Kids, partners, aging parents, siblings…all offer a plethora of opportunities to work with BIG feelings. In my ongoing effort to become more present and less reactive, I’ve discovered a helpful reminder: Don’t Shoot the Messenger. The people bringing the message that trigger the BIG feelings are simply messengers delivering a divine morsel (the big feeling) to aid our healing path.
Recently, my teenage son offered yet another opportunity for my emotional growth. He had been through a rough spell with a broken collarbone sitting at the kitchen table under my oppressing presence* attending to missed assignments. His job was to write three paragraphs describing various emotions. One paragraph per emotion. “How many sentences in a paragraph? Two?” he mumbled as he scratched out illegible words on the paper. I started to feel heat build and swirl in my body. Without a doubt, his writing was better in second grade. “Capitalize your sentences and put a period at the end!” I said sternly (for the billionth time).
There was zero desire, interest or motivation in his attempt to write the paragraph. As he stared into space twirling his pencil, I felt the swirl in my body get wilder and stronger until suddenly it rose up into my throat and erupted and a volcano of angry words flew out of my mouth. The words were not about my ability/inability to handle the emotion I was feeling. Oh, no. They were directed at him. In my whacked out state, it seemed as if he had done it differently, I would not be feeling this way.
Stop. (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed)
Wait, wasn’t that supposed to happen before the words flew out of my mouth?
I’ve been reading, researching, practicing and teaching on the subject of mindful parenting for years and still get triggered. I know about STOP, but how do I stop when the feeling has a strength and trajectory that feels so much bigger than me?
It turns out, BIG feelings are diamonds in the rough. They are keys to the internal radar guiding our emotional growth. When a BIG feeling arises – whether it’s anger, fear, judgement or something else, it is a divine gift from the Universe asking very simply: Be with me. When we attend to and hold this feeling with awareness, we integrate aspects of ourselves that were lost, afraid or felt judged. This is the path of healing and wholeness.
It’s easy to confuse the message with the messenger especially when we sense a loss of control with our kids who tend to command and stir our strongest, deepest feelings. But if we can remember the feeling we garner in response to their action or inaction is a divine gift for us to integrate, then we are less likely to lash out.
In the heat of the moment as the internal tornado starts to surge, I connect the words to the feeling: DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER. I see the beautiful boy, sister, husband, friend sitting in front of me, and I may have a better chance to stop the eruption so my relationship will not suffer from words that I can never take back.
*Side note: This post was released with the permission of my son only after changing the verbiage: "under my tutelage" to "under my oppressing presence". I am forever grateful for how these kids make me not only a better mother, but also a better writer.