3 Things To Remember When You’re On The Verge Of An Emotional Meltdown
Recently, one of my girlfriends told me about how she had a complete emotional meltdown after a few seemingly small hiccups during a weekend visit to her boyfriend’s house. First, her boyfriend continued to try to affectionately grab her, although she had repeatedly told him that she was suffering from a painful backache. Then, she awoke from a nap, only to find that he had drunk the last of her bottled water, leaving tap as her only option, (which she absolutely abhors). She was exhausted, in pain, and thirsty, and as a result, she started sobbing in front of him. “You know I can only drink bottled water!” She said she couldn’t control her emotions, and afterward, she felt foolish, like she overreacted and should’ve been better able to compose herself. She felt guilty over her meltdown.
I’ve been there numerous times: exhausted, overworked, and stressed, which caused me to act out of character and completely break down. Other times, I can feel hormonal, unnecessarily emotional, and the littlest inconsiderate behavior from someone I love can push me over the edge, causing me to act like a lunatic. Then there are times when I’m sad, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. It’s not because of hormones or exhaustion, but rather, it’s as if an undercurrent of melancholy arises out of nowhere. We’ve all suffered from meltdowns, and whether we have a clear reason or not, there are several things we can do to make the process as painless as possible, moving through it without leaving too many casualties in our wake.
1) It’s not the intensity of the emotion that matters, it’s the duration.
Intense emotions arise in us, oftentimes as a result of an issue that is much more complex than even we recognize. We are triggered by something that our best friend says, but the emotions that surface are tied to a memory we have of our mother that is somehow linked. We have unconscious fears and sadness that surface abruptly, deep pains that need to be felt in order to pass through our system.
The actual emotion (and the intensity) is not the issue, it’s the duration that matters. When sadness or fear arises and we find ourselves sobbing, or having a panic attack, we must allow ourselves to feel the pain to really feel it – but we must also set a timer on it. It is never healthy to resist sadness, but it is unhealthy to stew in it for too long. When someone betrays us, or we find life exceptionally difficult, we must feel the pain, but we can refuse to dwell in its house. Pain can be addictive, so much so that we can associate it with who we are.
2) We must let go of any guilt associated with our meltdown.
We can cry. We can lock ourselves in our bedroom. We can eat so much ice cream, we feel like vomiting. We can watch a full day of reality television, candy bars and tissues nearby, and that’s all okay. No one said we had to be perfect. No one said we had to hold it all together. The people who love us will love us when we’re at our best, and they will love us when we’re at our worst. They will love us when we’ve got it all together, and we’re crushing it at life. They will love us when we’re incoherent and can’t put on pants. We mustn’t feel guilt or shame over breaking down. That would only make the situation more difficult and add to the time it would take us to feel good again.
3) We can treat ourselves as we would a small child.
When we are going through emotional turmoil, part of the reason is because our pain body is triggered. Our inner-child resurfaces, recounting every time we’ve ever felt abandoned, rejected, or unloved. When we can barely hold it together is the exact moment we need to be the kindest to ourselves. It’s not the time to judge our behavior or try to barrel through the pain. When I am feeling especially sad, I take a few deep breaths and soothe myself. I say things like, Sweet Jessie, it’s going to be okay. Everything is working out perfectly. All is well.
Further, I allow myself to be wherever I am. Disapproving of a meltdown only exacerbates the situation and leads to more pain. If we chastise ourselves for feeling in the dumps, it only makes our guilt worse. We must allow ourselves to feel all emotions-bliss and joy, but also pain and sorrow. We must remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can and nurture ourselves as we might a small child.
Meltdowns happen. They happen when we’ve been meditating every day. They happen when we are in a great relationship. They happen when we’ve been feeling better than we have in years. It’s part of life. When we’re on the verge of a meltdown, it’s often without warning and at the most inconvenient time. What’s important is not that we repress our emotions, but that we look at them, learn what we can, and let them pass through. It’s never the emotion that lingers, but the story we have of the meltdown that still stings days, or even weeks later. We can choose to deal with meltdowns in a light-hearted, loving way, or we can beat ourselves up, reprimanding ourselves for not behaving in a perfectly composed way at all times; but if we give ourselves permission to have a meltdown, our joy will return that much sooner, and we’ll have a chance of healing whatever pain surfaced.
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