To change a habit with my wife and kids, I need to change that habit with everyone.
For example, to break a habit of snapping at other people, I need to remove that response from every single aspect of my life. That’s quite challenging!
If you’re a “yeller” then you won’t stop yelling at your kids until you manage to stop yelling at everyone. Also, many of us are yelling at people that can’t, or don’t, defend themselves. To break the cycle of yelling, it helps to drill down to the true source of our anger (often the past or ourselves).
Sometimes I can’t find the source of the yelling, and have to live with it. Here’s an example from last month. I don’t yell at anyone but, for much of March, there was a voice yelling in my head, mainly at my spirited daughter. I’ve managed to train myself not to express what’s going on in my head so there were times when a silent scream would be triggered each time I saw my little girl. Some of the things I “said” in my head were not very nice!
Having one of my kids act as a stress trigger is a tough situation, as I can’t use my typical strategy of avoidance! I’ve been trying to relax my mind by focusing on the temporary nature of the noise I experience with her. Knowing that there is an ending to every interaction helped calm me down.
I looked deeply and realized that being upset with my daughter had become a habit that was independent of her behavior – even when she was great, the internal battle raged in my mind. There were situations where I wanted her to misbehave to give me an opening to vent. It’s a very good thing that the habits of non-violence and harmony pre-date fatherhood! In the end, I removed myself for a few days, to travel to India for a wedding, and that emptied my mind of the noise.
Coming back to my original goal to speak kindly to my spouse and kids – we need to cultivate kindness with all our interactions. “Kindness to all” being the requirement to deliver “thoughtful speech” to our wives and kids. As I mentioned above, I can train myself to appear calm when there is a storm raging in my mind! It’s not a requirement to be peaceful inside to have a peaceful home (but I’m sure it helps).
I’ll share an idea from Gordon Livingston. Focus on treating people that can’t defend themselves better, for example service people. From that habit, extend towards treating everyone better. Under stress, nobody is good at remembering to treat one category of people better than another.
These habits are also a great way to lower blood pressure without the use of medication. I can see how internalized rage would be bad for one’s health.
When I find myself falling short, I remember that I can’t correct the person I was, but I can correct the person I am. My short comings become inspiration to keep trying for incremental progress.