As humans, we all experience emotions. As moms, emotions are a big part of the package. Parenting can be an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes we may be more accepting of our emotions as moms and understand them as a part of our human experience. Other times, we refuse to accept this reality and fight against our emotions. As Dr. Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap says, in these moments it’s as though we have a struggle switch turned on in our brains. With this switch turned on, we try very hard to get rid of these emotions. We fight our emotions and refuse to accept them as they are.
Fighting Emotions Doesn’t end well
Here’s an example: say you’re a mom who feels anxious when your child has a tantrum. When your struggle switch is on, emotions begin piling up as you try to fight your anxiety.
Here’s how your experience may look:
Anxiety – “Ah! I can’t handle this crying. I’m so overwhelmed!”
Guilt – “I shouldn’t let this bother me. Some people don’t have any children!”
Anger – “I always worry about the wrong thing.”
Sadness – “I’ll never be the person I want to be.”
Anxiety – “What if I live my whole life like this? How will this impact my child?”
With the struggle switch on, the emotion of anxiety snowballed into even more discomfort. Moreover, grappling with these added thoughts and emotions likely took time away from something else you would prefer to be doing. After all, it’s unlikely that you woke up today thinking, “today I will spend a whole bunch of time and energy struggling against my emotions and trying to change them!” Nonetheless, in the heat of the moment, this is exactly what happens when the struggle switch is switched on. When we fight our feelings, we pile on even more emotions and end up struggling against a giant snowball of emotions, in place of the solitary emotion we felt in the first place.
Turning the Struggle Switch Off:
When the struggle switch is turned off, you can allow yourself to recognize your emotional experiences without judgment, and focus instead on the things that are important to you. With the struggle switch off, you can simply recognize the emotion, leaving you with more bandwidth to focus on building a meaningful life. No need to pile on judgement, anger, guilt, and sadness. You can let the anxiety be.
Turning the struggle switch off is NOT about trying to turn emotions off. Emotions come and go. They are not good or bad, positive or negative- they just are. Turning off the struggle switch is about ending the struggle with those emotions and allowing them to exist without putting up a fight.
Managing Patterns of Emotions:
The more you tune in to your emotional experience, the more you will likely recognize patterns where certain emotions tend to show up. For example, feeling bored when talking to a certain person, feeling angry when being placed on hold, or feeling afraid when driving in a thunderstorm.
Feeling these emotions during these situations (or any situations) is not a bad thing. Again, emotions are not good or bad. They simply are. Yet sometimes when people recognize these patterns of emotion while their struggle switch is turned on, they become preoccupied with judging themselves for this emotional experience.
As an example, let’s go back to the mother from our initial example who becomes anxious when her child throws a tantrum. As she notices more instances of this anxiety in the face of tantrums while her struggle switch is on, she works harder and harder at fighting that anxiety. She may have anxiety about her anxiety, thinking thoughts such as “oh no! I’m anxious again! I was anxious by his tantrum this morning as well. This must mean I’m a horrible mother.” Each time she finds herself in this emotional experience, she continues to pile on judgements and fears about the present, as well as the past and perhaps even the future.
With the struggle switch off, she can simply notice the anxiety. She may say to herself, “I’m feeling anxious” or “I feel really anxious during this tantrum.” Next, she can simply let the anxiety be and move on.
Making It Personal:
What emotions do you find yourself struggling against most often? Think about your own struggle switch experiences and the outcomes you’ve seen.
Here’s my example: I often feel impatient in the heat. With my struggle switch on, I can pile on all sorts of judgments and emotions onto this experience. I can feel sad, wishful, guilty, embarrassed, angry, and anxious about this impatience. I can yell at myself to “be more patient!” or “it’s just heat! grow up!” Yet even if I did any or all of those things, I would still be impatient in the heat. Of course, worrying, judging, and yelling at myself does nothing to alleviate the struggle. It just piles on more discomfort. So now, instead of being solely impatient, I am also anxious, angry, guilty, embarrassed, and wishful – and still HOT. All that certainly doesn’t put me in a position to be the parent I want to be or live the life I want to live.
So, what are my other options? Well, I can turn that struggle switch off (you knew that was coming!). Then, the next time I’m taking my kids outside to play on a hot day and feel myself becoming impatient, I can notice the impatience. Not in a resigned, I-don’t-need-to-do-anything-about-this, manner. Rather, in a way of acknowledging its existence. I can say neutrally, “I feel impatient out here in the heat.” Then, I can shift my focus to what’s truly important to me at this moment: spending time with my kids.
Take some time to think about when the emotions you struggle with, and try turning that struggle switch off. Then, focus on doing what you want to do. When the emotions show up, recognize them, greet them, and continue doing your thing.