You don’t have to watch the news every night (in fact, I’d tell you to their don't!) to know that we are a nation who is obsessed with being righteously angry. The BBC did a poll and found that 69% of Americans consider themselves angry. Why? Take your pick! My pastor this last week challenged us to Google “outrage” and put any demographic in there and you will be inundated with lists upon lists of people who are “outraged”. We even Googled, “knitters outrage” and found out they are too and, “...will not be appeased!” ( on account of knitting not being picked as a sport for the Olympics. No comment.). As humans, we have the need to take a stand on something that we feel passionately about and sometimes that passion is fueled be anger and righteousness. I myself receive comments on social media about how I support child abuse because I use ABA, these comments and accusations are made without finding out anything about myself or my business (which, to be clear, I am adamantly opposed to child abuse and use ABA techniques that are reinforcing, not punishing). We are a nation of, “Right Fighters” as Dr. Phil would describe and we are more interested in fighting our cause to the death than sitting back and letting things roll off our backs. Have we relaxed enough in our seats to see how this can affect our parenting?
Recently four very thoughtful and spot-on points about anger were brought to my attention and I realized that if we all just exercise a little more self-awareness we can possibly curb this era of anger. Are you up for the challenge? I was! My journey with dealing with my own anger started as a teenager and, with lots of help, has subsided the last few years. Here’s a little background on me so you can see where my starting point was. Before the age of five, my father had committed suicide, I had been being sexually, verbally, and emotionally abused, and my mom had remarried and started a new family. I grew up with the understanding that I was a “secret carrrier”, ever been one of those? I grew up being told to not talk about my pain or abuses, as well as keep others unhealthy secrets. This led me on a path of self destruction that continued well into my adulthood. I had anger bubbling over, tainting every part of my life and it wasn’t until I got help with my past did I come to realize I do not have to carry around all the anger. If we are put here to be happy, joyous and free I was WAY off the mark and needed to take a good look at my life and what needed adjusting. Here is what I like to call the 4 Cornerstones of Anger and how they pertained to me:
1.) Anger is Unhealthy. Ok, you might be rolling your eyes right now at the obviousness of this one but hear me out. Have you ever gotten to a point in your life where you were broken, just completely broken? Finishing a sentence doesn’t seem worth the energy it would take to take the first breath? And when I say unhealthy I’m not just talking about your physical well being. When you are so angry it makes your mind, spirit, and soul sick. Your every thought is tainted with this poison and that negative voice resonates in your brain over and over. So while this is going on how are you portraying the calm, happy, engaged parent you want to be with your child? You’ll notice that your children will start to follow your lead and act that way you are (after all, we follow peoples actions more than their words). What are your actions showing your child? If someone asked them how their mom or dad felt about themselves what would they say? I remember my daughter saying to me, when I was in a rare state of happiness, that I’m “always mad and yelling”. I realized my trigger for anger was so short and as I’m having these battling, negative conflicts in my mind here is this little girl looking to me to show her what kind of woman she should grow up to be. Wow, that was a wake wake-up call! How could I show her how to be a grown woman by the actions I was showing her and expect her to be happy and respect herself? I couldn’t.
2.) Anger is Contagious. Anger is not an isolated emotion that stays in a box until we are ready to move on to a healthier emotion. Anger spills over into all the areas of our lives and affects how we react to even the calmest of scenarios. And when we are angry, who’s in the backseat watching? I was raised by a mother who didn’t have much handle on her anger so I acted the way I saw her acting. She had a favorite saying when I was little and I would get in trouble, “I’m going to break your arm and beat you with the bloody end of it!” One day we were driving and I was in the backseat playing with a doll and I said this to my doll. This was my mom's insight into how her actions affected my behavior and I don’t think she ever said that to me again.
3.) Anger is Intoxicating. Have you ever been so all encompassed with your anger that you could think of nothing else? The subject of your anger just kept finding opportunities (or, rather, you kept finding opportunities for them to creep in) to creep into your head? I know I would use any excuse to be mad and complain about what was “wrong” with someone else. Pretty soon I noticed that I was so into these feelings that I had no friends around anymore to listen. Misery loves the company and they weren’t miserable and didn’t want to join me.
4.) Anger is addictive. Who doesn’t like to be right? Who doesn’t like it when other people back down when you're in you “Right Fighter” mindset? “Ha! See! I knew they’d back down!” I would think to myself, with a smug grin on my mug. Yeah, looking back now I can see how unattractive that was to be around and I can also see that most people just got plain tired of fighting with me. Why? It’s just not worth it! People would say I was right just to put an end to my ranting. I saw black and white, there was no grey matter when it came to me. Nope. You were with me or against me and if you chose the latter than look out! What time, maturity, and therapy has taught me is that I was so consumed with my addiction to being right that I didn’t see beyond it. Take for instance an alcoholic when they are deep and active in their disease. Almost every waking thought is about when and where they will get alcohol next, how many hours or minutes until they can have that first drink, and making sure they will have enough alcohol to keep them buzzed for however long they can. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in their lives, drinking comes first at all times. That’s how being addicted to anger can feel sometimes. Once it consumes you your in until you take drastic measures to work your way out.
I don’t by any means mean to say that anger can’t be a healthy emotion and one that can keep us safe. As a whole society we need to be relying more on our true emotions and gut intuition to steer us, but once we hop on the anger train we need to be very cautious that we are on there for the right reasons. Is it an emotion that comes and goes or is it camped out in your subconscious and guiding your throughout your day? And if so have you asked yourself what the hell am I so angry about? Finding that I was powerless to control what others did (things that I thought were so unfair and mean) then it was much easier for me to choose another emotion. When I first started out on my journey a therapist told me to pray for the person who seemed intent on keeping me angry. I remember laughing because I couldn’t think what positive I would wish on them! I clearly remember thinking, “Alright, I pray (insert antagonist’s name here) doesn’t die a slow death. I hope it’s quick.” That’s about as good as I could do at that point in my life! Today I am able to wish multiple good will wishes on this person and it’s coming from a place of truth and honesty. I don’t want someone else to be hurt or in pain, but I do know enough now that I cannot control their actions and it’s better if I am not around them. Setting up boundaries with people who would love for you to join their pity party is such a healthy way to have a relationship with people. If your riding the anger train and can’t seem to get off really ask yourself what is angering you, what is hurting you, and where is your fear base in all of this? If your child came to you saying the things you are saying to yourself how would you handle it? “I never knew I was a bully until I heard how I talked to myself. I owe myself an apology.” This is one of my favorite sayings and keeps my ego at a manageable size.
I hope that I’ve given you a few ideas on how to be better to yourself and I always love hearing from you all about other things you’ve done that I can try as well. Remember to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your insights and comments!