Tag: Stories

When The Going Gets Tough…

Recently I walked into my sons’ bathroom to hang a towel. While placing the towel on a rack, I stepped into a puddle. Since this pool on the floor was close to the toilet, it was safe to assume what it was. “Really?” I uttered. Then I let out a loud, “YUCK!” I cringed and quickly stepped away. At this point I was feeling a combination of disgust and anger. I belted out, “Matthew and Andrew – Come Here, NOW!”

Once my sons arrived on the scene I asked about the puddle. My youngest son informed me he accidentally peed on the floor…by mistake. I raised my voice in frustration and asked, “Andrew, why didn’t you tell me, so that I could clean this up for you?” Andrew broke eye contact and his face quickly dropped.

Trying to solve the problem at hand, I turned my sights to busily cleaning the floor as well as my foot. As I calmed down I realized I was intense with Andrew over this situation. I did not act like my relational self with my son and he was feeling some shame.

I searched for Andrew to repair. Once I found him, I apologized for the way I handled the interaction and explained that I did not reflect my heart to him, which made me sad. I explained that IF I had been acting like myself, I would have first calmed myself then spoken with him in order to protect him from my anger.

Thankfully, even though I failed to stay my relational self in the moment, this was a good opportunity to paint a picture of what it would have looked like if I had acted like myself. I helped my sons understand what I would have preferred to do and say, compared to how I actually handled myself.

In last week’s example with the pancakes, I knew that I was too upset in the moment to interact with my sons when I discovered pancakes smashed into our living room rug. In this scenario, I stayed my relational self by protecting them from my anger because I took the time to calm myself and ask God for His perspective.

Sharing stories about the times we act like ourselves provides a framework for our children to discover what it could look like for them to remain their relational selves during big emotions and difficult circumstances. Of course, the “live” version is always ideal because our “in-the-moment” example goes a long way to demonstrate (and download) this important brain skill. Stories tend to be useful because we can practice and improve our ability to highlight what is important about the scenario.

I try to draw attention to the times I act like myself so my children have an example and language for this useful skill. I say, “Mommy handled this much better than last time. I was feeling angry that you ruined the rug, but I took a deep breath to calm down then I talked with Jesus and, once I felt better, I could talk with you about the problem in a calm voice.” Also, I highlight the moments I mess up so the boys can learn what it looks like to repair. In these cases, I explain how I wish I would have handled the situation, and we go on to discuss what it would have looked like if I remained my relational self. I say, “Boys, I am sorry Mommy yelled. I was upset that you knocked over the lamp after I just reminded you not to stand on the table. I now see that I overwhelmed you, and I should have calmed myself down before talking to you. It is important for me to notice when my big feelings are overwhelming so that I can protect you from my anger.”

Regardless of whether we act like ourselves in a situation, it is a good teaching opportunity if we use the lens of acting like ourselves so that our children interpret our actions through this lens. We remind our children who they are and how it is like them to act. This step reinforces their identity and character is more important than their mistakes. I do this when I say, “Matthew, you are a kind boy. When you are mean to your brother you are not behaving like the kind person Jesus made you to be.” Also, I may tell him, “Matthew, when your friend was hurt today at church you brought the teacher over to help her. You then stayed with her to be sure she was alright. Good job acting out of the kind, protective heart Jesus gave you!” Ideally, we draw attention to the times they act like themselves as well as the times they failed to reflect the heart Jesus gave them.

Our children will learn how to act like themselves from our example as well as the examples within our families and communities. Ideally, there is a diverse skill set within our networks so children have plenty of examples to choose from. It is fairly common for people to misunderstand the acting like myself skill to mean that this refers to how I usually act, most of the time. Rather, acting like myself refers to acting in a way that reflects the person God created me to be. We rely on others to affirm, correct and see us as God sees us to gauge what this looks like under varying emotions and circumstances.

I hope you will pause and reflect on your day to notice if are moments you stayed yourself in a difficult situation – or if there was a moment you tried to but it did not go well. What does it look like for you to act like your true self? What would it look like if you live from the heart Jesus gave you while feeling anger, sadness, joy, fear, hopeless despair, disgust and shame?

