Empaths know the deep raging feels of temper tantrums, and so we also feel more empathy and compassion more than most for those in the midst of a tantrum. We recognize it. We relate. And, we feel the feels empathically. That makes us the perfect candidates to help diffuse a temper tantrum. Or, hold space until it diffuses itself.
The best way to deal with a temper tantrum is to be empathetic to it.
Which means holding space.
Throughout my lifetime, I've had some doozy temper tantrums, and in every one, what I really wanted was some to hold me until it went away. No one ever has. They all tell me I'm too scary as it happens. They don't want me to hurt them, or hurt myself. The closest I ever came to feeling that security I envision is in a scene from my upcoming novel The Shadow's Shine a coming-of-age story of an empath teenager dealing with trauma and grief.
I punched him, a left jab to the ribs. And then a right jab. And left. and right. And left. And right. My forehead planted on his chest, and my arms just kept hitting.
He wrapped his arms around me in a big bear hug, restricting my elbows from pulling back for more punches, so I stomped on his foot, and his other foot. He hugged tighter and lifted me up off the ground so I couldn’t kick, or hit. So I writhed.
And he just held me.
“That’s it. Let it all out,” his voice turned to a whisper, almost a coo.
“Be mad, sister. You can be as mad as you want.”
“I still love you,” he whispered.
I flailed my legs.
“Andrew loves ya,” he whispered in his best Rocky Balboa voice.
I scratched at his ribs.
“I love you, Alex,” he whispered again.
He’d never said that to me before.
He held me until I exhausted myself.
Surrendered, limp and heavy in his arms.
And he kept holding me.
We both collapsed to our knees. We sat there in the dry creek bed, his arms wrapped around me, my face pressed to his chest. Panting until our breath matched pace. A thousand pounds of fight left in me, but no reason left to fight.
I felt all sealed up, contained.
I watched a FB live video post of a man at the George Floyd protests. He was raging on the verge of a violent outburst (which is the grown-up term for temper tantrum). Another younger man grabbed him by the ribs and held him, firmly, not in a hug or embrace, but held his ribs in his hands, looking him right in the eye, and responded to everything he said with "I understand" and "I hear you" and "I feel it too." The man wasn't alone. That's key. After awhile, he ran out of things to say, and he stopped raging before he ever hurt anyone or anything. Then the space-holder pivoted the energy in a masterful aikido move. He grabbed a teenager from the crowd in the same way he grabbed the older man, firmly at the ribs. He looked the teenager in the eye, and instructed him like a mentor. He used the older man's example, as well as his own, and told the crowd that they need to protest, without raging, and make the change happen. He skillfully diverted a potential violent disaster into a civil disobedience motivational protest speech.
This is an example of an empath who has mastered his skills, and used them to transform the energy of a highly volatile situation. How did he do it?
THREE INGREDIENTS TO HOLDING SPACE DURING A TEMPER TANTRUM
STAY CALM & PRESENT use deep focused breathing stand solid or sit down, avoid fidgeting and keep your movements smooth give the person 100% of your attention, no distractions I was once in the fits of a massive episode while my first husband sat and read a book next to me. While he said he was holding space for me, I felt like he really didn't care because he wasn't WITH me. I took the book from his hands and tore it to shreds.
LISTEN FULLY pay attention with your whole body and all your senses affirm them with short phrases "I hear you" "I understand you" "I FEEL you" let them do all the talking, this is not about you or your message, they need to be heard I have had people say "yeah, but" to every statement I made, which only invalidated everything I was feeling and made me think I was even more wrong, which escalated the rage and made the tantrum last longer.
BE PATIENT If you rush the process, the process will last longer Don't look at a clock or watch, allow timelessness to take over If you fatigue, call in LOVE Whenever I was rushed out of a temper tantrum because someone needed to go or do something, I usually squelched it, and then it came out louder at more inopportune times.
Like the cover image of this post implies, when you are holding space for someone, you are holding an entire universe of their existence. Hold them with that kind of mindfulness.