You Can’t Make Me
Growing up, I remember being terrified of anger.
Anger was sometimes loud, sometimes uncomfortably quiet, always scary, and often unpredictable and confusing.
There were lots of slammed doors, long periods of bitter silence, and feelings of shame, loneliness, and resentment.
It took me years and years to realize that I believed I was responsible for “making” others angry. It may or may not have ever been spoken, but the message I received from adults was:
Don’t make me mad.
I started to believe that if I could just do the right things, say the right things, and be the person that others wanted me to be, I could prevent them from getting angry with me and I could avoid rejection.
Deep down, I knew that I was a good person who didn’t deserve to be the target of another’s wrath. I felt angry inside, but I dared not show it. I stuffed my anger down, put on a “good girl” smile, and went about my business.
I began keeping a diary at the age of 10, where I unloaded my frustrations and expressed my feelings through poetry, drawings, and writing. My diary became my prized possession – the one thing I decided I would protect in the event of a house fire – its pages were the only place I felt safe enough to be myself, “bad” feelings and all.
Since I believed that I controlled other people’s emotions, I unconsciously reasoned that they controlled mine.
Not only did I blame others for my negative moods and circumstances, I also became dependent on them for my happiness. In hindsight, this was clearly demonstrated in my early romantic relationships which often started out strong, and then quickly became infected with insecurity, clinginess, distrust, and resentment (aka DRAMA).
When I first became a mother, I unleashed a lot of my pent-up anger on Marissa.
The conditions were just right: I felt incapable, unqualified, and alone. It seemed easier to blame Marissa for my misery and yell at her than it was to take control of my own happiness. And I felt a false sense of power because she was so defenseless.
I knew in my heart that my anger was misdirected, but I didn’t know how to change.
As Divine intervention would have it, I stumbled across Hal Runkel’s ScreamFree Parenting book at my local library when Marissa was 3 years old, and his message woke me up:
Your emotional responses are up to you.
You always have a choice.
When I was trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I learned that our thoughts precede our feelings. However, many people assume it's the other way around — that our feelings affect our thoughts. While it's true that the influence works in both directions, we actually have the power to change our thoughts in order to bring about different feelings.
So, I started doing just that. I began thinking differently about my situation and making new choices.
Instead of saying, “Don't make me pull this car over,” I said, “I'm pulling the car over until you stop screaming” (and I did). I replaced, “You're going to make me lose my temper,” with “I'm feeling very frustrated right now and I don't want to yell.”
The other thing I try to do when I catch myself about to blame my kids is to PAUSE long enough to ask myself: Is there another way to think about this? If I can choose my thoughts, why not choose to think more positively?
Why not choose to believe, for example, that my daughter’s intentions are innocent instead of malicious? Or, that in the grand scheme of things it really won't matter if we're 10 minutes late to school, especially if she feels the pride of being able to tie her own shoelaces.
Are you taking responsibility for your emotions? How can you change your thoughts about a recurring frustrating situation in order to change your feelings about it? Please leave a comment and share your ideas.
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