by Kristin Ciciarelli | Contributor
Have you ever had a total meltdown? You know, one of those really embarrassing, drama-filled episodes where you announce to yourself and the world, seemingly out of nowhere, that in no uncertain terms, you “Just. Can’t. Take. It. Anymore.” But how did you get to that emotional point of no return so “quickly”?
The answer may surprise you . . . you didn’t. Unless you’re wired with an eerily steely reserve, like Tony Soprano, your much-needed meltdown has been in the works for some time; you’ve simply chosen to ignore its warning signals. Let’s take a look at the making of the Much-Needed Meltdown:
Phase One – The Gut Reaction
Your body is the first (and also the last) to let you know when your life’s getting out of balance. On a physiological level, your fight or flight alarm rings almost immediately when faced with potential danger: your palms sweat, your stomach pits, your face feels hot. These are clear signs that trouble is imminent.
But let’s say you’re not faced with a physical danger, like, being eaten by lions, but by an emotional or spiritual one. For example, your co-worker repeatedly asks for favors and even though you agree to help her, you notice your jaw clenches as you say yes. It’s very easy to rationalize your answer; after all, you keep your “Handy Dandy List of Excuses for Helping Others in Lieu of Yourself” in your top desk drawer. An excerpt from this list might include:
1) I should help others, right?
2) She doesn’t have anybody else, and I should rescue her.
3) She did help me that one time four years ago, even though it was her job.
4) I don’t want the group to think I’m lazy.
5) I guess it wouldn’t hurt me.
It’s true that helping others is a gift to our spirit; In fact, relationships, volunteer organizations and community groups are essential to our senses of belonging and well-being. However, they should add to your daily joy, not chip away at any emphasis on your own needs. It’s not possible to help others in an effective and meaningful way when you feel depleted, and doing a task or favor that leaves you resentful does not serve anyone, particularly yourself.
Phase Two – The Physical Pain
Okay, so you ignored your gut reaction. Your “Handy Dandy List” gave you full permission to override your feelings. You plunged ahead into resolving someone else’s problem. Again.
Now, you notice something longer-lasting than the gut reaction: enter, the physical pain. It usually begins in a subtle way — you get a three-day headache after completing your co-worker’s project; or, a rash develops while working on a committee for which you regret signing up; perhaps you get shoulder pain every time you haul your teenager’s giant basket of laundry up the stairs, something he’s been told many times to do himself. Your body is clearly telling you that something’s gotta give…
“Without a doubt, unresolved feelings including frustration and anger will manifest in the body in a physiological way,” says Dallas psychotherapist Mary Sanger of Insights Collaborative Therapy Group. “There’s simply no getting around this fact, though I see people trying to do so every day.”
Phase Three – The Kablooie!
Funny, but many of us would rather reach the boiling point than establish healthy boundaries in a proactive way. Though a Much-Needed Meltdown may be the only thing dramatic enough to get your (and others’) attention, it can also be highly embarrassing and carry its own set of consequences.
“Meltdowns are sometimes inevitable,” Sanger says. “But it’s important to remember the negative impact they can have not only on ourselves but also on others. Practicing regular boundary setting and self-soothing are the keys to keeping meltdowns at bay.”
How to Prevent The Meltdown
• Pay attention to your body’s signals.
• When a task, favor or commitment triggers physical discomfort, stop and ask yourself why you are doing it.
• If it’s not something you “must” do, communicate and delegate to others their need to participate.
• Practice self-care: regular exercise, deep breathing, meditation and listening to soothing music are all important tools for keeping meltdowns at bay.
For more information, contact Mary Sanger at Insights Collaborative Therapy Group, www.insightstherapy.com.