My friend Caroline read my piece about tension increasers and recognized her oldest daughter (who is now a tween) in the profile. I told her that I myself am a tension increaser and what doesn't make me feel better, and she said that sounded familiar. Then she asked:
"So my question is how do you comfort yourself as a grown up tension increaser? I think my one challenge is to help my kid feel better by being there for her in the way she needs. Then again, I also need to help her find a healthy way to comfort herself because I won't always be there even if I wanted to…"
As a side note, one of the best things about being a parent is becoming friends with other thoughtful, great parents, don't you think?
Anyway, I thought this would be a good question for all of us to answer. I know what's helpful for me and for my older son, but we're only two data points. But I'm going to talk through what I've figured out about myself just in case it's helpful for anyone else.
I tend to be very internal, which is weird, because I'm so extroverted, and I put a lot of myself out there both IRL and online. But my feelings are very deep and when I'm truly upset about something I rarely share it. I never thought about that before I started thinking about being a tension increaser, but now I think it's because letting my feelings out to the surface can get very out of control and very painful very easily.
I look at my younger son, who is a tension releaser, and see that if he's upset he flares up hot and wild and freaks out and screams about things and then he's done and it's gone and he's happy again. That level of external processing would take me over and I wouldn't be able to get out of the loop. (You can ask my mother about some of the crying jags I got into as a young teen–they were frightening and intense and painful physically and emotionally.) I see the same thing in my older son–once he lets his feelings get out of their tight corral it starts to hurt way too much, so he keeps them stuffed in.
The really super-obvious answer is to help talk through and analyze the situation and the feelings, and dig deep with "What happens then?" questions to get to the root of the fear or worst-case scenario in a way that keeps everything neutral and not emotional enough to hurt. That's been my own comfort and how I help my son. But I'm beginning to think there's way more we can do.
Those of you who read my Moxieville blog on Babble know that I started running last summer and have kept it up, and now can't stop, even though I'm not fast and can't go very far. It has helped me release my emotions and keep myself on an even keel even though I do not work through situations when I run except incidentally. (My thought process while running mostly centers on my physical condition, random stuff I see while I'm running, etc.) The other day as I was struggling in the middle of a run, I realized that the physical discomfort I feel when I run is the rawest I ever allow my emotions to be in a negative way. That that physical struggle and true discomfort is touching me for real and allowing me to connect and process physically whatever bad is happening, even when I don't connect them consciously.
This makes me think about the times I've been comforted by someone hugging me even when I didn't want to need to be hugged. And it makes me think about the times that my older son would be restless while I was holding him still, but when I started boucing he could be still, as if the motion needed to come from somewhere but if I was generating it then he could relax.
It's as if physical sensation generating from the emotion itself hurts, but physical sensation coming from something else lets the emotion loose in a non-painful way.
So I'm going to propose the wacky theory that if a tension increaser can learn to create physical stress (by seeking out a hug or other physical touch, or by doing some physical activity that stresses the body), that can tap off the emotion in a way that doesn't overwhelm us.
Um, thoughts? From parents of tension increasers or adult tension increasers?