As much as I like to bemoan the lack of change in myself and my relationships (“Seriously, we’re *still* having this fight 5 years later?!”), I’ve seen a growing number of signs that change is happening. 

 I am still prone to feeling hopeless and worthless after acting out my anger towards my family. And, recently, I often hear a calm, gentle voice simultaneously speaking in my ear. That voice has emerged in the past 2-3 years at most. It reminds me that I’ve been in this state before and have come through each time. It tells me that, of course, I mean well, that I have some understandable fears underlying my angry reactions, and when I acted out I was simply too scared to act differently in that moment. It also tells me that this experience is shedding light on one more hidden piece of my inner puzzle. So there is a newfound element of looking for the jewel in the anger, instead of hating and objecting to my present moment experience with all of my being – which is a state in which I’ve spent a chunk of time! Now there’s a tiny voice telling me it’s OK to let go a little, it’s OK to go look at my baby photo and feel self-compassion for my scared, innocent girl. 

 In addition to post-trigger shifts, that voice has led to some shifts in the heat of the moment. Increasingly, I am able to emotionally de-escalate before I get to a highly triggered state (keyword increasingly, not unfailingly). A month ago, after parking in the garage, I gave a sharp command to my tired daughter while rushing to get her out of her carseat and off to a late bedtime. She teared up for a moment, then started telling me “Go away! I don’t ever want you to be here! I want you to be gone!”

I sensed something powerful happening in my chest. Even being the doubting skeptic that I am, I experienced my heart physically wanting to hide, to retreat and clamp my chest shut around itself. A few years ago, I was not able to identify my sensations with this kind of clarity, and much less to tolerate the discomfort for more than a couple of seconds. I usually went cold and retreated to hide and numb my feelings, or lashed out and emotionally rejected my daughter, as well as anyone who happened to be in the vicinity. Or I demanded that she take care of my emotions and reassure me – either I apologized profusely to get her to “release” me from the guilt, or told her that I’m very sad and I’ll feel hurt until she stops telling me to leave.

Those reactions all showed my daughter that her feelings and behaviors are the cause for her to be rejected, and that my love for her is conditional on her keeping me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

I was on the verge of all of those reactions, on the verge of closing off. And I stayed there – with her and, most importantly, with myself. While she raged, yelled and pushed me away with her hands, I could hear a small voice saying that this experience does not mean anything about the real “me”. I stayed there, feeling my heart asking me to hide it away, and just did my best to witness – to witness her apparently rejecting me, and to witness myself nearly closing off.

 I was SafeSeating without realizing it. I don’t use every trigger as a deliberate opportunity to SafeSeat, not by a long shot. And I sometimes look back on a trigger and realize, after the moment, that I had in fact intuitively SafeSeated it in a form that fit my needs in that situation.

 I could easily have crossed that line and closed off – I’ve done it many times! If she had said something about an unflattering comparison between me and “daddy,” I imagine I would have crossed the line. Perhaps only internally at first, pretending to be fine to my husband and daughter, because I have a judgment on my jealousy, and then wallowing in victimhood the rest of the evening. The more elements of discomfort that are piled on, the more likely that I won’t have the capacity to stay with myself. In this case I nearly allowed the guilt and shame of having snapped at her solidify all those stories in my mind: “I hurt her and now I’m being punished,” “I’m a worthless mom,” “She doesn’t love me,” “She deserves a better mom,” etc. etc. I felt the strong pull and almost toppled across the line…and I kept witnessing myself…and then she calmed down, and we went inside and had a beautiful bedtime together. 

I am not used to feeling rejected without taking on the identity of a rejectable person. And I’m not used to feeling rejected…and staying with myself long enough for the feeling to pass. It’s a rather new experience to simmer down before boiling over. And so is the sweet return to connection and self-love. Towards the end of bedtime my daughter requested hugs, and as I lay next to her and she put her tiny arms around me, I had this second novel experience – allowing myself to let that warmth in. I gently opened the young, scared part in my chest to this other polarity of peace and contentment. I have all sorts of stories which, when I believe them, prove that I don’t deserve sweetness or peace. Letting her hugs sink in without resistance was as momentous and as vulnerable as balancing on that fine line earlier in the garage, demonstrating yet again that there is always a jewel waiting to be mined in the discomfort.

Masha is a Purejoy graduate from the class of 2021. She has mostly moved on from Guess Who to cushion fights with her son and setting up all the dinosaurs in a row along the piano keys with her daughter. She is now slightly favoring improv comedy classes over stand up open mics as a participant, though it’s still a toss up for which is more fun to watch.