I behaved badly this week. I'm still not quite sure how it happened. One minute I was at home, making the first family dinner of 2018, getting beaten at Texas Hold 'Em, sprinkling pumpkin seeds on my watermelon, mint, feta salad, listening to Aldous Harding, dogs, kids, chaos. Nek minnit I was being a prize arsehole.
How did I go from one place - jolly salad-making DHC- to the other, shrieking harpy DHC? It had something to do with a perceived slight, feeling unworthy, remembering childhood inadequacies (I'm 50, I know, isn't it time to get over that your father never loved you?). Scratch the surface of the middle aged woman who most of the time passes as a reasonably functioning member of society and I am still the scowly immigrant schoolgirl who felt like an outsider who never got good enough grades to please my father. And be warned if you might accidentally push those woe-is-me buttons. Because whammo, I'm straight back there. I lashed out with unwarranted harsh words. I was so disappointed in myself.
My family left in a huff and I went and sat outside in the dark and looked at the rain and felt ashamed and shitty (Pathetic fallacy right there).
I felt especially worm-eating because I really thought I'd got past this kind of behaviour. I thought I'd learnt not to be so emotionally reactive. I used to call these my "spinny fits". I thought I'd left them behind years ago, along with wearing that terrible perfume Poison and listening to Nirvana.
I meditate these days for goodness sake. (Cue pan flutes) I've done courses. I've done the therapy. I've put in the work. I know about emotional regulation.
Yet sometimes it still goes wrong. It's like you're sitting in a full bath and all of a sudden the plug comes out and the water is rushing down the plughole and you are desperately trying to put the plug back in. But it won't. Go. Back. In. (At least not on your own).
Normally when this happens, in the spirit of "if something is half broken break it properly" I just feel like I'm already so bad I may as well make it worse. Just keep digging. But this time I tried to just pause for a minute and stay curious. I tried not to condemn myself straight away and add a whole extra layer of shame and loathing on top of the original one. I tried to tell myself a different story.
So. This happened. I was very rude to my niece, and I need to apologise. It is not a sign that all is lost and I am a complete stuff-up and loser and all the work I have done has been for nothing. Maybe we all fall sometimes, but noticing that it has happened is the important thing. And then doing the repair.
You can't catch it every time. That is why it's called being triggered. Bang. You are hijacked by your unconscious. But once you do notice, then you can pause and maybe, this time, choose a different way to react. That is, deep breaths, when your PFC (pre frontal cortex) is safely back online.
So I apologised to my niece, who was generous and forgiving of her crazy aunt. I hope she knows it wasn't her, it was me. And I hope it won't happen again. But if it does, I hope I can catch it a little bit sooner next time. But it's hard. For all the talk of safe spaces, and trigger warnings, it still sneaks up on the best of us.
I mean, the most powerful man in the world gets triggered and I'm not sure he even notices. Does he go and sit out on the deck at the White House and look at the rain? Does he try to stay curious? Sadly, I think he goes the other way. He just makes it worse. He goes on Twitter. That may make him the most dangerous man in the world. Power magnifies existing psychopathologies.
In a recent book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and mental health experts assess a president distinguished psychologist Philip Zimbardo (creator of the famous Stanford Prison study) identifies Donald Trump as an "extreme present hedonist", which he says is the most unpredictable and perilous time perspective.
That means Trump will say or do anything at any time for purposes of self-aggrandisement with no thought of the future or effect of his actions.
"Impulsive thought leads to impulsive action and causes him to dig in his heels when confronted with the consequences of that action," Professor Zimbardo and his collaborator Rosemary Sword write.
So when Trump got caught out by Michael Wolff last week, Trump doubles down and declares he himself is a genius. (Is it even possible to be a "very stable" genius? I suspect not.) Well, I am not any kind of genius. I think I must have got born with kind of shitty brain chemistry to be honest. But I do know one thing Donald Trump doesn't seem to grasp. We all stuff up, but it's what we do after that which counts. It's all in the repair. Not just with others we have hurt, but the repair in how we forgive ourselves. And that can be even harder.