Mary O’Malley – Cranky, cranky, cranky! I had a full day, I wasn’t feeling well, and I just received upsetting news from my insurance company. How many of us have lived way too many days like this, where it seems the only sane response is to be cranky.
If you watch carefully you can learn a lot by watching the state of mind we describe as crankiness. It usually shows up when things aren’t the way we want them to be. It comes from an underlying feeling of vulnerability and impotence that we all carry, which comes to the surface when traffic is at a standstill, or you are in a rush and the line at Starbucks is out the door, or your partner has done something that you specifically asked them not to do, or the checkbook doesn’t balance no matter how many times you try.
For most of us, the first reaction is to put the blame out there. It could be a politician, an insurance representative, our partner, an erratic driver, an endlessly barking dog or an intrusive neighbor. Whoever they are, they are to blame. And our mind loves the feeling of righteous blame. “I am right, and you are wrong,” it shouts.
But who pays the biggest price for falling into the state of blame? It’s ourselves! We are the ones who experience the tightening in our body, the upset in our mind and the closing of our heart, which goes along with cranky blame. And research has now shown that our health deeply suffers when we are consumed with the fire of crankiness. It raises our blood pressure, gives us tension headaches and tightens our stomach enough that we can get acid reflux.
Also, there is usually a subtle but oftentimes very virulent thought that you are wrong for being cranky. “I shouldn’t be angry, irritated, annoyed, exasperated, frustrated, bitchy, etc.” There is very little understanding that crankiness comes when you are feeling vulnerable, whether it’s the vulnerability of too much or not enough, like too much to do and not enough support, or the feeling of being out of control. The astounding thing to notice is that you increase your vulnerability by beating yourself up for being cranky!
The greatest downside of falling into being cranky is that it closes your heart at a time when you deeply need its nourishment. To have continuous access to your heart is to know a wellspring of tenderness, care, understanding and acceptance that make living life so much easier, especially when it’s not showing up the way you want it to be.
Instead of being lost in crankiness and either throwing it out into the world or showering yourself with judgment, there is another way to be and that is to simply recognize crankiness is here. It’s the understanding that right now your mind is cranky. This kind of acknowledging contains no judgment for it knows that crankiness is a part of the human condition.
Let’s say you had an argument with a friend or loved one and after they leave, you are vacillating back and forth between blaming them and blaming yourself. This can be so intense that you feel like a tennis ball being hit back and forth over a net.
Simply acknowledging that crankiness is here is an opportunity to watch your mind go back and forth rather than being lost in your thoughts. This brings space around the contraction of crankiness, which makes it easier to respond to yourself and to the world rather than react, for now your compassion is not blocked.
Because the energy of crankiness can be so strong and we pay a big price for falling into it, after acknowledgment, it can be helpful to loosen the contraction of your reaction. Some of the ways I have done this is writing a letter to the person, which I never will send. Or sometimes I would go for a walk up and down the stairs in the woods by my house, working up a good sweat.
When crankiness is over the top, my favorite is to go for a drive by myself, making sure all the windows are rolled up and then scream and yell. At first, I would yell at the other person or yell at myself, but I realized that it kept me caught in my stories. So, I learned how to just vocalize the crankiness without words and slowly the tightness would relax. As the cranky storm moved through, I then again had access to the wisdom of my heart.
So, no need to judge yourself when your mind is cranky. It is just a reaction to some vulnerability that is close to the surface. If you doubt that think of a wild jaguar that is caught and caged. If you come anywhere near that cage it will hiss and show its claws and its fangs. Why? Because it is feeling trapped and very vulnerable. You may not be a wild animal, but life can make you feel as vulnerable as the jaguar and what shows up are your metaphorical claws and fangs.
Instead of judging yourself or the other person, be fascinated by crankiness when it shows up. Be the open space where the storm of crankiness can move through you so you can allow crankiness to be your wake-up call, inviting you to come home to your heart once again.
SF Source Mary O’Malley Jul 2019