When the going gets tough, we do well to stay ourselves in the midst of the distress instead of losing ourselves. You can read more on Acting Like Myself, the “A” in RARE Leadership, with the book, RARE Leadership. You can also review Skill 12 of the 19 skills in the book, Transforming Fellowship.

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My Return To Joy Story

I recently received a request to write an example story demonstrating what it looks and sounds like to return to joy from disappointment. Ideally, I would tell you this story “live” and in person where you could watch me. You would hear my words but you could see my facial expressions, gauge my posture, observe my gestures, spot the timing of my movements and share the intensity of my emotions that you see on my face and hear in my voice. Even though I’m not with you, in person, I decided to share a written version. Here it goes.

This year my family had a lot going on for Mother’s Day. It was busy. In fact, it was so busy that it did not work for us to celebrate Mother’s Day like we usually would – on the day, together as a family. We decided to reschedule my Mother’s Day celebration to another time where we could breathe easier.

After some time passed, the rescheduled Mother’s Day event was approaching. I felt excited to have quality time with my boys. (I’m smiling here!) I noticed an excited tension in my body as I began counting down to the activities that my family planned for me. It sort of felt like Christmas morning all over again! (More smiles here.)

As Chris and I were preparing for bed the night before the official rescheduled Mother’s Day celebration, I heard my husband say, “Honey, I’m not feeling well. I may be getting sick.” Uh-Oh. I noticed a slight knot form in my stomach. My breathing grew shallow. I took a deep breath and decided to take my husband’s temperature. Sure enough. He had a fever. (Sad face.) The knot grew larger in my stomach. My heart sank. My face fell. I noticed tears forming in my eyes.

While I was sad for my sick husband who was a bit miserable, I felt frustrated because I wanted him to be healthy and available. (Frustrated face here.) I felt hopeless as my anticipation of the joyful fun faded away. (Defeated-looking face here.) I felt sad because of the loss. (Downcast expression here.) You see, I was SO looking forward to the fun that was in store. Now, sadly, these plans were ruined. (Exasperated expression here.)

Unfortunately, when I feel disappointed my tendency is to lash out at the person who I perceive caused the disappointment. I may get snappy or a bit sharp in my tone. In this case, I did not want to follow my historically unhelpful pattern. I took a deep breath from my belly, then I told Jesus how sad and mad I was feeling. I asked for Immanuel’s help to calm down. I prayed for extra endurance to respond in a way that best reflected my heart. (Hopeful expression here.)

With a few more deep breaths, I started to feel the knot in my stomach dissolve. My shoulders relaxed. The tension in my face disappeared. A picture came to my mind as I thought about how miserable Chris must be feeling. Knowing my husband’s sensitive heart, and his desire to spoil me, I realized how unhappy he must feel over these circumstances. I now felt compassion towards him. (Compassionate expression here.) Whenever I feel disappointed, it is like my heart to still care about the feelings and needs of other people. At this point I checked on him, and tucked him into bed.

Now that I could breathe easier and I felt more peaceful, I could settle into bed with the assurance there would be more opportunities for special moments with my crew. I had the thought, “Maybe this celebration, when it does happen, will be even more meaningful and special for me.” This thought brought a warm smile.

In my story, I included a description how my body was feeling in the midst of my disappointed feelings. I talked about how I felt as I returned to relational “glad to be togetherness.” I shared emotion words for what I was feeling (sad, angry, hopeless) and this was a story that I was involved in. You knew my thoughts and feelings as I went along. This was a story that I did not need to be guarded in telling so I felt comfortable sharing this with you. My story was not too intense which makes it a good story that is appropriate for training. I kept the story concise to avoid getting lost in too many words. If you watched me tell the story, you would see the authentic emotion on my face and you would hear it in my voice. This is important because it conveys the emotional content to your brain’s emotional control center for maximum impact. In other words, not only do I genuinely feel the emotion when I remember it in my story, but I convey the emotion to you. When I say, “I felt frustrated, hopeless, sad and angry” I would not have a smile on my face with an upbeat tone of voice. Rather, my face would appear distressed and my voice tone would match my face and the relevant emotion.

