How to Handle Drunk Toddlers and Your Emotions in 4 Steps
I was SO agitated in front of my computer.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything… Except the pint of B&J coffee ice cream I was going to literally RUN to buy, and then consume in one setting while watching the Bachelorette.
Once I finally got in front of the TV with my snacks, about to hit play, my roommate came home and asked me that one fatal question… “How are you doing?”
It was then that it hit me.
I told him, “There is some big awful painful thing lurking under the surface for me right now. I don’t know what it is yet and I really don’t want to deal with it. I’m scared of it. So I’m distracting myself with a bunch of junk tonight. I guess I’ll feel it tomorrow…”
If you’re feeling agitated or stuck, if you’re itching for that “comfort-thing” you often go to (mine are food, TV, and romantic relationships), or if you notice you are refusing to slow down for even a second, you might have some “unfelt emotions” that you’re trying not to feel the way I did.
(Which, by the way, makes COMPLETE SENSE.)
Feeling painful emotions can suck, and admitting they are even there often means we have to eventually take some kind of action in our lives, which can suck too. No wonder it’s easier to keep them stuffed under the surface (in the short term, anyways).
In the long term, however, if we keep distracting ourselves from certain feelings and avoiding them, that energy will show up in chronic issues. It might show up in physical health issues – stress, muscle pain, serious disease - and in unhealthy relationship patterns too!
And if stuffing the emotions doesn’t get you, certainly the “comfort-things” (smoking, drinking, eating junk, staying in too much, going out too much…) can often cause problems.
The next day after my Bachelorette binge session, I noticed I felt pretty numb. I was checked out. I was having a hard time paying attention to conversations (or even caring, really). Colors were less vibrant. Everything felt a little pointless.
It seems that we can’t avoid ONE feeling without numbing out to ALL of them equally.
I think of it like a color wheel – you get all your colors at the same level of vibrancy. They are either all heading towards grey or heading towards bright. You feel all the feels, or nothing at all (and of course the spectrum in between).
I was feeling closer to gray.
That is, until the moment I decided to face what I was avoiding.
I gave myself the chance to feel it. It turned out to be an enormous sadness at knowing I needed to officially let go of my attachment to a relationship I loved, but that wasn’t serving me. I balled for a few hours. It really, really hurt…
AND, it felt amazing to be BACK.
I realized through my tears that day that I would so much rather feel the whole color wheel – bright blue sadness and bright red anger and bright yellow joy, rather than all gray.
So if you’re like me and you’d prefer to just rip the band-aid off now rather than wait for the wound to fester, if you prefer to live a vibrant life and you’re willing to dive into every color on the wheel, read on!
Ready to learn how to paint with all the colors of the wind? I mean… of your emotions? Try these 4 steps!
1. Let Your emotion be your drunk friend
We have been conditioned to villainize our harder emotions like anger, sadness, jealousy, and more. I can’t believe how many times I’ve found myself feeling bad for feeling bad!
But emotions are never “right” or “wrong”. They just are. Like all of our survival instincts, they evolved for a reason to help us. Otherwise, we would have left them behind in caveman days.
When you start feeling that nudge of an unpleasant emotion, instead of assuming it’s here to kill you, and running for dear life, think of it like your friend. Your drunk friend. The one who always gets a little too tipsy, drunk dials YOUR ex and tells them everything you wish you had the nerve to say.
As weird as things can get, you know your drunk friend has your back and you both love each other no matter what. And sometimes, they might just help you with things you wouldn’t have done on your own…
Trust your emotion to have your best interest in mind, SOMEHOW, even if it seems miles away. Just starting from a bias of trust will help to accept it as a part of life.
2. Take your emotion to Goodwill
Every emotion is energy and chemicals. Your brain (amygdala and other things) are cranking out little peptide chemicals and flooding your body with them whenever you emote. They bond with certain cells like a lock and key and eventually dissolve back into your body (non-scientific explanation).
Think of these little peptide chemicals are like a bunch of old clothes in your closet. Your closet is full yet you have nothing good to wear. You know you want to give them to a thrift store to make space for some new clothes, but until you actually put them in a box and take them out of the house, they will keep cluttering your closet. Wishing they were gone doesn’t do anything, you have to move them out.
Same goes for your emotional peptide chemicals. Even if you are avoiding an emotion, the chemicals have still cluttered your system and you still have to physically move them out.
This is why a lot of people get the urge to go run or do yoga, or some type of creative outlet when they are frustrated – there’s a physical release and chemical counter-balance (endorphins) that happens with movement.
There are so many options, but the goal here is to take this build up of energy inside and move it outward. You might hit a point during your movement where you begin feeling peaceful, giddy, numb, or exhausted. Even if the issue isn’t solved yet, the “charge” in your body has passed – the chemicals have been shipped out to Goodwill, which is great so you can actually get to the good stuff!
