Okaleo’ Wahine
The Voice of Women
YWCA of Kauai
    March 2002  Volume 21Issue 3

A Key to Caring: Time-Outs*
Presented by David Yeats Co-Director of the Decision Point Alternatives to Violence Program

*"A Key to Caring: Time-Outs" in Okaleo' Wahine; The Voice of Women, Vol. 21, Issue 3, March 2002.

All of us have heard of Time-Outs, and most have us have used them in one way or another for ourselves or for our children. Most of us understand the idea of taking a bit of a break when we get too stimulated or overwhelmed. We have also heard of using time¬-outs as a way to avoid angry, scary, or violent exchanges with a spouse or partner.  BUT despite being familiar with the Time-Out idea, few of us use it in as regular, pre-planned, or thoughtful a way as we could.

All humans are capable of becoming reactive, of being over stimulated or overwhelmed at times. All humans have times when they "get triggered" or have their "buttons pushed." There are two aspects of this fact that are important to pay attention to: how we reduce the chance of becoming reactive, and what to do when we become reactive. The Time-Out is the key to both.

To reduce the chances of becoming reactive, taking Mini Time-Outs throughout the day or evening can be a great way to remain calm and to notice when things might be getting to us. Using the Time-Out in this way, it can even be a kind of personal meditation, where we can wonder about how to take better care of ourselves (or our loved ones), and where we can imagine how we'd like to be with ourselves and those we love. It's prevention: the better I can take care of myself, the less likely I will feel at the end of my rope. These Mini Time-Outs can be done privately with no one really knowing, or they can be talked about, with each family member understanding that Mini Time-Outs are OK for everyone.

An attitude of valuing and respecting quiet, reflective time and a spirit of family members collaborating so it can happen ends up contributing to the idea that every family member is important and worth caring about.

The other way a time-out can help is after we have become reactive. In any family situation when one person gets reactive, it is an absolute GUARANTEE that other family members will become reactive (or triggered, or feel their buttons pushed, or have the adrenaline start to flow, or be frightened, etc.), whether they show it or not.

Also, when we do get reactive, all those thousands of other times--like when I was a kid--when we've had a similar feeling in the past, flood the present moment too. It's not just what I'm reacting to now; I'm also reminded of those countless other times I felt this same way! And that's what happens as well to everybody else who is there.

So here I'm triggered and you're triggered, and we're both thinking about or feeling just like all those other times, and now, this time too. Then one more thing happens: because we have now shifted into what is really an altered state, we start to act like we did when we were kids--not like the adults we have become, with all our adult knowledge and reason and skills. Then things can explode.

So here's the point: once I become reactive or triggered, so does the other person and there is no longer any way we can salvage the situation by staying in it. We may feel right or righteous or like this is the last straw or fed up-it doesn't matter! Nothing loving and caring and constructive can come out of these moments. We're truly in an altered state and not thinking clearly! Ahhhhhgh!!!

What's the solution? (Dun-du-dah!): Time-Out. Now. Just go!

You won't like it. It won't feel good or finished or resolved. Your partner won't like it for the same reasons. Deal with that later. Go.

Now, sometime when things are calm, how about talking about a Time-Out plan? How about making an agreement to include Time-Outs as part of your routine, as much as groceries or chores or work? We have Time-Outs. I can take one, or my partner can. Even the kids can.

It means this: "I love you, and I will keep you safe. 1 will take responsibility to manage my altered state, regardless how I got to it. I will leave, and I will come back and talk with you when I can do it with respect."

Only then can I guarantee that I will act with compassion and respect, all the time, with my partner, my kids, my parents, my family, my friends. And that, for all of us, is the "prime directive."

Here's the Goal:

1)To establish safety and respect for those I love.
2)2) To behave non-violently at all times.

Here's the Plan:

1) When I feel agitated, upset, or not in control, I declare a Time-Out, like this: "I'm feeling (upset, frustrated angry, hurt, etc.) and I'm going to take a Time-Out."

2) I leave for a specific period of time (no longer than two hours). The specific length of time of the Time- Out is understood and agreed on by both partners. (This normally occurs before I take the Time-Out).

3) While I'm away, I work on changing my body chemistry and calming myself by walking, running, surfing, doing push-ups etc.) I avoid driving; I don't use drugs or alcohol. The idea is to calm and soothe myself so I can return with a caring and respectful attitude, so we can work together.

4) I return at the agreed on time, and gently try to re-connect. It may at times be necessary to table the issue until another time (within 24 hours) or even to take a second Time-Out. These are better choices than losing control.

Here's the Timing:

Sit down and talk about it at a time when you are both calm and have some good will. Try to reach an agreement that either person can call a Time-Out, and try to agree on what the parameters are. Ultimately a Time-Out is a personal decision—I take permission, not ask for it. Still, a common agreement is necessary as well in the long run!

With a desire to act with care and respect, sprinkled with a dab of awareness, and a splash of good will, life can be more joyful and satisfying. Good luck!