The howl escaped my lips - part she-wolf, part woman, part mother, part I-am-losing-my-shit.
I stood in the middle of the room, in front of my boys, and let the flood of frustration explode with an emotional intensity that far outweighed any event of the day. My chest was tight, my body felt hot, and my fists and jaw were clenched.
My yell was unconscious, leaving my body well before I even realized what was happening. As soon as my consciousness was able to catch up, my eyes grew wide and my hands immediately clasped over my mouth, almost as a desperate attempt to gather the scream I just exhaled and scoop it back in.
But I couldn’t. It already happened. It was already out there. And my boys had already felt the sting of my emotional overwhelm.
As I saw their frames collapse with confusion and fear in their eyes, I too crumbled. The weight of my shame was crushing. In thirty seconds, I had become everything I had spent my whole parent life attempting not to be.
Right there, in front of me now, my sons looked a lot like I remembered feeling in my childhood home. I grew up with lots of yelling from my adults - yelling at us, yelling at each other, yelling to be heard, yelling to yell.
For a long time, I learned to stay quiet. The quiet one rarely gets noticed. The quiet one rarely gets yelled at. And that’s when my self-abandoning began. That’s the stage in my life where I lost my voice.
Breaking The Generational Cycle Of Yelling
Let's back up to before my mama meltdown. My youngest son woke up in one of those moods. Everything was a power struggle. Everything led to alligator tears. Everything felt hard. And after a day of it, I didn’t have it in me to keep it together any longer. I totally came unglued. See above.
I felt like such a wretch. Was I even worthy of these innocent, beautiful children I brought into this world? Currently, my answer was a resounding NO. (Yea, the self-critic in me is pretty intense, but that is a topic for another blog).
My boys are brilliant. They unapologetically feel what they feel. They express it with their whole body. They are everything that I was not allowed to be for so long.
I admire it and it sends my nervous system spiraling. I felt utterly out of control.
4 Ways To Break The Generational Cycle Of Yelling
That night, I did a little exercise, and I am going to share it with you here. For me to become the pivot point for my lineage, I had to consciously choose to move downward and deeper. To hold a mirror up to myself and acknowledge my wounds with hopes of preventing theirs.
1. Do A Trigger Worksheet
With my boys now sleeping, I crawled into bed. I closed my eyes and thought back to my day. Using a trigger worksheet, I broke down what had happened.
- My trigger was my son’s day-long tidal wave of emotions. They came strong and hot from AM to PM.
- I felt trapped inside my body, like a pressure cooker. I felt like I needed to release the pressure.
- I thought: I am doing the best I can and it still isn’t good enough.
- My goal for my son is to stop - just long enough for me to gather my thoughts and breathe - long enough for me to feel safe.
- I cancel my goal that my son stops feeling, being, or acting any particular way.
- I set a new goal for myself that when my son’s emotions tower over him, I will pause by counting to ten and then notice how my body feels.
2. Make It Make Sense
Okay, so there it is in plain sight. The explosive moment was dismantled. I acknowledged how I felt and labeled it in Step One. I already felt a bit better.
Next, I validated what I was feeling by telling myself a story about why it made sense.
It makes sense to feel the way I am feeling because as a child I was often denied the opportunity to express my thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. I learned early on that the adults were right, I was wrong, and so that left little space for my authenticity. I wanted to yell, be angry, feel disappointed and share those unpleasant emotions with the adults in my life, but I couldn’t because it threatened attachment. So I bottled it in. So, yea, it makes sense that I feel triggered by my child’s emotions.
3. Make It Safe To Feel
I then gave myself permission to feel what I was feeling.
I give myself permission to feel this feeling to the full extent I am feeling it.
With my hands to my heart. I breathed this in, over and over again until I felt my body accept it.
4. Appreciate The Inner Child
Often, we see our emotional wounds as things to fix. And yet, they are part of our fabric. They don’t have to run our current or future narratives, but they did get us here, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I have a deep appreciation for the parts of me that started out as helpful to my survival but are now in opposition to the changes I want to make. And so, with my hands holding my heart once again, I closed my eyes and said:
There are reasons I am the way that I am.
And none of those reasons are because there is anything wrong with me.
My struggles today were adaptations during the years my brain was wiring for survival.
Thank you child-me who protected me for so many years.
You were so smart and were looking out for me.
Thank you for your years of service and you will always have a special place within me.
Holding The Child Within And The One In Front Of Me
I went to bed that night feeling better.
In doing this exercise, I learned a bit about myself. More painful than being yelled at as a child was feeling like my parents didn’t understand me, support me, or care about my feelings, thoughts, and needs. In my attempt to make it “fair” I turned all the hurt and blame and anger and everything I wanted to say to my parents in those child moments inward - my silent attempt for control. I realized that the reason it felt so good and regulating to my nervous system to yell now as an adult was because I was never allowed to as a child.
Fast forward a few days and we had one of those tricky days again, but this time I found myself approaching with more self-awareness and compassion - for me and my son.
As I felt my body’s visceral response to what was happening, I closed my eyes and said: This is me feeling triggered. This feeling has nothing to do with my son’s big emotions and everything to do with an old narrative popping up.
I recognized the sensations as a part of me that was literally yelling to be seen.
And so, before I validated my child, I validated the child in me.
I see you are uncomfortable.
I see your tight fists and clenched jaw.
I am here. I am listening.
When I opened my eyes, I knelt down and did the same for my son.
I see things feel hard.
I see your tears.
I am here. I am listening.
In that moment, I held two children, the one within me and the one in front of me.