Taming the Monster Within: Controlling Your Anger
We’ve all been there.
Short-tempered. Irritable. Even enraged.
Maybe your kid’s disobedience triggered an unpleasant memory, or a feeling of being unworthy of respect. Maybe you had a stressful day at work. Or maybe you became so depleted from taking care of everyone else that you blew a fuse.
Everyone feels angry from time to time. It’s neither good nor bad — it just is. Anger is a normal part of life that signals when problems need to be addressed, but it can cause problems, too. Being able to deal with anger in a healthy way isn’t easy, but it’s possible, and doing so can make your family life a whole lot better.
KNOW YOUR STYLE
According to Ron and Pat Potter-Efron, authors of Letting Go of Anger, there are different styles of handling anger. The most common ones I see in the parents I work with are referred to in the book as Masked and Explosive anger styles. I tend to think of them as passive and aggressive.
Masked Anger (PASSIVE)
People who mask their anger generally avoid it at all costs because they’ve learned that it’s “bad” or “scary.” They might have witnessed their own parents’ aggressiveness, or were chastised as children for expressing angry feelings. They steer clear of conflict, have trouble saying “no” for fear of being disliked, and then feel resentful and taken for granted.
Psychologist John Bradshaw compares repressed anger to holding a large beach ball under water. Eventually, the anger rises to the surface and breaks through. Sometimes it comes out as rage (like when you try to stay calm and finally lose it), or more indirectly (like when you “forget” to do something you said you’d do). It can also develop into depression or physical illness/pain.
Explosive Anger (AGGRESSIVE)
When you think about anger, you probably think of this kind. Exploders yell. They’re loud, bossy, and pushy. They react instantly and use their power or position to intimidate. They attack others to keep themselves at a safe distance and to avoid getting hurt. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them because you never know what’s going to set them off.
Healthy Anger (ASSERTIVE)
People who handle their anger in healthy ways can express it directly and honestly while still respecting the rights of others. Anger indicates to them that there’s a problem and motivates them to take action. Once the problem is resolved, they don’t hang on to their anger anymore; they release it.
IF YOU’RE AN AVOIDER:
Experiment with asserting yourself more. Instead of stuffing your feelings, express them in an honest and respectful way. For example, suppose you’re watching TV when your teenager walks in and changes the channel without asking. Instead of letting out a heavy sigh and stomping out of the room, say, “Please turn the channel back. I want to keep watching the other show.”
Learn to tolerate your child’s anger. Avoiders can feel unsettled when others get upset. But giving in to your child’s demands just because you’re afraid of his reaction teaches him that he’s in control, not you. As you begin to tolerate his full range of emotions, he’ll also learn to tolerate feelings of disappointment and frustration.
You might also like: When Trying to Make Your Child Happy Makes You Miserable
IF YOU’RE AN EXPLODER:
Don’t pick up the gauntlet. This is one of the principles of ScreamFree Parenting. Just because your child invites you to a conflict doesn’t mean you have to accept. One “gauntlet” that moms frequently tell me about is: “You’re a mean mommy!” I know hearing that can feel like getting punched in the stomach, but it’s just an invitation to a power struggle. Don’t take the bait! It doesn’t help the situation to engage in a yelling match. Breathe deeply and walk away.
Take responsibility for yourself. Spend more time focused on how you want to behave and less time trying to control how your kids behave. Ask directly and respectfully for what you want instead of bullying or intimidating your kids into submission. Kids who feel valued and good about themselves are more likely to cooperate and show respect, too.
You might also like: You Can’t Make Me
Focus on self-care. When you take time to relax and rejuvenate, you can be a much calmer and more effective parent. Read my 3-part Alone Zone series here.
Dr. Phil used to say, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” So, in the comments below, let us know your style(s) of anger. What are some ways you can move toward a healthier relationship with anger starting today?
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I defiantly keep it all in but explode once in awhile. My husband is the explosive kind so I find I try to play peace keeper and them suppress my own feelings of anger. Good post and I defiantly see the need for me time to keep things calm… Maybe my husband would benefit from some me time too.
Hi Lindsay! It’s very common for couples to have opposite anger styles. Great that you have an awareness of your style and that you’re open to upping your self-care game. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself AND your family!
Great post Pam. I’m definitely an exploder!
I love what you say here about not being able to change what you don’t acknowledge. Over the years my self-awareness has blossomed and as a result I’ve been able to see myself (warts and all!) with more clarity.
I’ve made a regular practice out of my personal growth/self-awareness (reading loads of fascinating books, practicing yoga, journal writing, working on my ‘project ME’) and I’ve gone from a chronic shout-a-holic to a peaceful parent.
I still have my explosive moments, but they are few and far between now – instead of daily.
I would have leapt at the opportunity to have coaching with you a few years ago before I got this under control. I’m sure it would have fast tracked me to a happier, calmer place much faster than years of reading books.
What you’re doing is so very valuable. x
Your story is inspiring. It takes a lot of hard work and introspection to make the kind of transformation you describe. You should be so proud of yourself for that, and for paying it forward through your work with Project ME! Thanks for commenting! xoxo