I’ve written a time or ten about emotional meltdowns and how, over time, I’ve recognized that what I need most when I am melting down is my own presence and the ability to trust that it won’t last forever, even though it feels like it will.
When I am doing my best for myself in the midst of big emotions, I don’t try and distract myself from them. I don’t try and numb them. I don’t tell myself it will be okay. I don’t tell myself not to cry. I don’t tell myself to get over it already.
To me, this is the very essence of mothering and nurturing and I got precious little of it when I was a child. I’m guessing you didn’t either. Which doesn’t mean our mothers didn’t love us.* What I know now is that most humans, our mothers included, aren’t comfortable with big emotions – they make big emotions mean that something has gone wrong and that it must be fixed. Or even worse, they make them mean that they have done something wrong…or that something is wrong with them (unconsciously, of course).
(*I am not including mothers with significant mental illness or personality disorders here, nor am I making a judgment about whether mothers know how to love or whether or not their actions are “loving” or not.)
So it stands to reason that we feel the same way about our own big emotions.
One of the most asked questions I get, when I write about stuff like this is, “Yeah, but HOW do I do that? How do I re-mother myself now?”
Enter the Train Analogy, which I first read about on a parenting blog of all places (of course). Katie M. McLaughlin, who has a blog called Pick Any Two, says that big, difficult emotions are like tunnels, and we are trains traveling through them. “We have to move all the way through the darkness to get to the—you knew this was coming!—calm, peaceful light at the end of the tunnel. It sounds simple, but it’s way easier said than done.”
The problem is that our friends, spouses, partners, families, parents – and really, our whole culture – are adept at intercepting us on our journeys through the emotional tunnel. We don’t like watching other people (especially children) struggle with intense emotion so we try and talk them out of it, or somehow save them from it, because we’re trying to make ourselves feel better.
And when we do that, we also intercept their resilience.
Katie goes on to write: “What we adults often do when facing our own emotional struggles is an attempt to get out of the tunnel early—banging on the sides, ignoring the cavernous echo, and wondering with confusion why we can’t see daylight yet.
Sometimes we squat in the darkness, close our eyes, and just pretend we’re not in a tunnel at all. Everything is just fine, thank you very much. Sometimes we do a whole host of other things—eat ice cream, drink wine, shop online, run marathons, binge watch Netflix, play games on our phones or scroll mindlessly through Facebook—to distract ourselves from the fact that we’re in a tunnel in the first place. But none of those things get us out of the tunnel, does it?”
It’s when we finally let ourselves cry and sob and stamp our feet and pound our fists into our pillows without judgment that we not only finally feel so much better, but are able to mobilize our best and show ourselves how resilient we actually are. We can melt down and thrive on the other side of it.
Something to consider: Emotions are nothing more and nothing less than a vibration in your body. When you intercept them, you intercept your own resilience.
Something to journal on: When it comes to you and your precious self, how can you provide yourself comfort through the big emotions? How can you show compassion and empathy for your struggle? What would feel good and right?
Something to practice: Notice when others are experiencing and/or expressing big emotions. Practice being present for them as they travel through their tunnels. Now try doing it for yourself.
Much, much love,
Are you looking for compassionate accountability in regards to re-mothering yourself and the boundaries you want to create? Support in dealing with that discomfort? Pointers on what to say and how to say it? Consider joining The Peaceful Daughter Community.