Today I met with a couple.
They told me about a fight they had.
It started with her feeling overwhelmed and frustrated (with LIFE, not him).
However, in frustration she then reacted with aggressive and short words aimed at HIM. Feeling defensive to the sharpness of her tongue, he combats it by telling her how she needs to not be so frustrated. She feels corrected and gets angry. Things escalate and they end the day feeling alone and hurt.
"How do I stop always feeling so frustrated?" she asks.
I realize her frustration is coming from her thoughts. The feeling comes on so fast that she lashes out re-actively. At that point, it is hard to access the rational part of her brain.
In my mind I rewind 14 years ago when I first introduced time out to my son. This worked for my kids. Why not for her?
"What if instead of acting out of frustration as though that were your only option, you believed you could hit pause by saying, I am feeling frustrated. Maybe then you could give yourself what you needed. Its like we tell our little kids, "Use your big girl words." You could even put yourself in time out if it helps. "
I laugh. And then I tell her that really is pretty good advice no matter what your age.
I also realize she is feeling shame about getting so frustrated. She was making it mean that something was wrong with her and her husband's words only reinforced that. I asked her about it and she said, "If I am always getting frustrated it must mean I am broken."
"The thought "I am broken" is keeping you stuck. As soon as you start getting frustrated you think you have failed and go all in and give up. What if the frustration meant nothing more than you were human AND you could learn to understand and manage your frustration differently?"
I explained that once she could name the feeling she could experience it as a product of something she was thinking. Only after she allowed the frustration without indulging it or judging it, she could change the thought creating the frustration to one that served her better.
Though the husband was telling his wife she needed to not get frustrated, HE was getting frustrated which let to him correcting her. I pointed out the mirror in their emotions and interactions.
As they both uncovered the thoughts causing their feelings of frustration, they were actually quite similar. She was thinking a situation should have been different than it was, and he was thinking she should be different than she is. Once again a mirror.
At the end of the session, I asked the couple to tell me what they learned by processing this last fight so that they could hit the breaks sooner the next time either of them felt frustrated.
They both agreed that calling a time out and at least saying how they felt was a way they could pause the situation and diffuse the conflict.
You will always have emotion. You will still get frustrated and angry for the same reason you will still get happy and relaxed. Congratulations! You are human and get the full spectrum of feelings.
When we learn to make repair attempts (hit the breaks), self sooth, support our partner in self soothing, just breath in our feeling for a minute, we can deescalate an emotional situation. Allowing the feeling in this way we are more likely to overall reduce the duration and intensity of the emotion. By allowing it, we disarm it.
And it all starts by hitting pause and using words to name the feeling.
If a strategy is excellent for toddler, it probably is great for us too.
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Where we are in life proves what we are thinking. When we change our perspective, we can change our lives and our relationships.
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