Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why my judgement-oriented self sometimes needs a chill pill.

For those of you familiar with the Myers-briggs personality theory, I'm an INFJ (we make up a fairly small portion of the population). I have a deep and lively inner world, a decent sense of what's going on around me emotionally, and a tenancy to be intensely idealistic. I don't take things a step at a time and see where they go; rather, I have an a really colorful end-vision of how something should preferably turn out, and drive toward it.

Generally, this serves me really well! I loathe cruelty and violence, so, generally, kindness trumps severity of response and I'm able to appear flexible (at least on the surface! ;oP) Boundaries keep me from flying off the handle too often when someone else has done something truly horrific, and, generally speaking, I can understand why they're behaving the way they are. It helps that I don't usually expect myself to spend massive amounts of time with anyone, and, therefore, I never get especially (visibly) agitated with most people.

The bump in the road comes when an inflexible value conflicts with the sanctity of my private, daily life. Generally, these two things only ever intersect within my own home and family.

My family should absolutely get the best part of my behavior, rather than the worst, since what I say and do really does effect them permanently and profoundly. (One of my few absolutely inflexible values is that children should be treated with patience and kindness. Even if everything else in my life has to meet the chopping block in order to do so, children must be treated with love and dignity and consideration.)
However, I often find myself irrationally, ridiculously angry my children for doing things that really are just appropriately childish.

For instance: My oldest daughter uses a harsh tone instead of a kind one. My 4yo dawdles on the way to the car when I know we're on a schedule. My 2yo wriggles and lunges and screams her way through a grocery shopping trip. And, the anger mounts.
I find myself growling loudly in the car, "Mama is about to be not-nice-mama,
I'm going to absolutely YELL unkind things at you all soon;
In my head, I'm calling them all sorts of colorful names. My entire body is vibrating from massive amounts of adrenalin and tension and fight or flight. My heart is literally thudding through my chest.

WHY do I get to this point? Logically, I know that they're behaving out of innocent immaturity. Ideally, I understand that I need to be the adult in the situation. Realistically, I'm able to give myself grace and know that I'm also human, but my level of anger reaction gives me pause and makes me consider what's triggering such a physical reaction for myself.

Thinking back over the day, it's obvious that I've had a lot of unarticulated expectations, some consciously self-imposed and some culturally ingrained. I hate being talked to with harsh tone; no one SHOULD ever speak to me that way. I worry that the neighbors will see my very capable 6yo in the front yard without me and make a stink about, so I fuss at my 4yo for keeping me from making it obvious that my 6yo is attended (even though she doesn't need it). I notice the annoyed/judgmental glances of fellow shoppers at the grocery store that doesn't generally have many children in it as my 2yo yowls obliviously because she's getting hungry. I feel embarrassed and insulted.

These are all my own feelings, my own expectations of the life I'd ideally like to live, or at least the way I'd likely live it that day if I didn't have children. The glaring truth is: I *do* have children. And children, by their very definition, are little tender, fledgling people without the experience or mental development to follow ALL my self-imposed rules for living (some of the rules good, some of them unfortunate coping mechanisms).

Keeping frustration at a productive level is important even for those who don't have children, because constant tension in the body can be physically damaging! The ability to disconnect from the moment a bit, and judiciously chose which issues are worth that intense emotional attention, can be literally life-saving.

For parents, it's all the more important to not live in the turmoil of anger triggered by violated "values". Children tend to react to the emotional state of their parents, and often feel the effects of those emotions in their own bodies. Keeping the entire home in uproar because we lack the discipline to stop and employ a realistic filter is, quite literally, tearing down our own family with our bare hands (preaching to myself). I can keep my kids from coughing and choking emotionally on my secondhand rage. ;oP

It becomes obvious that I have to learn to adjust my personal expectations, so that my that one of my values is "wronged" by one of my children doesn't produce an anger reaction inside my own body. I can't reject my own idealism any more than I can reject my own nose from my face; it's a valuable part of who I am. What I can do, though, it bring my unspoken expectations up to the surface level, run them through the filter of what's actually important and healthy, and what's not.

