Emotional meltdown

February 08, 2012

It was a peaceful, beautiful winter afternoon. I lay in bed, reveling in the quiet of the moment and the joy of little blessings. My too good to be true moment proved indeed too good to be true. 

My little reverie was brought to an abrupt end with a blood curdling screech that vaguely resembled a human cry and the unmistakable howling that followed. Moments later my youngest barged into the room, slamming my peace and threw herself onto my bed with a barrage of wails and complaints amidst deafening hysteria. Some usual little sibling squabble had angered her no end and she was beyond herself with fury.

I got the shivers as I always did at this patent performance and without stopping to look or think, clenched my teeth and glaring at her, snarled “Stop being so angry and crying like a baby!” I then pursed my lips and looked away, knowing I had to be the wiser of the two and keep my restraint. But my mind was flooding with images and examples of her unacceptable behaviour to date and I worked hard at maintaining my self-control and sanity.

She refused to give up and continued to howl. She was obviously overcome by emotion, and was expressing it painfully and forcefully, bringing the whole house down. As I struggled to distance myself from it, a thought slowly crept up my mind. Should I, as the parent, not be teaching her the adequate and honourable way to react to her emotion rather than trying to get her to suppress it altogether, like I was painfully suppressing my own? Why do we learn, as we grow older, that we should hide, squelch and camouflage certain emotions in social situations? That we should lie about our true feelings so that we grow up to successfully reach an uncanny level of pretence in most relationships? Every culture has a different set of unspoken rules about emotions, but all of them require that specific emotions be manipulated or ignored. And that was what I was trying to get her to do.

And yet, I celebrated her vibrant laughter, her uncontrollable giggles, her infectious smiles. I loved her emotional expressions of joy and contentment. Was I expecting her to feel certain emotions and not feel others? Was I trying to disconnect her from her own self and in the process from others too? Would that not make her emotionally insensitive and less empathetic towards herself and those around her? Rationality may be what makes people smart, but is it not our emotions and our empathy that make us a compassionate human being?

She is still young. She knows how to feel her emotions. It would be cruel of me to take away from her a essential quality she inherited at birth. As we grow older, we learn the societal norms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions. Good ones are to be expressed while bad ones need to be vilified and repressed. We forget that all emotions carry truly important messages that are an irreplaceable aspect of our intelligence and our capacity to understand the world. By shoving them under the carpet, we fail to learn the message they bring us and become even less capable of dealing with then when they arise.

No, I need to teach her the proper way of expression. Many of our emotions are difficult to manage. If we succumb to them, we become their little puppet. But if we suffocate the life out of them, we never learn to understand them. We have to work with them so we can access our inner guidance that helps us think and function properly. And while I am at it, perhaps I need to learn to once again feel some of the emotions I have long suppressed so I too can express them honourably.

I turn around and look at my child still in the thralls of anger, still yelling and howling, still flaunting her emotions and deafening the world. No longer pursing my lips and suppressing my emotions, I suddenly see next to me not a spoilt brat and an overgrown baby, but a hurting child in need of a hug and a little guidance. My eyes well up and I hug her tight. Her wails turn into sobs and finally she calms down. The guidance I leave for another time. Her emotional circuitry has run its course and she is ready to move on. Her swollen eyes sparkle once again and she scrams off to her brother to continue the pre-squabble game!

It takes a mere 90 seconds for the physiological response to our emotional trigger to come and go. Then on, it’s simply our inappropriate responses to our emotions that rerun the circuits consciously or unconsciously in our minds until we drive ourselves insane. Brains are unbelievable!