You can change. I know you can change, because I recently changed something about myself that has been haunting me for years.
For as long as I can remember, there has been a Hulk lurking within me. This big, green, angry, Hulk, is the side of me who is ready to pulverize anyone or anything that gets in my way. On the outside, you would never know that there is this side of me, as I think I come off as relatively calm, reasonable, and in control. However, on the inside, I am frequently waging an all-out war on my psyche to stay in control and resist the urge to bring my thoughts into the physical world and yell out, “HULK SMASH!!!!”
Over the past five years, I have developed good awareness of this side of me and have implemented coping strategies to keep the ‘Big Green Guy’ under wraps. These coping strategies mainly consist of me “checking out” emotionally. Put another way, should the Hulk buttons get pushed, I take my mind to another place, try to take some deep breaths, and disengage from the situation or conversation. While this method reduces the likelihood that I will lose my temper on the outside, I am usually left feeling hatred, anger, or disappointment in myself by allowing my mind to be overcome with negative thoughts because, “I feel someone didn’t listen to me,” or, “I perceived someone to be disrespecting me.” Looking back on these situations, the person who I perceived to have been inflicting mental damage on me, probably had no desire to do anything harmful at all. Getting ‘the Hulk’ to see things that way is another story.
This past Christmas morning, Hulk nearly ruined the holiday. Here’s how and what I did that was years’ worth of effort in the making…
From childhood, I have great memories of my brother and I running out of our bedrooms and into the living room to see the Christmas tree and getting that incredible rush of excitement while seeing all the presents, the filled stockings, and the half-eaten cookies and milk that Santa had devoured from the night before. Now, my Christmas excitement is all for my children, who at 7 and 4 years of age, have taken the place of my brother and me from childhood. Knowing how fleeting these moments are with my kids, I couldn’t wait to see their faces and join in the excitement as they hold their own mad dash to the tree.
This past Christmas morning, as my wife and I got our cameras ready and gathered the kids to make our way into where the tree and presents were setup, I went into an adjoining bedroom to put on a sweatshirt. While I was away from the group for that brief moment, I heard the kids run into the living room and yell out, “SANTA CAME!!!!!!! SANTA CAME!!!!!!!!! SANTA CAME!!!!!!!”
The big reveal was over and I had missed it.
Not knowing I wasn’t behind her, my wife had led the kids into the living room and left me behind. Immediately, Hulk came roaring to life…
“YOU LEFT ME!!!”
“YOU HAD CHRISTMAS WITHOUT ME!”
“YOU DON’T CARE IF I GET TO SEE THE KIDS EXPERIENCE CHRISTMAS!”
“MY FAMILY DOESN’T LOVE ME!!”
Upon hearing these words in a flash of near rage, my inner Hulk wanted me to run into the room, kick every single present, throw the tree out of the house, and smash leftover cookies into the bedhead hair of my unsuspecting children.
Barely holding myself together as if I was grabbing onto the legs of Hulk so he didn’t ransack the house, I slowly walked into the room where my kids were busy inspecting their gifts. At this point, another voice entered my mind. This voice was much quieter and wasn’t angry at all. The words were…
“It’s ok Dan, your family loves you.”
“Jenny didn’t mean to leave you.”
“Stay calm, you can do this.”
After hearing these words, Hulk replied with, “I WAS HURT – THEY MUST PAY!!!!!!” Walking more quickly now, I came closer to my wife and children. The whole room was a big blur – I was there, but not there. I could feel myself beginning to check out and emotionally cancel Christmas for the year. I wanted to both yell at Jenny and cry. The quieter voice continued…
“You’re doing great, this will pass.”
“Your wife loves you so much and would never want to hurt you.”
“You don’t need to explode; Christmas can still be saved.”
These words were just enough to prevent Hulk from blowing up. I decided to do nothing, as hard as that was to do at the time. My approach was to just stand there in the horrible emotional goo, watching my kids experience incredible joy, and do nothing. After several minutes of feeling sad and angry, the anger was the first emotion to subside. Now, I was left with a thick sadness, the type of sadness that a 2nd grader would get after being left out of a kickball game.
Sensing that I was in a good enough place to act, I approached my wife when she went over to the kitchen, away from the kids. Like a sad child, I strolled up next to her and said, “I’m really sad, you guys ran out to the Christmas tree without me.” Seeing my sadness and not being one to intentionally inflict pain on her husband during Christmas morning, my wife immediately gave me a hug and said how sorry she was, saying how she thought I was right behind them. This was all I needed.
Knowing her words to be true, I returned to my 41-year-old self. My sad 2nd grader and angry Hulk disappeared back into the trenches of my psyche and made no further appearances that day. It might not have been as dramatic as the Grinch riding into Whoville and returning all the presents, but I felt like I had saved Christmas.
Looking back on the day, being “left behind” was the best gift I could have received that morning. In those moments, years of efforts came to fruition and I was left with an understanding that I CAN change for the better and the work is not only a gift to me, but a gift to my family as well. While my kids have already broken or forgotten about most of their Christmas presents, I am hopeful they will continue to get “use” from their father’s hold on his Inner Hulk and emotions.
Author Bio: Dan started Fired and Free in 2017, to provide his “truth” after being fired as CEO of the company he started and led. After a diverse 17-year career in management consulting and entrepreneurship, Dan now leads 3Sixty Leadership, where he provides coaching and consulting to business owners with $1M to $20M in revenue, helping them to improve their leadership and company culture.