All Things New: Stop Overreacting

All Things New: Stop Overreacting

Every single one of us struggles with overreacting from time to time. Not everyone sees it, but when it comes to our overreactions, our kids get the short end of the stick. We can fly off the handle with family members, while we’re driving, and even at work. Let’s face it: So many of us are walking around with our fingers on the trigger of overreaction. The smallest things can cause us to react in a way contrary to what we know is right.

So, as we start off this new year looking for things we can do differently, how do we address our overreactions and move into more balanced and stable response to the things that are happening all around us?

Emotions Can Get The Best of Us

When we allow our overreactions to get the best of us, we can often do things we really regret. And as solo parents, it can be easy to do. Not only are you having to raise your kids on your own, you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or help you when you find yourself overwhelmed and over your head. You might think of overreaction as a verbal or physical outburst. But it can also be shutting down. It’s not as evident, but it can be as equally destructive to the relationships around you.  

Solo Parent Elizabeth has found that her overreactions come when she’s made an assumption about something or a specific situation. “For instance, I’ve made up a story in my head about the way something is instead of asking questions. I overreact while driving and when it comes to my son, it’s when I’m running late or trying to get him up on time.

Overreacting with her kids is the biggest area of regret for Solo Parent Amber. “We’re their caregivers and they need us. So, when I look back, my marriage hit a crisis when my kids were 7 and 9 years old. My husband had walked out and exited the picture when they were 10 and 12. I was a single mom doing it alone like many other solo parents and I was overwhelmed. There was so much stress in managing it all. The voice in my head was telling me I had to keep it all together and do everything well. At the time, my son was a teenager and had so much anxiety about going to school. He was becoming very defiant, refusing to go. I felt like a failure and didn’t know what to do. I felt out of control. I didn’t know it at the time but I was really afraid of what would happen if I couldn’t get this kid to go to school. What next? What if he just goes off the rails? And here I am holding all of this alone.”

One day, Amber’s son decided he wasn’t going to school again. “I pounded on his bedroom door and I was like buddy, you have to get to school! Come on! And he opened the door and there he was in front of me. I was like, ‘You have to get to school.’ I was yelling at him and he was refusing. And just something came over me and I big time overreacted. I reached in and grabbed his hair and yanked it, ‘You have to get to school, you have to listen to me!’ and I just melted down. Immediately, I was filled with deep sadness and regret. It was a big overreaction and that’s such a hard thing as a parent. To know you’ve done that and see the shock on your kids face. Seeing the pain he experienced . . . it was ugly.”

Getting to the Root of Overreaction

Amber isn’t alone in her story of overreaction. So many of us as solo parents have similar stories. Whether it be spanking too hard, calling the cops on your kids, or just yelling at them . . . our emotions can easily get the best of us if we’re not careful. “I’ve noticed that not being curious about what’s going on inside of me is a key component of overreacting. When I take the time to discover what that is, it’s most often fear. It’s this need to know what’s coming next and to want to be able to control things. When I can’t, the fear begins to escalate. How was I going to get my son to go to school? What if he never graduated? What if I was a terrible mom? The fear escalates, the pressure builds, and without being curious about what’s really going on inside, it was going to have to escape somehow.”

Fear can become a real driver of our overreactions or emotional responses. And that fear, when left alone, goes to impairment, followed by rage. For Amber, that’s exactly what led to her outburst with her son. “That rage sparked out so fast and I couldn’t take it back.”

So often, we carry around fear. Maybe you’re carrying around the fear of what people will think. Maybe you’re trying to keep the façade that you have it all together and that the rails aren’t coming off . . . even if they are. All of these things are a form of overreaction.

3 Tips For Working Through Overreaction

So, as we move into a new year where all things are new, how can we stop that rage before it ever starts? Here are a few tips that might help the next time you overreact.

  1. Pursue self-awareness

One of the biggest things you can do to help those moments of overreaction is becoming more self-aware. Ask yourself, “What’s the story I’m telling myself? What’s going on inside of me?” You have to slow down enough to get curious about the situation and what you’re feeling inside before it explodes.

For Amber, self-awareness took time. “I had to stop each day and think about what I needed. There were areas of my life that were pushing me so fast and so hard that I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and notice what I really needed. It was only having to face those ugly behaviors in myself that I knew I had to get to the bottom of that. I began to consider prayer, walking often, reaching out to a friend, and letting people know what was going on with me.”

Many times, our overreaction isn’t just about the outward behavior. It’s about what’s going on underneath. You have to figure out where it started, find the gas line and trace it back. And often, that can happen by asking yourself the right questions, working through your emotions with a certified counselor, and joining a support group.

 2. Give yourself grace

Whether your overreaction was because of an assumption or something you caused, responding in anger can sometimes be an appropriate response. As we talk about overreacting less in the new year, we want to be sure to clarify that we’re not just saying, “Get over it.” We’re also not saying that having strong feelings isn’t good. What we are saying is that you have a right to be frustrated or even angry about certain things. But when overreaction kicks in, we need to work on giving ourselves grace.

If we don’t give ourselves grace, that guilt can turn into a spiral of shame, stress, frustration, and hurt. And carrying those emotions around can get really heavy. After carrying all of those things around, we can begin to overreact all over again. So how do we stop the spiral of overreaction?

By giving ourselves grace.

Solo parents: If you feel like you’ve just really sunk the ship by overreacting, just know that time is an amazing healer. Giving yourself grace isn’t just for the moment to relieve guilt. It’s realizing that grace happens in an extended amount of time.

  1. Seek repair

Every relationship that we have experiences rupture. That’s the nature of relationships. But the difference is that the healthy ones will have repair and opportunities for repair. If you’re able to accept your humanity, that makes it easier for you to walk into the repair, fall on the sword and admit that you messed up.

For Amber, the repair with her son came in her behavior. “I did have to go back to him (my son) numerous times and say, ‘I am really sorry, I was wrong. I hurt you. My own stress and worries got in the way of me doing what you needed at that time.’ By god’s grace, that has brought me a lot of humility and understanding for other people who make mistakes. I can’t characterize it any differently. Those were really bad mistakes and I don’t like that. I am a recovering perfectionist and I wish I could get it right all the time and I didn’t. My son very graciously forgave me. Over time I would just continue to come back and say, ‘You know buddy, that was a really tough season. I feel so bad about that.’ He’s said to me now, ‘Mom I don’t even think about that anymore.’ But even now I wake up sometimes and pray, ‘Dear lord please help cover those mistakes, that was such an ugly season, will you make it right.’”

Solo Parent: Dealing with the weight of guilt after an overreaction is hard. But you don’t have to do it alone. There are parents everywhere who struggle with the emotional toll of solo parenting and the weight of overreactions. God is with you and will carry you—let Him take the burden of that shame and guilt so you can give yourself grace and walk freely into the new year.

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