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Feeling Bad? Have a Tantrum!

Posted Aug 25 2011 7:00am

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know the drill. You know you have to feel emotions that arise on a daily basis, because avoiding and therefore storing them in your body creates tension and pain. Obviously, no one is going to be perfect at feeling emotions. However, I, like you, have the goal to feel as pain-free and healthy as possible. This keeps me motivated to continually allow myself to have emotions, albeit imperfectly.

Every now and then, I fall back into the don’t-feel mode. I start making self-judgments like “I should be okay with this already,” or “I shouldn’t get THAT angry, for heaven’s sake…”  This usually means there is something I REALLY need to feel, and I am busy convincing myself I am fine, it’s all good, and I’ll just attend to a few more emails instead of stopping to feel.

This past month, I noticed creeping tension accumulating in my back, and I knew I needed to feel something. I did some avoiding, then some distracting, and a little bit of eating. Strangely, none of that magically eliminated my tension. Finally, I took a deep breath and dove into my own psyche. I should have known. It was stored anger.

For me, anger is the hardest emotion. I’ve worked for years to allow sadness, and now I can pretty much allow myself a good cry whenever I need it. I’ve gotten much friendlier with fear, and I can allow it to be present for the most part. Anger, on the other hand, is almost always the culprit when I say to myself, “Gosh, I just don’t KNOW what I’m feeling. Hmmm. What on EARTH could it be?”

I believe deeply in honoring emotions, the body, and the mind and how they work together. I decided I needed some help accessing what was stored in my body. I booked an appointment series with my chiropractor, who also does intense (by that I mean hideously painful) myofascial and deep tissue release. If I had any anger stored in my muscles and tissues, he would definitely help it start to flow.

After last week’s session, I drove home (blinking the tears of pain out of my eyes – the man has thumbs of steel) and got back to work. He’d done a new type of fascial release that hurt so much I thought I would pass out. He attacked muscles on the top of my head that were highly offended by the assault. Yet, it felt oddly good afterward. I sat, typing away at my desk.

Suddenly, a tsunami of anger exploded into my awareness. Wow. I did some Conscious Complaining , I felt it, I talked to a fellow coach. I thought I was doing pretty good, allowing the anger to flow. Yet, the muscle tension was still there. I was a little puzzled.

A couple of days later, I was visiting my mom, chatting with her in the kitchen. I told her about the anger explosion, and she said, “Oh, yes, I like to have tantrums when that happens.” I’ve tossed around the word tantrum before, but I had a sense something really good was about to be revealed. Sure enough, she began to demonstrate, and something indescribable came over me. It was a sense of relief, a giant easing of years of tension. It was permission to let go. She really got INTO the tantrum. She yelled. She mocked. She moved her whole body. It was spectacular, and impossible not to join in. Pretty soon I was having a tantrum, too. I was shaking all parts of my body, I was being a three-year-old, and I was letting it all out. It was kind of like a tantrum dance, though lying down and kicking our legs was still involved. (Stolen from the classic 3-year-old tantrum move.)

The tantrum came to a natural close, because we couldn’t continue long without exploding into fits of laughter. It was possibly the funniest thing, ever. I so wish you could see my mom having a tantrum. She is gifted. She is a genius. She knows how to let herself have the moment. How many times do we stop ourselves and say, “I shouldn’t really feel/think x….” when we just need a two-minute tantrum?

We like to think we’re adults now, and tantrums are a 3-year-olds prerogative. Not so. There is nothing more freeing than letting loose your inner 3-year-old. I imagine that, like us, you’ll have a hard time not laughing when you’re done with your tantrum, especially if you really let yourself get into it. (I highly recommend grabbing a friend who’s willing to explore the tantrum concept, too. It’s more fun with company.)

It might seem silly, but a tantrum done well is actually one of the most healing things you can do for yourself. First, you get to combine Conscious Complaining (at the top of your lungs, no less, or in scathing, mocking tones – soooo fun) with moving your whole body. There is something hugely powerful about that. Second, you get to shake, punch, kick, and otherwise pummel the air, releasing actual stored energy from your body. Third, you get to feel whatever you’re feeling, and it’s much easier to let it flow when you’re really getting into it physically. Fourth, you get to laugh at the end, which is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself in general.

Not five minutes after my tantrum, my back loosened up. I felt lighter. I felt happy. I felt awake. My body was alive, fluid, and strong.  I was present. I told my mom she is a genius. She said she learned it from me, when I was a three-year-old. When I had tantrums as a kid, she used to join in, because, well, why not? My mom GETS kids, in a way that no one else I know does. She knows that you’ve just got to have the tantrum, and trying to stop it is futile. She knows that a little company during a tantrum makes it that much better. Somehow, I forgot, as my adult self, this gem of wisdom. I am grateful to have recovered it.

I guess, for some reason, we always try to be so grown up. Why is that? Kids have way more fun. They are naturals at feeling and moving on, no stored tension necessary. Whatever changed you and me from a freely feeling four-year-old to a hold it in adult (yes, there are many experiences in life that, unfortunately, facilitate that process), it’s time to recapture our kid genius.

I tried to get Mom to make a tantrum video, but she was a little shy. Maybe I’ll coerce her to give Tantrum Workshops with me. Somehow, I hope to convey her genius to you, because I think you’ll benefit in a huge way. For now, the written word is the best I can do. I’ve learned from the master, but I don’t consider myself a fully trained tantrum instructor just yet.

1)     Queue up the issue you’re upset about in your mind. (If you don’t know what it is, that’s fine – you can start with the feeling instead.)

2)     Start moving. Wiggle your shoulders, shake your arms, make air punches – just do anything your body wants to do. Keep moving.

3)     Start complaining about whatever it is, or anything. (If you don’t have an actual complaint, you can just make noise, too.) Stoop to your lowest levels. Say what you really want to say but aren’t letting yourself express. Use your bitchiest voice. Then yell. Get snarky. Mock. Whine. Judge. Channel your inner toddler. (Keep moving.)

4)     Feel whatever emotion is there. Say what you feel. (Keep moving.) Let your movements express what you’re feeling in whatever way feels right. Be the drama queen. Go way over the top.  (This will facilitate step 5.)

5)     Laugh hysterically at yourself.

I really can’t recommend this enough. I employed it yesterday while having a wardrobe meltdown. (These recur at a regular monthly interval for some odd, completely inexplicable reason…) I felt completely hysterical about all of my clothes, and spent a good several hours ruminating on how awful they all look, before I remembered the Conscious Tantrum Technique. Ahhh, sweet relief. (Now seriously, aren’t you just a little intrigued by a tool that is powerful enough to release PMS mania? You’ve gotta try it.)

So, I encourage you to be a toddler when you need to feel through something. Have the moment. Let yourself go there. Let it all hang out. Stoop to your lowest levels. Then, you’ll rise up on the sweet aftermath, with laughter to carry you home – to you.

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