Radical Love in the Face of Extreme Emotion

So last night before bed I did something weird… In response to all the violence at the Capitol, all the negative feelings and bafflement at what is currently happening, I played out a little exercise in my head. I decided that instead of projecting all my frustration, my negative feelings, my confusion and upset, and energy toward those emotions I would instead try to reverse it radically toward positivity.

So, I tried to imagine these people who feel so different than me as little kids who were upset, but that was too difficult and not really helping, so I started thinking of them as just a person reacting to constant bullying and being told over and over that they are wrong, and so instead of making better choices they just keep leaning into the worst because what’s in it for them to change at this point? But then, I thought what if I just loved them despite and because of their insane choices and actions? What if the world is so full of toxic energy that it needs to be rebalanced with more positive energy? What if no one is sending “positive vibes” toward and to them and that to start to neutralize that toxicity, there needs to be more love. I’m positive at this point I’ve lost some of you. That’s fine. Still, for those who are still reading, I’ll continue down this path further.

For the past year, there’s a parenting trick that I’ve been implementing with my teenage daughter. And yes, I am 100% THAT mom which I am okay with. My daughter is full of big emotions, she is fiercely independent, and like any growing, angst-ridden, hormonally-charged but not fully developed human, life can feel really hard at times. She can fly off the handle in weird ways at weird times overreacting to the littlest thing despite also being the kindest, most empathetic, emotionally mature teenager at the same time. I know that every parent of a growing child can relate to these maddening paradigms and parenting challenges.

Anyway, she’s never been a cuddler but like anyone needs physical touch so I have to devise sneaky ways to get that in, like squashing together on the couch during movie night. I know that when she is in a confused emotional rage that she needs it then too, maybe even more so. So when she starts spouting insanity and flipping her lid I’ve implemented the worst of all “punishments”, a 20-second hug (which is a really long time) followed by eye contact and each saying “I love you” to one another. Horrible but awesome, right? She knows that if she goes insane, I’m coming for her. She resists it at first but then melts into it and then her emotions feel more accessible to her, she can start to process what she is feeling, we can talk about it together, we can diffuse the situation.

I believe in body autonomy. I am only advocating for this if ground rules have been agreed upon ahead of time (not during a heightened emotional tug of war). Yes, it will probably cause your child to roll their eyes severely at you being “extra” and annoying and “the worst mom in the whole world” but then they might at times also tell you that you are the best mom like mine does at times too.

Why the 20-second hug? Well, research shows that when it is done between loved ones, it is proven to lower reactivity to stressful events and that each of us needs between 5 and 8 hugs a day to be happier. And why the eye contact? Because research says it creates a “calming, connected state of being” as well.

So, back to my positive visioning exercise, before drifting off to bed, I started imagining the faces that I had been seeing in articles, the faces of these people who confuse and upset me with their opposite values, who seem to be acting out in a crazy rage and I imagined hugging them for 20-seconds until they melted into it. Then I imagined looking them in their eyes and telling them “I love you”.

Crazy, right? But leaning into more positive feelings and love did make me feel a little better. What if that’s what we need to do to both remind ourselves that each of us is only human but also to re-balance all the stifling pressure of hostile emotions at present?

I’m absolutely advocating for change, advocating for taking agency and ownership and using your voice and I am 100% not okay with what is currently happening. This is in no way suggesting that all these hippie-dippie feel-good exercises replace accountability. Still, when it feels like the world is focused on anger, confusion, and resentment, what harm could it do? What’s the harm in trying especially if it makes me feel more compassionate overall? Maybe in some alternate universe or even this one, those energy waves reach them and help to disarm the insanity even if by only a micro-level. Who knows? I’m open to the possibility.

And there is another thing I say to my daughter that applies here: I’ve taught her that when she goes temporarily emotionally insane and bursts out into anger over seemingly nothing that she is afraid of something but maybe she doesn’t know what. That when each of us reacts this way at times they are like a “bull in a china shop” breaking everything around them because they are spooked. I ask her to consider “what is she afraid of”?

So, to this, I wonder what are the people who are making audacious, overwhelming, anarchistic choices that make no common sense afraid of? And to me, it feels that the answer is that they are probably afraid of change, that they are probably reacting to a sense of unfairness in their own lives, a shift in power dynamics that don’t benefit them anymore or haven’t for a long time so they are trying to reclaim it at any cost. They are afraid of losing control. Ironic right?

As Newton discovered “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So what would happen if we reacted in a different way?

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