‘Life is too short to hate but never too long to love.’
When my daughter wrote this she was only 7 years old. She slipped the note of paper under the door after a fight with her sister. She didn’t want to say it face to face as she just didn’t want more fights, but she could say it on a piece of paper. It became my post-it paper on the bathroom mirror for years, until it fell down.
She felt that it hurt to fight, it just wasn’t worth it and it only led to more pain. As she was stuck in the same house as her sister, she finally came down with her eyebrows still frowning. She said she was running away from home, living alone like Pippi. I said ok, and asked her where she was planning on living. She figured out that the pool area on the estate would be a good place to start. She would make a house from the sun beds. Of course, I said, and made a picknick for her, telling her that if she didn’t like living by the pool that she was always welcome back home, and then I could teach her some simple ways to quickly step out of her anger and prevent the fights.
It is not about giving in to her sister, it’s about how to say what she needed to say in the right way. Everything can be said, it’s only about how you say it. What we say becomes action, action becomes habit, habit becomes us. She felt that, and didn’t like what her anger did to her. Fighting and anger stops all communication, but walking away and remaining silent stops it too. It’s about finding a way to continue the communication, not stopping it.
So off she went in her swimming suite and with he backpack with her necessary things, like her favourite teddy, to run away from home. After about 30 minutes I saw her playing in the pool with the other kids like nothing happened. When all the others went home for dinner, she came back home and said she was done with running away. So she decided to ask me for help on how to avoid fights instead.
I told her that the most important thing is to catch oneself when anger arises, know the feeling, know when it is time to act. When she learns how that feels she has to; 1) Be quiet and step back into a safe distance from her hand reaching out to grab whoever she felt like killing. 2) Breathe 3 times holding the air in, and relax to let it out. If you hyperventilate or breathe quickly, the stress hormones will still be produced. So don’t!
We practiced a few times. I played her annoying sister, she took a step back. If her sister continued while she stepped back, she should go for a walk and breathe, and tell her sister to let her calm down. Then she can better reflect upon what annoyed her so much. Absolutely essential is to never blame herself for getting angry, not blaming her sister either. Anger is a feeling, we need it. We need all feelings, it’s a part of being human. But we are not our feelings – they come and go. We can never stop feeling but we can shorten the length of a feeling. It’s biochemistry. I told her to observe her anger, what happened and understand why. That’s when she can go back and talk about it. That is loving to oneself and others.
I used this a lot at my previous job where I had many employees in a very stressful environment. Stress enhances the biochemistry for anger. We had a rule that we called a ‘5-minute-walk’ – ‘I need 5 minutes, and when I’m back we will talk about this, OK?’. It gave us some time to walk around the office, calm down, breathe and reflect, to come back to sort it out with a still mind. This is healthy, one of the best mind detoxes.