Finding some control when things around you are chaotic.
What’s going on with you?
When things are out of control in your loved ones’ worlds, try something different. If the words of someone you care about are disrupting you or their actions are frenzied, before you do anything: notice what’s going on with you. In you. In your body. In your field of sensory awareness. Pay attention by focusing your senses instead of listening to your racing thoughts.
You may feel like arguing with or lecturing them (fight response), running or leaving (flee response), shutting down or avoiding (freeze response), or pleasing them by making light of things or agreeing (fawning). These are all programmed sympathetic nervous system responses to keep you safe. But you have other options! Instead of fighting, fleeing, freezing up, or fawning, turn up the dial of your attention and breathe consciously into your body. Breathe in with compassion and intention, bringing energy and kindness into and around you for just a few minutes. Then exhale hugely, allowing your central nervous system to shift from protection mode into response mode. Repeat and repeat again. Don’t judge yourself. By radically accepting what is like this, you free yourself up for some relief, using one of the few tools for resetting that is under your control: your senses.
The 5–4–3–2–1 Technique:
Acknowledge what’s going on around you by using your eyes to find 5 things you can see (a pen, a lamp, a tree); then 4 things you can touch (your clothing, a table); 3 things you can hear (birds, traffic); 2 things you can smell (coffee, lotion), and one thing you can taste (tea you sipped). This tool helps to validate what is actually happening in the here and now, bringing you safely into your body, out of your head, so that you can reset the vagus nerve (there are at least 11 ways) and reboot the brain stem/limbic system — the part of your brain that wants to help you get safe. You’ll feel some relief in the here-and-now, allowing your brain to now operate from the prefrontal cortex, where you can decide best what you’ll do next. In that place, you can choose to radically accept your loved ones’ behavior even if you don’t like it, agree with it, or approve it.
They’re doing what they’re doing, choosing what they’re choosing, and all that is beyond your control. With radical acceptance of this truth, you assertively surrender. We often cling to the “myth of control” falsely believing we can help them regain control or even control them. Relaxing into your emotional discomfort or overwhelm rather than bucking up against it and your loved one, you’re receptive to the change which has already arrived. So partner with change and the unknown, shifting the energy in your interaction from frantic reactions; by setting an example for them, they may see that over time they’ll be able to become more comfortable with discomfort too.
Your choice: react to or accept your circumstances
What is the hardest thing for you to accept about a loved one today? Maybe it’s their present situation, with the risky or questionable choices they’re making as they gradually heal from chemical use?
Mine is when my own young adult children do the unexpected and veer off in a new direction that seems risky, dangerous, or off-plan. I need moments to pause and ground down into radical acceptance just to keep talking with them. To do this, I regulate my nervous system. With commitment, I breathe consciously, ground my feet beneath me, and settle into what is rather than what I was formerly just getting used to.
When you train your body to respond differently versus react in sympathetic mode, you can rest and relax into radical acceptance for the situation your loved one is in and your place in the mix.
The one thing you can control
When unexpected calamities come into my loved ones’ worlds, I’m often asked to help them. I usually get frustrated, angry, sad, or feel some challenging emotion first. But once awareness kicks in, I try to breathe into what is and say to myself: “Ok. Now, there’s this.” It’s a phrase of radical acceptance and assertive surrender.
Try it this moment, regarding a situation in your life — breathe consciously and say: “Ok. Now, there’s this.”
What do you notice?
Is there a shift in perspective?
Do you feel like you can accept this circumstance with even slightly greater ease?
I got a long text yesterday from a parent with whom I work. His adult daughter who is newly in recovery has recently added drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes again to the mix of other things she’s doing to manage her cravings for cocaine, to which she’s been severely addicted in the past. This parent lost his cool with her, raised his voice in anger, while “lecturing and giving advice” to his child, then explained why he was saying no to one of her requests. He was most upset at himself for breaking the no ACE rule he has for himself (no Advice, no Criticism, and no Explanations). When we processed what triggered his nervous system, it was his shock and inability to accept these new crutches she’s using: beer and cigarettes. After we consulted for a bit, he paused, settled into 2 minutes of conscious breathing, and self-regulated his nervous system. He was able to reframe his own situation, the one thing he can control, and said inwardly, “Ok. Now, there’s this.” He told me he found some relief quickly after feeling activated with fear and anger — relief which he’d never experienced.
Try it one more time now. See what you feel. If it helped, pre-program yourself to greet unforeseen blows in this way. It’s brave to let go of the illusion of control and take care of yourself when your loved one is derailed, and you are experiencing an excruciating moment or period. With commitment and faith in these resetting tools, you’ll gradually redefine happiness. You’ll be flowing into the moment more often, merging alongside your circumstances but slightly separate from them.
You are not your situation. You are your own unique essence, that’s your true self, and your happiness comes from inside you not from what happens to you.
Self-regulation is a key to happiness
Redefining happiness; one of the keys that opens its door is self-regulation. Practice this and see what happens. When other people say things that trigger us, a part of us may want to defend ourselves, blame them, or leave. Emotional maturity includes 1) noticing our specific tendency to react to a trigger 2) pausing and 3) self-regulating instead of immediately speaking up. How to self-regulate? There are multiple ways. But one is to breathe into the awareness that our nervous system has been activated, and requires our whole-being to compassionately bring radical acceptance to our unique experience. Self-tuning happens in the body when we allow ourselves to use conscious breathing and other modalities to accept what’s going on, and move through it by choice. Choosing to regulate rather than fighting or fleeing requires awareness, commitment, and faith that we will feel better once we relax into what is happening in our own bodies and into the situation we’re presented with. The more we practice regulating ourselves during times of disruption, the better we get at it and rewire our brains, altering our behaviors.
Notice how your days and nights change when you reset with radical acceptance, redefining your happiness with a new capacity to self-regulate. You’ll be able to meet what arrives in a way that feels powerful, greet all your feelings, honor your loved one with compassion, and make better choices.
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