I’m fortunate to be teaching a semester long graduate course on mindfulness. Having expanded my knowledge on the topic, being entrenched in continually researching it, and the incredible curiosity and inquisitiveness of my students which has led to compelling discussions has inspired me to further contemplate how my mind functions and better understand the universality of how we think, feel and behave. What I continue to be intrigued by is our relationship to our minds and how we treat ourselves and others based on our thoughts and feelings.
I thought of a mindfulness exercise based on an analogy that I have been using with myself and clients that reinforces how to be compassionate to ourselves and others in the midst of being evoked by intense discomfort. It is simply to relate to our mind as a tantruming child.
Understanding that a child’s basic human nature is good even though they are having a tantruming moment.
Self-reflect: Our thoughts are just something we have; they are not indicative of who we are. Having “mean” thoughts doesn’t make us a “mean” person. When we’re having one of those “moments”, it’s a prime opportunity to be inquisitive and seek to understand ourselves better.
You can’t take at face value what a tantruming child says during a tantrum. He or she is acting out of extreme levels of heightened emotional states such as impulsivity, anger, frustration, etc.
Self-reflect: When we’re experiencing extreme levels of emotional states such as anxiety, anger, hopelessness, etc. we can’t fully rely on what our mind is conveying to us about the way we’re thinking and feeling. The thoughts and feelings are usually very exaggerated and disparaging and are coming from a place of irrationality, inflexibility and exasperation. It’s best to wait on problem solving and making decisions when mindfulness is much more likely to get carried out.
When a child is in the midst of a tantrum, it is best not to react angrily toward them, berate them or join in on the chaos because it will result in the tantrum being prolonged and the child becoming more incensed.
Self-reflect: When we’re at a fully heightened emotional state, it’s counterproductive to dismiss, berate or shame ourselves. The lack of compassion just contributes to further negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, a deeper state of hopelessness and prolongs personal healing and the working through of our challenges.
It’s best not to react to the direct emotions of the tantruming child but rather to get to the context of their feelings that’s underlining their reaction so you can work through it with them.
Self-reflect: As human’s we all act and react based on the emotions that get evoked. Anger is a secondary feeling which is coached in a primary feeling such as disappointment, frustration or hurt. We shouldn’t take the display of anger or another emotion that we’re having at face value but rather get underneath the primary feeling that may be compelling the reaction so that we can actively and healthfully work through it.
You wouldn’t try to talk your tantruming child out of their feelings or invalidate the feelings that they have. This response would provoke them instead of making them feel supported and comforted. You would recognize the value of your child having the feelings and not just look to “kiss it away.” You would want to talk it through with them and lead them to experience the feelings but not necessarily speak and act on behalf of them.
Self-reflect: When we’re having difficult or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, leaving our comfort zone and fully experiencing whatever shows up is truly where the growth happens. Our nervous system gets used to being threatened, hurt and feeling discomfort. It knows how to better deal with it and becomes less inclined to reject, disregard and try to get rid of these thoughts and feelings which show up no matter how hard we try to push them away. There’s great value in learning how to tolerate frustration and just being with all feelings that show up, especially the difficult and uncomfortable ones. This leads to our self-empowerment, self-growth and personal development.
Showing empathy, compassion and love during a tantrum will help soothe the tantruming child. We need to carry out those actions compelling our parenting values of connectedness, even if we don’t necessarily feel those particular feelings in the moment.
Self-reflect: When we’re exasperated, what will truly lead us to openness for self-exploration, insight, learning and the changing of habits and behaviors is us acting from a place of personal self-belief, self-love and self-compassion. We need to make concerted effort to carry these actions out, irrespective if we’re fully connecting to them, because it’s truly what we need and what will be helpful for us.
Pema Chodron eloquently stated, “The more we get to know our mind, the more we foster a connection to it. We begin to soften, open up and become curious about ourselves and others.”
If only we would relate to our minds as we do to a tantruming child. We are undoubtedly just as deserving of being attended and attuned to, treated compassionately, and provided with nurturance. We have the inherent capacity to ensure that for ourselves if we make the concerted effort to be mindful.