I’m on the phone with my mom the other day when she starts laughing hysterically. “Pilar, you should see this! This woman in the building next to me just threw an entire laundry basket of clothing off her apartment balcony! The wind picked the clothes up and now they’re all over the ground!” Then she said, “I don’t know what he did, but he must have been a very bad boy!!” I said, “Quick, Mom, take a picture!!” And here it is.
Have you ever had a moment when you were so upset that you lost it in public? Or when you did something you’d never ordinarily do in front of family or friends?
Even if you’re a calm, collected type of gal, I’m guessing the answer is yes. So maybe you didn’t throw your husband’s laundry over a balcony. Maybe you got into a fight with him in the middle of a restaurant. Or slammed your bedroom door while you had guests over for dinner. Or wrote a post on Facebook where you shared a little too much. And in that moment, you might even have felt well, justified.
Most of us have “aired our dirty laundry” in one way or another. But after the immediate feeling of satisfaction, are we hurting ourselves more than helping?
Ask yourself how you felt about your own behavior the next day, or the next week. Shoot, ask yourself how you felt about your behavior 10 minutes later. Even if the other person did something totally awful to you, was there a part of you that regretted your own reaction? Or paid for it later?
I fully appreciate that the woman who threw her man’s clothing over this Miami apartment balcony may have been justified in her anger. I’m willing to bet that he did something to deserve it. And I admire her chutzpah. But I also suspect that she may have created more drama for herself in the long run.
In his song Vipassana, Macklemore raps: “I don’t control life, but I can control how I react to it.”* I’m not saying that you shouldn’t let things upset you. Or that you have to keep your feelings inside for fear of losing face. You’re not a robot. You’re going to react to things. And you should. Expressing our emotions is much healthier than keeping them bottled up.
But there’s a time and a place. It doesn’t help to get your emotions out if you do it in a way that just leaves you feeling remorseful or insecure. I came up with my own variant of Macklemore’s lyric for those times in life when I know I’m going to react emotionally: “I don’t control life, but I can control where I react to it.”
Thinking about the “where” can yield a more positive response. Maybe you say the same thing but in a more controlled tone, in an email. Or you still scream at your ex, but not in front of your daughter.
Another suggestion? Take an adult time out.
It doesn’t have to be long. Some situations require just a few seconds to take a deep breath. Others may take an hour or more.
There are many ways to hit the pause button, like running, music, or meeting a friend. But we don’t always have those options available on the fly.
This exercise helps whenever I’m in one of those “I’m about to lose my crap” moments:
Remove yourself from whatever’s triggering you. Immediately. This means walking out of the room and away from whomever/whatever set you off.
Breathe deeply, long counts in of 4 and long counts out of 4. If you can manage it, add a count of 4 between the inhale and exhale. (Yes, hold your breath).
Recognize what’s happening with your thoughts, feelings and in your body - and note it without judgement. (“I’m freaking furious!!”)
Show compassion. Give yourself the response you’d give to a good friend who was sharing these feelings with you.
Do some more deep breathing. Ask yourself, are you ready to deal with this?
Think about how you’d want to handle this moment if you were looking back on it a year from now.
It’s not easy, but doing this for 5 minutes can be enough to shift you from an immediate reaction to a more in-control response.
As you navigate your divorce, chances are there’ll be plenty of situations that test your ability to respond perfectly in the heat of the moment. No one, and I do mean no one, is perfect. Just do your best. Think about the “where”. And if you can, take a time out. You’ll be glad you did.
*Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vipassana, The Vs. Redux. 2010