Some of the many things you can actually do when you notice you’re feeling yucky and need to move it out:
- Jump up and down, shake all your limbs including your head
- Vocal expression: yelling, singing, crying
- Dancing, running, playing a sport, etc.
- Writing, drawing, painting
3. Use Toddler Logic and Compassion
Sometimes being in a super emotional state can fry your whole system and keep you from thinking clearly (hayo chemicals in the brain), which is why moving those chemicals out is super important. If you’re still being overwhelmed by an emotion, stay with step 2 a little longer. It’s kind of like the part of the night when your friend is vomiting. It’s not pretty, but you know she’ll feel better afterwards. Hold her hair back a little longer and let it keep coming up.
Once your head feels a little clearer, you can really dive in! Think of your emotions like the characters from Inside Out living in there and throwing tantrums. But remember, they are drunk. Another way of saying they are drunk is saying they are like toddlers. There is almost no difference.
So if your emotions are throwing a tantrum, it’s usually because they need something. And the best way to figure out what that is, is to ask. You can literally talk to your emotions and ask. Seriously.
But have you ever argued with a toddler? It’s impossible to win. You can say something that makes perfect sense and they will crush your point with a bunch of nonsense that you simply can’t beat.
Your emotions use weirdo logic too. They can’t help it, they’re just drunk toddlers. But if you can approach your haywire emotion with empathy and compassion, and try to understand where it’s coming from in a non-judgmental way, it will often reveal that it’s only trying to help you out somehow (even if it’s toddler logic).
Something you would never say to a sad toddler is, “Why are you still here?! I hate you – shut up and go away already!” It would probably make the toddler scream louder. Saying that to your emotion will often make your emotion react even stronger too. I would avoid that approach.
I prefer this way: after I have moved, I will sit quietly somewhere and either say in my head or out loud something like, “Hey there little one, I hear you. I can tell you’re upset. What is it that you need?”
At that point, I listen quietly, kind of like meditating but allowing thoughts to flow. Sometimes words will pop into my head, maybe a memory or an image. Sometimes more emotion shows up, and I repeat step 2 as long as needed. Then I come back and keep asking. Never demanding, never judging. Just asking and waiting and listening, and then trusting whatever whisper comes through. It might be something surprising or something you already knew.
(I’m writing a post more about how to really listen to yourself soon!)
For a more specific place to start, check out these descriptions from “The Language of Emotions” by Karla McLaren. Here are 4 of the big ones that can be difficult.
- ANGER: If your boundaries are broken (through the insensitivity of others, or in any other way), anger comes forward to restore your sense of strength and separateness. The questions for anger are: “What must be protected?” “What must be restored?”
- FEAR: Fear is your intuition arising to orient you to change, novelty, or possible physical hazards. Fear focuses on the present moment and your immediate surroundings. With fear, ask the question “What action should be taken?”
- SADNESS: Sadness arises when it’s time to let go of something that isn’t working anyway. If you can truly let go, relaxation and rejuvenation will follow. Ask, “What must be released? What must be rejuvenated?”
- SHAME: Shame arises to help you moderate your behavior and make sure that you don’t hurt, embarrass, destabilize, or dehumanize yourself or others. Shame is a tricky emotion, because most of us learned about shame by being shamed. The healing practice for shame is to root out inauthentic and applied shame, and to encourage authentic, appropriate, and healthy shame (and remorse) in yourself and others. (When shame is our ally, it serves as one of our best internal moral compasses to help us return to integrity – my words.) Ask, “Who has been hurt? What must be made right?”
4. Take Action like a Badass
Whatever came through during step 3, trust it. Sometimes, the only action you can do is to let yourself feel the emotion the whole way through, and that can be painful and beautiful. Other times, (especially if this emotion is repeating) some action needs to be taken in the world to change your situation. And you can do it, because you are a badass for figuring it out and trusting it.
- Do you need to own your self worth a little more by creating stronger boundaries?
- Do you need to let yourself have what you’ve always wanted by first letting go of something comfortable?
It could be any number of things. As you get clear on what actions you need to take, notice if any resistance or hesitation comes up. Is there another emotion that starts throwing a tantrum? If so, circle back to step one. There’s probably a reason you haven’t taken that action already (a valid toddler logic reason), and maybe your second emotion can tell you more about it.
But as you calmly talk to this one and uncover what it’s afraid of, you may need to explain (in soft, kind, small words) that your life, resources, capabilities, or desires have changed and it’s okay to take this new action.
Reassure your drunken toddler friend that you’re all going to be safe taking this new action. They might throw a few more fits as you move forward, but eventually they will see that you were right.
Because ultimately, you are the amazing parent of all these little ones. They are running around inside your head and doing their very darn best to support you.
What sweet hearts.
And as you give them space and compassion, but ultimately make the final decision (so you don’t spoil them!), you will begin seeing how working with your emotions can bring you closer to the life you really want in the long term.