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Sometimes It Really Is Just a Phase

July 23, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

Don’t make a bad mood more than it is.

“She went overnight from being a sweet child to being a monster!”
“He used to be so cuddly and now he won’t come near me.”
“She cries all the time now. Do you think something is going on at school?”
“He’s very aggressive; maybe he’s being bullied.”

When these situations are reported to me by my children or friends, I frequently hark back to something I learned many years ago from the books published by Harvard’s Gesell Institute. While each situation may require an investigation, frequently nothing is uncovered and the parent is at a loss to explain their child’s behavioral change. That’s because there is no explanation!

According to these very well-researched books, children go through phases – approximately six months each – of equilibrium and disequilibrium, or more colloquially, of good moods and bad moods. There isn’t necessarily a trigger. There isn’t a way to prevent it or change it. It just is and we need to roll with the punches (hopefully not literally). This is actually freeing once you accept the idea. It removes the torment and allows us to be a little more relaxed in our parenting style.

It’s not just true of children; it’s true of all of us. Have you ever noticed that sometimes life’s challenges just roll off your shoulders like nothing and other times you feel like you’re being weighed down by a heavy boulder? That sometimes you feel like you could run a marathon (and maybe you do!) and other times every step feelings like slogging through quicksand? That some days you feel like superwoman, full of energy and like you could accomplish whatever you desire and other days, you’re exhausted and putting cereal and milk into a bowl requires all your effort? That some days you’re super patient with your husband and kids and all their cute little idiosyncrasies and other days every single thing they do sets you off and you can’t stop yelling or expressing your frustration in other unattractive manners?

That’s because we also go through phases. We also have times of equilibrium and disequilibrium, of good moods and bad moods, of getting up on the right side of the bed and on the wrong one. The secret is to recognize this and not to read too much into the situation or the people around you.

All too often, like with our children, we look for a source for our less than stellar mood. It’s my job, it’s my husband, it’s my children. And then we try to change one of those. This is a really dangerous and potentially destructive path. It’s important to remember that wherever we go and whatever we do, we take ourselves with us! Are we really sure there’s an external cause to our unhappiness or difficulties or is it something being generated internally? This is a crucial question.

Unfortunately I know of many people who, in the grip of what appears to be their disequilibrium phase, blow up their marriages. They imagine that “he” or “she” is the cause of their misery and that if they get rid of him or her, they will be free to soar. Often they find that it wasn’t their spouse holding them back after all; it was their own internal baggage. But by then it’s too late.

I’m not saying that we never need to change our external circumstances; I’m just suggesting that we be very careful before we do, that we examine the situation rigorously and cautiously and rationally and don’t react or make important choices based on our emotion of the moment. Even if the moment seems to last more than a day or two…

When I get down in the doldrums, it’s very easy to stay there. Even if I don’t blame anyone else, even if I can’t find a way to pin it on my husband, there’s still something very comfortable about indulging my misery or sense of grievance or depression or frustration. It takes real effort to lift out of it. It requires a decision.

I try to tell myself that in those moments, in that phase it’s my yetzer hara talking, telling me how awful my life is, trying to bring me down. And that I need to fight back. The phase may be out of my control but my response to it is not.

But even if I can’t quite keep that dialogue going, I can remind myself that “this too shall pass” and that I shouldn’t take it too seriously and that I certainly shouldn’t make any important commitment or changes in that moment. Sometimes we just need to ride the waves…as parents, as grandparents, as teachers, as spouses, as friends…something this California resident needs to learn to do…

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