I have an 18-month-old daughter, and she has started to have toddler tantrums. These perplexing volcanoes of emotion can arise from all manner of events, silly, serious or otherwise. When subsumed in a 'wobbly,' nothing can knock her out of it. She is determined to feel how she is feeling, and to feel it as long as she so desires. Having had the pleasure of such tantrums, it occurred to me last night how very like an adult's behavior this can be.
Toddler tantrums and adult troubles are crazily similar. While we may not kick our legs and throw ourselves prostrate upon the floor, the nature of tantrums doesn't really change. As troubled adults, we become lost in our emotion, we refuse to communicate effectively, we moan and whine and cry to anyone available, we often act and talk as though the events perturbing us, are indeed, the end of the world. We proclaim that nobody understands us. We sob at the drop of the hat and we may, occasionally, throw our arms in the air or toss things across the room in pure frustration. It seems to me that many of us grown ups are in fact still toddlers, toilet trained, but toddlers nonetheless.
You may well relate to some of what I have laid out above. It may be in yourself, or it may be that you see this kind of behavior with loved ones. What I want to address is not how to fix your own tantrums, but how to deal with other people's. We all know people who handle stress badly, we all know people we wish we could change, or whom we hope will see 'sense'. While we may chat away at them with our intellectual, spiritual thinkings, insisting they do A, B and C to assist themselves, they undoubtedly ignore us and continue to throw their toys. These adults, like many a toddler, are unable to understand our spiritual rationale or to take any good advice. The reason they are unable to do this is because they have to live it first. All humans have to go through events and come out the other side to recognize a different way of being. If we are constantly attempting to stop those efforts with our well-intentioned advice, then we are simply barricading a person into their behavior.
So how do we play loving witness to troubles and tantrums and assist a person to change their perspective, without actually doing anything that distorts or impedes their journey? Again, I will return to my daughter's tamtrums to answer this. When she is full swing, there is no talking to her, I cannot bribe her with goodies, and oftentimes I cannot even give her a cuddle, she just won't let me. She just wants to get on with feeling her emotion. As much as I'd like to assist her in feeling better, I am wasting my energy. So instead I must play loving, silent witness. Translated to your adult tantrum, this means simply being a presence, holding space for a person, being available, but without doing or saying anything. Let your adult toddler know that you are there for them, then step back and watch from the sidelines. Listen to them. Step forward occasionally, touch them gently, let them know you hear and see them. But until they are ready, keep a respectful, loving distance. Allow that person to feel, allow them to be. As much as we hate to see suffering, sometimes it has to go through the motions and work itself out, the person has to find resolution on their own.
Second is the art of distraction. My daughter is still at the age where certain things can shake her out of her upset. It may be so simple as to show her one of her favorite things, move into another room or maybe point out how silly Daddy's face is! This might work with your adult tantrum too. Break your adult out of their emotional reverie by suggesting a trip, something that may expand their horizons, or simply get them outside where nature can do her magic. It is amazing how our problems can be rendered insignificant when we open our eyes beyond our lives and breathe in something new and different. Help your adult toddlers, not through lectures or your opinion on their issues, but by simply demonstrating for them new ways to be, new things to think about. Redirect their energy, leading by example and not force. Let them take from these experiences what they will, and trust that you are a guide. Be a good guide and try not to swap this role for counselor, therapist, psychologist, spiritual guru. Just be you instead, and if the person wants to take anything from you, let it be because they want to, not because you told them to!
Finally is the case of extremes. Sometimes our toddlers and our adults are simply beside themselves. Witnessing and distraction are of no use. Sometimes we have to take some kind of control to help bring them back to themselves. When a person is lost and bereft in a sea of counterproductive energy, they may get past the point of helping themselves.
For a toddler, this may happen often. For an adult, this may refer to a major breakdown, and our actions would otherwise be something akin to an intervention. When my daughter's heart is really breaking, and I can see she cannot handle her emotions and needs help, no matter how hard she might resist me, I simply pick her up and hold her. I whisper kind words in her ear and I tell her it will be okay. I walk her around and I remind her she is loved and safe. I don't tell her how to behave, I don't expect anything of her, I certainly don't expect her to snap out of it. I simply make my presence felt more powerfully, through touch, cuddles, heartfelt gestures and hugs. Sometimes this is how we must treat our crazed adults.
Sometimes we can witness and distract till the cows come home, but the only thing a person or child really needs is powerful physical holding. It's not about control. It's about being safe, being held, being scooped up and loved, even in spite of our flaws and our craziness. The key to this is to make our actions unconditional and judgment free. Our role is simply that of one soul representing for another, big time, freely and with nothing but love rushing forth. In general, it's called a cuddle, in extremes it may be a cuddle that physically prevents a person from harming themselves or that delivers them into the hands of a relevant treatment facility. However far that cuddle goes, it requires nothing back, and hopes only for peace and harmony for the individual it holds.
Tantrums are not something we really grow out of. We simply learn to act differently within them. But the solutions remain the same. As adults witnessing tantrums the most loving and spiritual thing we can do is to be a beacon of love and patience. We are nothing more than a lighthouse in a storm, we can shed our light and love, but we cannot calm the waves, not really. So issue out your love, hold the space for others to transform, and trust that your role is vital, even without you doing, saying or being anything.