Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is Raging Mad Really So Bad?

There's no use denying it: Our kids may call forth the best in us, but there are times they simply drive us mad! Parents in all kinds of families get angry at their children all the time. One moment you're enjoying a harmonious gathering at the breakfast table and next thing you know you feel like you're going to explode. 

The Need For a Broader Perspective

Getting angry with people or situations outside the home is one thing - but to find yourself angered by your very own child, who is so dear to you and is so much a part of you, is an entirely different matter. It can leave you disconcerted and confused. Moreover, the intensity of the anger can be frightening. And if you're not careful anger can easily become an obstacle in the relationship between you and your child. That is why gaining a broader perspective on anger is so important. 

A Spice Called Anger 

Objectively speaking, anger is strongly felt displeasure that seems to befall us at more or less unpredictable intervals. Moreover, this feeling of strong displeasure seems to demand an immediate expression. 
   Anger is a feeling, a strong emotion and as such it is one of the fundamental aspects of your being. It cannot be labeled either bad or good. Just as the spices in a dish make it come to life, so do your emotions make you come alive. Too much salt and pepper or too little basil and thyme make for a dish that is out of balance. Salt or pepper in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. The amount in which they are used determines whether the end result is pleasing or unpalatable. 

   With human  emotions and personal qualities it works the same. An overdose of empathy harbors the danger of sentimentality, whereas the right amount allows you to feel compassion. Joy mixed with compassion leads to understanding and peace, while joy without any kind of empathy may lead to hilarity or cynicism. When joy is absent altogether, life is gray and dull. Love, balanced by wisdom and respect, leads to freedom. On the other hand, however, love easily leads to possessiveness if not thus balanced. 
   When we examine the emotion of anger it becomes clear that an uncontrolled measure of anger will lead to rage and madness – not a good thing. Just like too much chili powder will ruin a tasty salsa, too uncontrolled anger wreaks havoc in our relationships. On the other hand, by suppressing anger you deny yourself access to the creative energy that anger brings. In the right amount, and in harmony and balance with other ingredients, the spicy herb called anger can perfect an otherwise bland and uninteresting dish. This ingredient does not taste either good or bad. It is just an ingredient, to be used in measure. Anger just is. 

Using Anger's Creative Energy

There is only one source of energy in the universe; there is only one source from which everything originates. Anger comes from that very same source. Anger is just an aspect of the full array of qualities through which creation, through individuals, expresses itself. It is up to each individual to give anger its proper place and expression. You can deny it, let it propel you into a rage, or you can measure and control it, and use it as a motivator for creative action. Instead of reacting in anger you can learn to creatively act using the energy anger engenders . Then, instead of experiencing anger as the destructive force everyone is so familiar with, you will experience its creative power. Let’s look at an example:
   It’s Mike’s job today to give the baby his daily bath. So he takes the plastic tub and places it over the sink of the bathroom counter top to fill it with warm water. Next, he undresses the baby, and, holding the baby in one arm, he reaches for the soap. Enter four-year-old brother Evan. Evan is curious and wants to see what Dad is up to. To have a better look he pulls himself up on his toes grabbing the rim of the tub. But then the tub tips over and the water spills all over Dad, soaking the entire bathroom floor.
   A common assumption is that each person reacts to something like this in his or her own way. There is not much you can do about it. It’s just the way you are. Actually, there is something you can do about it, namely decide that you would prefer not to be “on automatic.” You can choose an alternative way to respond. Let’s examine possible reactions:
   a) Mike swears, throws the baby back in the crib, yells at Evan and anyone who comes close, and emphatically states that bathing babies is women’s work and he’s not going to do it again.

   b) Mike swallows his frustration. With a seemingly calm attitude he cleans up the mess, changes, and starts the whole routine over again. But the penned up energy is still there, waiting for the smallest provocation to burst into the open. His wife might call from another room asking if he has seen her keys, and Mike will vent his anger on his wife who is so maddeningly unorganized.

   c) Mike curses, walks over to the crib, tucks in the baby and changes his clothes. He uses the angry energy to clean up the bathroom fast. He walks over to the crib and dresses the baby, telling him that today he will have to go without his bath, because Daddy just doesn’t feel like doing it again. Thinking about the accident, Mike concludes that the counter top in the kitchen is a much more stable surface to hold the bath tub. Evan could not possibly pull it out of balance there. Next time, he decides, he'll bathe Junior in the kitchen.
   In the first two responses nothing really changes. Mike has only reacted, and the next day, should the tub tip over again, he will respond in similar fashion. In the third response, however, you can see that the anger aroused was used for change. Dad allowed the expression of a certain amount of anger, and then let the anger be an incentive to change things for the better. Instead of being on automatic and reacting in anger, Mike chose to creatively act using anger as his motor. 
   If anger aroused by such a minor occurrence as water spilled in the bathroom, can be focused in a creative way, imagine what focused anger can accomplish in areas that matter a lot more.

