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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Showing 10 comments
  • simone borba
    Reply

    Well….It was wonderful see the things in this differente way!! thanks a lot! I´m really sorry about my sons´s mistakes and I was felting responsible for his actitudes all the time….Now I´m gonna change my mind!!

    I´m gonna do better from now on…..thanks!!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Simone,

      I’m so glad you found relief from this change in perspective. Keep me posted on how changing your mind changes your feelings, actions, and results!

  • Stacy
    Reply

    I love what you wrote here, not only because of your genuine honesty, but that sometimes we forget as parents that we were kids once too. And we repeat what we were modeled until we look in the mirror and want to change. Since going to years of therapy- mainly because of the young death of my brother- I learned a lot about codependency. But reading what you wrote today reminded me that I sometimes do exactly those things that I don’t want to do. That struggle is real for many people. And I don’t want my daughter to feel that way about anger and/or happiness. I want her to be in charge of her own emotions. Thank you for sharing. It resonated and reminded me to stop and think more. Our kids learn from how we act not just from what we say and I’m always trying to practice what I preach.

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Stacy, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Your daughter is very lucky to have a mom who can be self-reflective and want to do better. Just remember to be gentle with yourself in the process. The goal is connection, not perfection!

  • Camesha
    Reply

    So much of what you said resonates with me. I have a three year old and a nearly one year old. I have to stop and think often about the feelings of my three year old before I respond to him. I try to see things from his point of view. That changes my response to him every time. There are plenty of great nuggets in this post. Very helpful!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Camesha,

      Your words mean so much to me. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Keep looking at things from your children’s point of view. It’s vital to being able to connect with them on a deep level. You’re doing an awesome job!

  • Stephanie Howard
    Reply

    So much of what you write about reminds me of what in 12-step-speak is known as co-dependency — losing yourself to over-participating in another person’s drama. There’s a great book about this called Co-Dependent No More, considered the bible for this kind of thing. The author has since written workbooks and updated versions, one of which is on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/1439102147. It’s not necessarily about kids, but it does deal directly with taking responsibility for oneself. Thank you for your continued candor & wisdom!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing this resource with everyone, Stephanie. It’s definitely a “classic.”

  • Yael
    Reply

    Dear Pam
    Everytime I am in a hard situation that I am not realy sure what to do I always try to think about the win win .. And as you wrote last time trying to be in her shoes..homework, dinner, bath…

    Thanks again Yael

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Yael! Other readers may not know that you are referring to Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and Habit #4: Think Win-Win. I’m so glad you mentioned it here…it’s all about thinking cooperatively, not competitively — and being able to see things from another’s point of view.

      I love that you use that simple mantra (“Think Win-Win”) when you find yourself in a difficult situation. Rock on, Mama!

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