Making these "values" conscious allows me to think about them rather than merely intuit them. Exhausting sometimes, yes. But, in the long run, it allows for more relaxation, peace and freedom, because I've pre-decided what I'm going to allow myself to get worked up over and what I'm going to let slide. My strong logical tertiary can hop in and say, "The emotional effect your reaction has on your children is far more important than anyone else's mores, including your own. Let's make a plan to anticipate your reaction ahead of time, and troubleshoot." (I kind of make my judging function my bitch, a little. ;oP )

I can let my low-level irritation (anger in it's productive stage!) let me know that there's a need I should be paying attention to.

Really, in my own life, bringing the reasons for my anger to my awareness is key. A lot of the reasons I feel the urge to blow up are due to my own expectations, which are built on my own issues. My expectations are what I need to take responsibility for course-correcting, and when I set aside purposeful time to talk about it or self-reflect, usual become apparent really quickly.

Once those unrealistic expectations bubble to the surface, I ask myself: Why is having this met SO important to me? What need is it meeting? If I can identify the need, I can often get it met in a healthier way, outside of that intense moment, so that when the trigger for a huge, angry justice reaction to my children arises, it's much more easily manageable.

A few of my own needs include:

  • the need for sanctity/alone time of uninterrupted thought to process the week's events
  • regular food/blood sugar stability
  • quiet (oh, mylanta, that's a big one that is tough to meet)
  • Sleep
  • physical space (another toughie with small children)
  • limited social interaction so I can concentrate on what I'm doing (why having attention brought to us in the grocery is so hard!)
  • creativity/self expression
  • meaningful adult conversation
  • order (especially in my visual field)
  • Advance notice for changed plans (the explosive poo diaper or the preschooler who decides on an impromptu "art" session with the toothpaste might be triggers for this one! Another big one is a child who suddenly makes a "jump" from one phase to another, leaving me scrambling for a new plan for how to best teach them.)
Obviously every person's needs will be unique, and children sometimes require me to "give up" or delay having one of those needs met, but it helps if I make that call a judicious, purposeful choice. :O) That way, I'm still mindful of the need, and can make a plan for it getting met at a later time! This lowers my desperation level, and keeps my anger at a more productive level. :O)

More to make egg drop soup! :grin:

{amazing mama art at top of page by the talented Erika Hastings of Mud Spice. Thanks, Erika! }


  1. This was really good for me to read today, Ashely <3

  2. Sometimes I think you should ride a book or guide for parents. Really...your considerations might be not so new, but brilliant. And we forget so often, what's important or what we really need.

  3. Literally in tears. I feel I have been the ugliest, angriest, meanest mommy ever this week. Thank you for being transparent and reminding me that they are taking on my emotional energy. Muah!

  4. This hits so close to home right now. I am going to link this on my blog later when I make a post about why this hits so close to home. Thank you for your beautiful words. And maybe I oughta take the MBTI again 'cause I'm an ISTJ and our "values" seem very, very close. lol

  5. I have friends who are ISTJ, and on surface, our homes are pretty similar! The big difference is our motivations and how we being driven out of duty/commitment, and the other being driven out of big-picture ideals. <3 But the result is very similar!

  6. This hit home here, too, especially the scene in the care. I know that shaking fight or flight feeling all too well. Thanks for sharing so openly yet again.

  7. THANK YOU!!!!!!! I'm an INFJ and I have been increasingly frustrated with myself and my kids... I never really considered my ideals and values as being at issue...I thought it was my expectations. I've tried and tried to change my expectations and I can't. I need to recognize, validate and take a hard look at my values and see where I need to make room for grace for myself, and a way for my kids not to over step them. Also the part about grocery shopping or whatever and picking up on other peoples feelings. I have felt the same way SO many times, and have wondered why certain things make me feel so DRAINED. DUH!

    You have given me a lot to pray about. This was really helpful!