Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Happyness" and Anger

Recently  someone complained that my posts were too long, too professional, too "distant" and far too English! Although I can't do much about the latter, I thought I'd give this shorter more personal account to satisfy the more capitious amoungst us. 

I read a wonderful article in the New York Times called "The social animal" by David Brooks. Talking about the fact that people are "socially embedded creatures" he states:  "Neuroscientists have shown that we have permeable minds - When we watch someone doing something, we re-create their mental processes in our own brains as if we were performing that action ourselves, and it is through this process of deep imitation that we learn to empathize, and share culture." 

Well...this explains a lot of things. Like why it is that half way through the film "In pursuit of happyness" ("la ricerca dell Felicit√†" here in Italy)  I had to turn it off.  Why as a child I could never tolerate Lassie and how come I cry (literally - but with happiness) every time someone wins a gold medal in the Olympics no matter what nationality the winner happens to be. It's because I experience, I live what I see. We live what we see. And the 

pain that WIll Smith was very dexterously dealing with, was simply too close to the bone - simply too REAL for me to be able to enjoy. I didn't want to live what he was living through. SO I turned it off much to the disappointment/annoyance of Valerio (hubby). 

What implications does this have with anger? 

When I am desperately trying to get the kids dressed in the morning to go to school,  I try and squeeze them into my own personal living  rhythm and pace (which rightly so they resist). WHich at 08.45 in the morning is always too fast. Melitta immediately picks up on my need for velocity. Usually by slowing down. I usually have one response to this: 

I get cross. So what happens? Well....according to   to the neuroscientists above here mentioned, Melitta sees I am frustrated, she re-creates my mental state in her own mind and lives what I am going through. Sharp intake of breath. What is worse is that if she sees I do this every time I am under pressure she lives this experience and therefore REACTING (rather than acting) in this way under those circumstances  becomes a normal habit for her too.  Terrifying.

So what is the solution? 

Not getting cross is simply NOT  one (unless one is willing to go and hide away in a cave in the mountains - but personally I prefer Milan). Although I believe that every one has the ability to change I also believe that being cross and angry is not going to go away. The trick is not to "suffocate" this intense negative emotion but to DEAL with it.

Road map

This is my personal "road map" on what to do during the  "PLEASE get your socks ON!!!"  moments:  (ok - in theory at least) : 

I notice I get cross   (and this is the key - try to get a little time in between the anger and the reaction to the anger, and simply by noting what's going on  you are automatically allowing  yourself a little bit of mental space, in which you can choose how to "move")

I breathe slower

I lower my tone of voice

I speak more slowly

I make eye contact

Automatically this has an effect on your nervous system. Simply by slowing your breathing down your body feels more relaxed. (And then maybe Melitta - for example -  picking up on this   will feel too more relaxed too. Or at least NOT  like she wants to bang her head against a brick wall :-)  

A quick yogic tangent

In yoga, we are doing a position of balance, just before we fall our breathing becomes short and shallow. At that moment if you can remember to do the opposite - slow everything down, usually you can regain your balance as your nervous system receives the message that you are in fact quite relaxed, so there's no need to move (put rather "bluntly"). Of course the opposite is also true. If you breath shallowly your nervous system thinks it's time to MOVE. To DO something.

I like the idea of Melitta and Nina  learning the habit to,  in times of stress, simply breathe (slower) and wait.  And there's only one way she's going to do that - and that is by watching the adults around her doing the same. Gulp. Seeing it's difficult for ME I don't presume it's going to be simple for her either. But has to start. 

I here used the example of my daughter - but of course it could be anyone-  boss, your wife, husband, colleague. Whoever it is you usually get angry at  try as an experiment, to at least appear calm - so as not to "contaminate" the person you are talking to. You never know perhaps appearing to be calm will actually have the effect of making you feel calm. Stomping around huffing and puffing definitely  won't. 

To make it short:  slow down, breathe, wait, act.  It's not difficult to do, it's just difficult to remember. 

It's worth a try.

All the best.


Lucy said...

What and interesting and flexible lady you are! I am v impressed x

Lucy Woods said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tess Privett said...

How nice to get a comment from YOU! You always have a free yoga lesson awaiting you whenever you are in Milan.....

lusck.dezoot said...

I would love to come to your studio! Its beautiful. Be careful what you promise, I might just visit!