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Sergeant Major

Have you ever approached your child angrily and seen fear in their eyes? Have you felt fury or rage towards your own children that you never thought you could? Do you hear yourself barking orders in a tone that makes you shudder? Do you see yourself behave towards your children in ways you told yourself you never would?

Are the expectations you have held of motherhood slipping away before your eyes? Do you feel shame and guilt over this? But also perhaps have no idea what’s wrong or how to change? Do you want this to change?

I saw myself losing patience, shouting at my kids, feeling ferocious fury bubble up inside me and out would come what I call my Sergeant Major

I could tell there were times I scared my own children. I was deeply unhappy imagining how I must look in their eyes as I approached them feeling so angry. Each time I allowed Sergeant Major to take over, a little more of that beautiful innocent glimmer in their eyes would fade. 

I did not like how I was feeling and I hated that I behaved like that with my children. It wasn’t all of the time, but it was much more than I was comfortable with. And it was unpredictable, which meant they were walking on eggshells…and here I was repeating a pattern I told myself I never would.

I could, at that point, have allowed shame and guilt to take over. Which in turn would mean not allowing myself to look at what was wrong; remaining stuck doing the same thing, not being able to stop myself. Instead, I allowed myself to take a look at my life and specifically to pay attention to what it was in particular that led up to Sergeant Major taking over.

There are a variety of reasons I can turn into Sergeant Major. The most common is when I feel criticised or have my feelings hurt. It can also happen when I’m tired, when I’m afraid or when I’m feeling uncertain. The anger, fear, sadness, guilt or shame that is triggered turns a switch to control-mode in my behaviour.

Two specific occasions come to mind where I caught the switch happening…

The first: I was chatting to my husband. We were discussing how we needed to change our approach with our youngest who was 11 months old at the time. Our young son was going through a difficult phase that had my husband and me exhausted. A comment from my husband about my discipline in one area pinched. I felt hurt, criticised. I got angry…anger is easier in a lot of ways than admitting hurt. So out would come Sergeant Major.

The second was an ambiguous reaction from my husband when I was feeling particularly tired, tender and lacking a whole load of confidence. I had done my hair in a new style and I thought it looked really nice. My husband noticed and his facial expression threw me. I couldn’t tell if he really liked it, or thought it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen. It sent me spiralling internally into “does he like it? Does he not? What did that look mean? Does it look ridiculous, even though I thought it looked so nice?”...and on and on. I felt embarrassed, disconnected and fearful. The discomfort I felt was enough to let Sergeant Major take over.

In these situations I would see myself leave the room and often go straight to where my kids were, barking orders: “open the curtains and blinds, come on, we’ve got to get going with our morning!” Or “hurry up, come on, quick, we’ve to get ready to go or we’ll be late!…how are you not ready yet?!” Or “OH COME ON! WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE WHAT I ASKED YOU TO DO?! LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE PLACE!”… Or any other long string of instructions or commentary or harsh consequence to vent some of the frustration and discomfort that was building inside me.

I am grateful these days that I can catch myself before I turn into super-control mode and full-on Sergeant Major. Breaking the habit started with paying attention to the pattern. To when and how things can begin to unravel. Noticing the situations that can lead to my feelings being hurt and working on healing those wounds little by little.

What happens before you switch to control-mode? What, do you think, are the feelings behind your transformation into Sergeant Major? What triggers the change in you? What vulnerable feeling, then, is underneath that defence?

Whatever it may be for you, the first step to change is awareness. Pay attention. Lasting change very often does not happen overnight. We will continue to slip into this old pattern while we gradually become aware of and accept what we see ourselves do.

Noticing the slip is progress. 

Identifying what led to the slip is where the treasure lies. Turn the break-out into a break-through. Turn the focus to building your awareness; to seeking the lesson. 

What was it that preceded the Sergeant Major break-out this time? Retrace your emotional steps. Perhaps it was only moments in the making; perhaps it was days. What can you do to make a small act of progress when this same situation represents itself?

The Lord delights in every little step you take” 

- Saint Francis de Sales

Have compassion toward yourself and be patient. Change is on the way. Invite God in and ask Him to direct your actions. Ask Him to show you your blindspots and to show you the wounds that need to be healed to prevent Sergeant Major taking over. Little by little, things will improve. 

Regardless of the cause, regardless of the trigger, the solution is always the same for me: Mom fuel. When I am pouring too much into others without fuelling myself to do so, it is only a matter of time before Sergeant Major takes control of the wheel and changes the tone in my home.

We wouldn’t take our children in the car without enough fuel to complete our journey. Why is it, then, that we expect ourselves to go through our day running on empty? Our days can be incredibly demanding. If Sergeant Major is making an appearance, stop, drop and refuel. Everything else can wait. So little goes to plan or goes smoothly when Sergeant Major is at the wheel. Re-fuel for the next phase of the journey to go smoothly. If you feel ‘in over your head’ and not able to identify what you need to do next, this post may help get you started with simple things you can do to refuel.

As you get used to building regular self-care into your days, you will feel less out of control. You will be replenished with the energy needed to pour into others.

God first, always. Ask Him for what it is you need, what it is you want. Tell Him how your days are going and ask Him in to help you to change. He is waiting to help you. Then turn your attention to you…to identifying what it is you need and providing that for yourself. God will guide you. Self-care is being responsible for our own needs in order to be able to do all that is expected of us. It is not selfish. It is not denying or declining our cross or our suffering, it is fuelling ourselves to endure it joyfully.

Lord, give me the courage to look at myself, the honesty to admit my faults and limitations, the sincerity to try self-improvement, and the love for You that will keep me at it for the rest of my life.” 

- My Daily Bread, Chapter 33: ‘Necessary Care of Oneself’

Take care of you and Let Truth Bloom.

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  1. Love the idea of retracing emotional steps to find the triggers.

    1. Thank you Elissa :) It is a practice that has uncovered many a blindspot of mine!


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