The Original "Big Guns", Or, starting a brand new life one post-it at a time.
Who knew saving myself from a toxic situation would come in the form of a post-it note.
Often in family law divorce or separation situations people suffer paralysis by analysis. They want to do the right thing, as though there is one right answer. They get stuck. Meanwhile, their conflicted situation may be draining their energy and compromising their abilities, the same ones they need to move forward. There are ways of getting unstuck. Here is one. It's a little example, not a big one, but it's all there in principle. I have used the same principles – doing small things differently, to get myself unstuck in overwhelmingly big situations too.
Some time ago I realized I was a yeller. It went everything I knew from my background as a teacher and as a parent, but I knew it was true. I yelled at my kids. Reese Witherspoon has been quoted as saying “If you are not yelling at your kids, you are not spending enough time with them.”
If Ms. Witherspoon said this and if what she means is that, loveable as they are, children are dextrous button pushers and parenting often feels as impossible as herding cats, but we persist, then I agree with her. I spend enough time with my kids that sometimes the triggers are too much to bear, and I lose my cool. It still is not ok to yell at them. Where does that leave me? I can't abandon them, even when they are pushing my buttons, especially when they are pushing my buttons, but I have to get my cool back before plunging in. Besides, yelling does not work, and conflict resolution simply doesn't work when one is triggered.
That was when I came up with the mind-bogglingly avant guard approach of Differently (TM pending -JK as my youngest says – Just Kidding).
Differently looks like this:
Do something, ANYTHING, differently.
It began like this. Having had enough of their frustrating behaviour and more than enough of my own outbutsts, I broke out the big guns – the 4X4 inch post-its.
Blue ones. That's what I had. And a blue felt marker purloined from the kids' art drawer.
I wrote the word Differently on several post-its and posted them in prominent locations around our home: on the front and side of the refrigerator, on the door to the microwave, on the window in the back door, on the range hood over the stove, on my night stand, on the inside of the front door, and on the bathroom mirror where the last post-it still remains over 2 years later. I placed them at eye level where I couldn't miss them even with the narrowed vision of someone in fight or flight mode. I told my family about my notes so my family would not move them and might not think my cheese was sliding off my cracker, not entirely anyhow. Then I followed my own instructions and did things differently.
Whenever I felt myself getting triggered, which happened a lot more in the beginning, I responded differently. Responding differently looked like this:
Do something, anything, differently:
Walk around the house (inside or out)
Sit on the floor with one's back to the kitchen counter and just breathe
Chew gum and concentrate on the gum chewing. Mmmm delicious chewy, chewy gum!
Phone a friend
Sit on a lawn chair outside
Put on some lotion
Read a chapter in a novel – yes a whole chapter
Do some pushups or crunches
Have a shower
What all these activities have in common is that I have total control over them. Also, many are active or self-care. Why not do squeeze in something beneficial to one's self at this time? People who practice self-care can take better care of their families for longer.
I could reconvene with the problem later, or not. Often, once out of my triggered state, I would realize the challenge had either taken care of itself or was NOT something that even required my input. If it did, I was then in a better headspace from which to deal with it effectively.
This has worked wonderfully for my children and I. I know this for one reason only - my sons tell me I do not yell at them any more and that this is better.
Applying this principle of DIFFERENTLY to your own family issues, when you are triggered by something in your relationship or by your ex spouse, try responding differently from your usual reaction. Do anything differently, non-violently. Even sitting in your car chewing a piece of gum, or belting out a few tunes on the radio, or, better yet meditating (find central-nervous-system calming exercises here), can give you the breathing space you need to cool down, let your brain's reactive limbic system let go of the reigns and get your brain's higher level thinking part back on-line. You may find you do not even need to respond to what triggered you or that you can now respond in a calculated way that will better serve your needs or the needs of your children.
What might you do differently in a family law situation?
1. Don't agree right now.
2. Lay on the floor with your legs up the wall (unless you have blood pressure issues), then just lay on the floor until you feel differently.
3. Channel your energy into a step forward contact a lawyer or mediator.
4. Contact a positive support person (not a "yes man" or negative cheerleader).
5. Go for a walk.
7. Watch a movie you've been wanting to see.
8. Have a shower.
9. Feed yourself something nutritious.
10. If you are a yogi without blood pressure issues, do some inverted poses (forward fold, downward-facing dog, shoulder stand). These calm your central nervous system physiologically.
Choose anything that is different from what you would usually do, non-violent and not prejudicial to your situation - something over which you have total control. Change things up in any small way.
Don't like where you are? Do something, anything, DIFFERENTLY.