Tantrums involve feeling unsafe and uncomfortable inside our bodies.
Reaction Tantrums happen when something is out of whack with our homeostasis. If we are, at least somewhat, self-aware adults we can consciously hold the goal – say something like sleep – in our imagination and simultaneously the current situation – I have a hungry baby to feed – and can, most often, prevent the anxiety in our bodies from coming out, while we meet the most urgent goal. We can rationalise the situation. Children struggle with this. It’s not their fault; they’re only partly grown. And the smaller the child the less they can do this. You can blame biology.
Processing Tantrums happen when we don’t like something that is happening in our world or we’re presented with new information that doesn’t fit our current paradigms. For children it can be something like, I can’t climb as high as I like or I feel wobbly. It can also be, my Mum won’t let me have ice-cream for breakfast or my brother gets to do/have things that I don’t get to do/have. For all of us, our bodies feel unsafe and uncomfortable as our brains wire in new information. It’s yucky and we don’t like to go through the process. In fact, most of us avoid going through the process as much as we can. Yeah, that’s biology too.
One Processing Tantrum many of us have is about regular exercise, and by us, I really do mean me too.
At some stage we’re probably in the denial part of a Karpman’s Drama Triangle. We’re not aware that there is any problem with our lack of exercising or we are able to hold that information out of our conscious awareness. We might rationalise our denial and assume or really believe that we are immune to the consequences of not exercising or we can pick up where we left off when we were, you know, younger.
I used to bike to University every day, therefore I can still hop on my bike and ride it with ease; I used to swim 1km a day, therefore I can still hop in the pool and do that with ease; I’m naturally a fit person and so I don’t need to exercise as much as everyone else.
Then someone points out our lack of exercise isn’t doing us any favours, or we find new information that reminds us about the benefits of exercise and the cost of not exercising. We can choose to brush this information off and stay in our denial state. Or we could start thinking that the person pointing this out is persecuting us, whether that’s our doctor, a friend, a parent or some random stranger in the supermarket. If you’ve been here recently, you’ll now be familiar with this picture:
I we think/say things like… I don’t think what they’re saying is correct. I don’t want to do it that way. Why do I have to? It’s not fair. And so on: we say exactly the same things that our kids do when they meet a boundary – ever noticed that before?
We might go looking for alternative information. We will often actively seek out information that matches what we want to believe, and confirms what we are doing is just fine. Basically, we find someone to rescue us and take the responsibility for exercising (etc) away from us or give us reasons to delay it.
I talk to other people who tell me I am just fine the way I am. Or tell me I look great and healthy and I’m not unwell so why would I need to exercise etc. I might even find someone who will take me out to a café instead.
To a certain extent, all the way through the process I feel like a victim. I feel like a victim because external information/people are providing me with information about life that I would rather ignore. I am having a real life boundary set for me.
I might not think, “I am a victim” but chances are I am feeling put upon and my freedom to choose feels challenged. I feel bossed around. I feel pushed into places I would rather not go. I feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to do it. I don’t! I don’t! I don’t!
But this is the thing about Processing Tantrums: they’re uncomfortable until we get through them. And we could have a Processing Tantrum every time we’re faced with our time to exercise. If you’re a yo-yo exerciser like I am, the slightest change in my routine or the weather and I stop exercising. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable and exercising regularly isn’t wired into my brain as a permanent fixture or associated with positive outcomes.
.Of course, there are others of us who displace the uncomfortable in one area of our life with a different uncomfortable, in order to stay in the denial part of the triangle. I have mother issues, so I over-work. I have father issues, so I over-exercise. I have teacher issues, so I over-diet. I have postman issues, so I over-clean. By putting the uncomfortable somewhere else, we don’t have to deal with the real uncomfortable
Our brains don’t like to forge new routes; that makes us feel uncomfortable.
We don’t like feeling uncomfortable, fullstop. It’s not pleasant to eat less or different; it’s not pleasant to give up an addiction; we get hot and sweaty and feel discomfort during exercise; it’s tough having to stick to a budget; it’s horrible and embarrassing to realise information we were passionate about is wrong; and often life is really, really unfair.
But people who can persist and sit with their discomfort, and who can push through the daily, hourly, momentarily discomfort – they are the ones who change their lives and the lives of those around them for the better. Habits can be changed.
‘Cos here’s the rub: we might get to choose our actions but we don’t get to choose the consequences of those actions. Life does that for us – there is no escape.
This came through the crack book and it seems to fit:
It might be time for me to take up regular exercise again. Once and forever.
For more innovative and science based ideas about tantrums buy my book,