A few weeks go Pete and I were in the car on our way home from an afternoon in the mountains with the kids. Conversations that go badly in the car are torture, because there is no escape, nothing but uncomfortable silence holding you hostage when someone disengages from the conflict. There is also no privacy to process feelings or cry it out.
"This is exactly why I didn't want to tell you this." Pete said to me when he could see I was upset. The words, his demeanor, everything said to me
"There was only one appropriate reaction to what I just told you, and it was not the reaction you are having."
This bothered me quite a bit, so much in fact that I later expressed to Pete how it wasn't right for him to only accept one emotion from me. That no matter what his behavior, I was entitled to feel whatever feeling came to me. And a little empathy might go a long way.
A couple of days later I let each of my kids pick one of those pouches of pureed fruits and veggies for a snack. In the car I distributed them, and then we were on our way. In a matter of seconds my oldest child realized I'd given him the wrong snack. He fussed and whined about it and I found myself saying to him
"Get over it kid! I made a mistake, chill out. Let it go! Stop making a big deal out of it."
It used to be that when Pete said I was overreacting it would spiral me into self-doubt. Was I overreacting? Now when Pete says it to me I just get pissed. But I still find myself asking that question all the time. And here's where it's brought me.
Overreacting just means that the original behavior doesn't justify the magnitude of the response. Right? Well, how can anyone, myself included, possibly be the judge of what behavior justifies any given response?
First of all, actions and responses can't be put in a vacuum; they can't be made isolated events unaffected by history, circumstance or mood. For example, say I blow my top when the toddler poops in the bathtub. A frustrating action indeed, but probably not enough to merit a motherly meltdown. But suppose that was the last in a series of events that tested this mother's patience at bedtime.
The fact is, I just REACT. At some point I allow the feelings to all come out and I think my energy is better spent giving place for those feelings than fretting about whether or not the feelings were an appropriate response. They just were the response.
This sex addiction world has caused extensive self-reflection and discovery that has molded my core beliefs. And one of those beliefs is that feelings matter. I should "honor" them. If Pete, or someone doesn't like my reaction, I am happy to leave them to their own tools and coping mechanisms. But my reactions are a huge opportunity for learning about what's going on inside my kooky head. Why did this hurt so much? Where is this anger coming from?
It's absolutely possible that my reactions include some behaviors that are inappropriate. Violence, cruelty, and manipulation are never acceptable. In fact, I'm a firm believer that I can hone my response skillzzz so that my reactions don't include any of these unacceptable manifestations of my feelings.
But levels of hurt, disappointment, and anger just are what they are. I can't measure them to determine if they are too much or too little. It isn't helpful to compare them to anyone else's reactions. It is certainly not okay for someone else to tell me that my pain is too much, my grief too severe or my frustration excessive. Nor is it okay for me to dismiss any one else's feelings in response to the disappointments they face.
(Side note: I think as a mother I am allowed, after offering love, empathy, and an apology where necessary, to help my children keep their disappointments in perspective.)
I don't intend to let the demons of overreaction haunt me. I'm coping with what has been given me, I'm making the best of the cards I'm dealt. Take it or leave it,
it is what it is.