Yesterday, a friend sent me a video of two women fighting over toilet paper in a grocery store. “Can you believe this insanity?” my friend asked. “What’s happening in the world?”
Good question, I replied.
What is happening when two grown women start fighting in a grocery store, yelling, and screaming, and flailing about?
Two words: Emotional regression.
The adults have left the room and the children are now running the show. And it happens to each of us nearly every day.
When we get scared or triggered by something that makes us feel powerless or afraid, we tend to go from being full-functioning, clear-thinking adults, to children who act impulsively. The survival software in the brain gets activated and we suddenly engage in the more primitive fight, flight, or freeze behaviors in an effort to feel safe and in control.
Hence the battle for toilet paper becomes a dramatic attempt to feel more in charge of a basic human need.
I’ll never forget sitting in Boston Logan airport on the morning of September 11th, after being removed from a flight headed for California. Like a frightened little girl, I sat cross-legged on the floor in the gate area banging my cellphone on the carpet. I was desperately trying to get it to work so I could call my husband but, because I was terrified, I had regressed to a five-year-old state and couldn’t remember how to work the phone. My inner five-year-old hadn’t learned to use technology yet.
This is why compassion is so necessary right now. When a friend loads up her car with over-flowing supplies or a family member decides to restrict anyone from coming to his home, we need to remember that these are just the self-preservation behaviors of a frightened human. And when we’re frightened, we need what children need – a calm presence, to feel heard and understood, and to be able to talk about how we feel without being judged or ridiculed.
We all need this.
When I feel anxious and emotionally overwhelmed (and, as a sensitive woman, I certainly have felt that way this week) I place my hand over my heart, and ask myself: How old are you right now, sweetheart? Then, once I have a number – five or ten or twelve, for instance, I ask the young part of me what she needs to feel safe.
I might need a soothing reminder that everything will be okay. Or, I might need to talk things through with a friend. Maybe I need to go for a walk, or take a nap in the sun (which I highly recommended, by the way).
The more you care for the regressed part of you, the easier it will be to spot it when it happens to others. Then, you’ll remember to offer your love rather than criticism or judgment and everyone will benefit.
Let’s do our best to be there for one another this week, as well as for ourselves. After all, we’re navigating unchartered territory.
We’ll get through this, I have no doubt. And there’s a good chance it will be sooner than you think.