschooler, he could throw a temper tantrum like I had never experienced before or maybe even believed possible. He could throw them in private at home and he could also throw them in public places, equally well. I once did my whole grocery shopping with him in a fit because my options were limited. When he was in a tantrum, which could be set off by seemingly inane things, he was beside himself, working himself up into more of a tempest with each minute that passed. Yelling. Screaming. Throwing himself around. He was truly inconsolable and, believe me, we tried many different ways to soothe him. Nothing worked. Anything tried only made him worse, as well meaning friends and strangers sometimes found out. He needed to exhaust himself from whatever swirl of emotions was in him. When he was done, he was done. He was ready for apple juice and a snuggle, to let go of where he had been and to move forward – almost as if nothing had happened.
I have no idea how many temper tantrums he threw. Enough to observe a wide range of reactions and responses in myself. Learning, as difficult as it was, he needed to be left alone, to be in his own journey of discovery of how to self regulate. It was challenging to bear witness to and challenging as a mother to seem to have no strategies of success to help him feel better. So many things activated in me – disappointment, frustration, my own rage, sadness, despair, feelings of failure – as a mother and a person. Also fear when that moment became projected into the future and images of this child as a temper tantrum throwing adult made me fear he would not find his way in the world, find his way to maturity. Learning not to personalize his behaviour, not to make it about me instead of about his experience. Learning patience, to move at the pace of guidance – one of the seven whispers in Christina Baldwin’s book of the same name.
Maybe the most significant learning was in letting go. After what could sometimes be an hour or more of a temper tantrum, my son was ready to let it go. An awareness and curiosity arose in me as I pondered what seems like typical adult reactions – the desire to make it about the relationship, to see it as personal attack, to want the other person to suffer as much as we perceive that we have suffered at their hands, as a result of their behaviour. “Just because you’re done, doesn’t mean it’s over. Now you need to bear the consequences of what you just did – to me.” We want to stay grumpy even when the other person has moved beyond it. Why do we do that? He was not angry at me. He was not deliberately trying to ruin my day. He was caught up in his own experience.
Staying grumpy, staying mad, seeking retribution, sometimes seeking apology, wanting the other person to admit they are wrong, are ways of externalizing our power – giving it away to someone else. A toddler in a temper tantrum. A person we care about in their own disruption or projection. We want them to make it better. We want them to pay. And who does it serve to be that way? No one. Especially not us. Not the relationship either.
“In my life, I have told many stories that externalize or give away my power. Learning to own my own experience and my own power has been and continues to be a significant part of my journey.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (Chapter 1)
All of this has me reflecting on relationships – the ebb and flow, beauty and challenge that show up, sometimes in equal measure although sometimes it just seems that way, because of where we focus our attention. When we have an argument with someone dear to us, sometimes that argument and the energetic imprint of it takes precedence and becomes the defining energy of the relationship. If we focus on it, focus on how wronged we feel, that is what we grow. But we have a choice. We could choose to focus on the beauty, the joy, the qualities of the other person that we admire, adore and love. They are there in equal measure and often more. These could be the defining qualities of the relationship.
To know we have choice invites us into self reflection and self hosting – to discern what is our own to take care of and what needs to be taken care of in relationship, so it does not become the shadow underbelly given life by trying to repress it. This is a discernment and we may not always get it right. But what if we could be in relationship in an attitude of appreciation, love and forgiveness? How would that change the dynamic, flow and connection in relationship in contrast to when we focus on the moments of hurt, pain, disappointment?
I often need to remind myself that “all things are here by my invitation or attraction of them in one way or another. If I were not attracting these experiences, the insights that arise from them could not be in my experience. This includes people, events, situations, timing and flow.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1. This is the invitation to hosting myself, to be self reflective. If I can find clarity in this, then I can know how to show up in relationship, what I can heal within myself and what I need to bring to the relationship, not through righteousness or justification but through generosity and curiosity to understand how to deepen relationship, to create the invitational space to show up in the fullness of who we both are as human beings – in our strength and our vulnerability, to not feel the need to hide or the need to defend.
“With great intentionality, I have been shifting my focus to tell more and more of the stories of appreciation, gratitude and love. I am telling more of the stories of the way I want my life to be rather than of how I don’t want it to be.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1. And this is an ongoing, often daily practice. It would be so much easier to live a cocooned life but people are always going to show up in one way or another no matter how hard we might try to shut them out. Easier isn’t necessarily better. The opportunity for growth shows up in those moments, invited whether we think they are or not.
A beautiful example is my son. Not a toddler anymore. A young person who has been learning how to self regulate his emotional experience who no longer throws temper tantrums. Now it is a beautiful journey to witness. He is such an old soul teacher for me in this journey to openheartedness, embracing all that shows up on the path.