Stories are an excellent way to train our brain to see a picture of how we might want to act in the midst of upsetting emotion. It is here where we can learn a new way of handling a situation. Many of us can handle at least one of the six negative emotions we are wired to feel. The six are sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust and hopeless despair. Most of us have certain emotions that are sticking points, where we get stuck. If we share stories about the emotions we handle well, and our friends share stories of the emotions they handle well, we can build a library of examples that will help us learn how to successfully manage all of the emotions. This news brings me hope and much excitement! (Big smile here!)

Go on, tell someone a redemptive return to joy story today and watch what happens. You can learn more about returning to joy in Living From The Heart Jesus Gave You, The Complete Guide To Living With Men, Joy Starts Here and Transforming Fellowship. Find these books here.

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Stories That Train Your Brain

The other night Matthew was feeling disappointed. While he tends to have a hard time with this melting pot of emotions that include some sadness, some hopeless despair and some loss, he has a hard time when he expects something then plans change, and he doesn’t get what he set his mind on. I don’t know about you, but this is hard for me as well!

After a difficult day that included too much physical work, my husband’s back was hurting rather severely so he decided to rest and soak in our hot tub. I informed the boys they could enjoy the hot tub with Daddy after dinner as well, but they chose to play outside for a short time first. After playing for a bit I then asked them to clean up their toys so we could have time together to enjoy the hot tub as well. Instead of cleaning up they continued playing. By the time they put away their toys, it was too late for the hot tub. It was now bedtime. Needless to say, they were not happy.

Matthew especially struggles to accept a change in plans and this time was no exception. He begged and pleaded for the hot tub. I acknowledged how frustrating it was to miss the hot tub fun he was hoping for, then I synchronized with his disappointment. I reiterated that, unfortunately, we missed the chance for today, but we could try again tomorrow. Even this assurance did not relieve his frustration and disappointment. Something more was needed.

Ever since the boys were young Chris has been telling stories to help them process the moments big feelings arise. My husband uses stories to give them a picture of what to do in the midst of their big emotions. In some cases Chris tells stories of his life but most of the time he makes up a story about one of their favorite characters and shares how this character handled a similar situation in order to help the boys process their feelings and have an example of how they could respond when they feel this way in the future. While I am not as proficient at storytelling, I do try to help the boys process their feelings by telling stories, sometimes about actual scenarios I was in a similar situation, and sometimes about a favorite character of theirs. I am careful to include how big feelings were calmed while I (or the character) stayed relational in the midst of the feelings.

At this point it was bedtime, and Matthew asked me to tell him a story about “Eli the Elephant” and how Eli handled big disappointment feelings. I knew this was an important moment and then he added, “Mommy, make sure you tell how Eli wasn’t able to get in the hot tub and how he was sad and mad!” While fictional stories can be helpful to give children a picture showing how they might act in a similar situation, the most effective stories are about real-life situations where we express how we handled ourselves in the midst of the upset.

I told Matthew a story about Eli the Elephant then I followed up with a personal story about a time I did not handle my disappointment very well. I included how I hope to better handle the situation next time. Afterwards Matthew settled in peacefully and went to sleep.

When we tell emotional picture stories (also something we call “Four-plus stories” in our THRIVE Training) these provide listeners with an example demonstrating how to act in the midst of distressing emotions. These example stories also give our brain useful training to learn how to return to joy and peace while staying in relationship. Emotional picture stories include words for the emotions we are feeling as well as how our body feels in the midst of the event. We want to include how we are involved in the story and, to be ideal for training, each story should be one we have told before so they are not too intense. When told well, these personal reflection stories give an example how we are to act in emotions and similar circumstances. The brain, when hearing and watching these stories, will respond as if we actually went through the moment. These stories are internalized and stored in our brain’s identity center that we can rely on in the future when it comes to searching for examples of how to be ourselves when big emotions strike. This interaction gives us a chance to learn a new way of handling our emotions and expressing our values during big emotions. Can you think of a story to share with your family or a friend today?

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