The Need to Focus Your Energy

Children, by virtue of being children, are vulnerable. Your words and deeds, including your anger, influence them more than you may be aware of. Adults can harness themselves against angry outbursts, but children, by their very nature, are not thus equipped. Angry arrows always hit their heart. 

   Once you are aware of the destructive potential of your uncontrolled angry actions you may want to think about ways to direct your anger differently. But how will you know the right direction in which to point anger and how do you point it that way? Before you try to determine a new focus for your anger, you will need to know more about what happens now when you are angry. Only when you are fully aware of your current behavior will you be able to change it in a new direction. 

   Think about a time when you felt angry with your child. Think it through in the most objective terms you are capable of. Write down what happened. What triggered the emotion? What did you feel?  It may have been powerlessness, frustration, irritation, indignation, etc. Just feel the color and the intensity. Get acquainted with the feeling. Analyze the way you responded. Did you try to be tolerant and push aside your feelings, or did you let your rage take over? Was it a reaction or an action?
   It is important to know the answers to these questions. Again, only when you are fully aware of your current behavior will you be able to change it in a new direction. Thinking about these questions will help you in gaining an understanding of yourself and of the amount of hot spice you like in the dish called life.
   Next, try to identify personal qualities that are part of who you are. You might think of yourself as friendly, decisive, innovative or creative and you know that you posses a generous sense of humor or are skilled in a number of ways. Any one of your personal qualities may very well lend itself to be linked up with anger's creative energy, in such a way that the result is a balanced change. An example will shed more light on this works.
   Mary's kids spend too much time on the computer. That is, according to Mary. The kids are fine with the amount of time spent in front of the screen. Time and time again, when Mary tries to set boundaries to their behavior, the kids disobey and she finds herself irritated and angry with them and with the computer. Each and every time she feels the anger well up inside of her and shouting at the kids doesn't feel right.
   One of her personal qualities she has been able to identify is that she has a deep appreciation for beauty. She decides to bring this quality to bear upon the computer issue. She decides to let beauty be the spice that gives anger a proper focus. How does she do that? Well, first she focuses on beauty, trying to identify all that is beautiful about this issue. Her kids are beautiful, for one. This thought helps her focus on loving her children unconditionally no matter how much time they spend on the computer. Next, she realizes that something about the computer games the kids play must really be of interest to them, just as beauty is of interest to her. This thought makes her decide to ask them about the games and teach her how to play them in order to find out what it is that appeals to them. 
   Now, instead of being an authoritarian figure who gives directives out of irritation and anger, she has become an ally, open for input and perspectives. The issue isn't solved - yet. But Mary has changed, and with this change new outcomes are possible.

   Of course Mary can't implement all this at the moment she has already become angry. At that point the only thing she can do is acknowledge the emotion and respond as well as she's able. But what she can do right after things have calmed down a bit, is think about the issue in lines of the above and work on herself. If she's able to blend her sense of beauty with the energy her anger aroused in this way she'll be able to put her anger to creative use.
   Likewise with any other personal quality. If kindness is a personal quality of yours, then consider the issue that causes you to become angry and look for aspects that you feel friendly towards. Then, focus on those aspects. Let those aspects lead you towards a helpful blend of kindness and anger that works for positive change. If joy or hope are personal qualities, again, look at the issue and focus on where you can apply your personal sense of joy or hope. Your personal qualities direct the energy caused by anger and together they create a new form. 

Angry Parents Are Role Models Too

Lastly, it is good to consider the fact that your children will model their behavior after the example you give. If you let your anger take over control and act impulsively, you cannot expect your children to behave differently. On the other hand, your own example of anger consciously focused towards constructive action becomes a powerful model. This, combined with your help in guiding your children to deal with their own anger in a creative way, is a powerful child rearing tool.
   But of course you cannot become a perfect example overnight. Even if you are able to focus your anger constructively most of the time, there will be occasions when you blow it. You will miss opportunities to hone your skills and to prove yourself to be a worthy example to your children. At moments like that your kids will come to the rescue. Children are very forgiving. They do not like to hold a grudge. Their urge to love you and to be loved by you is too strong. They will gladly wipe your slate clean. Where other people are not likely to give you another chance once you have blown it, your kids will. 
   So, is raging mad really so bad? Well, it depends. It depends on what you do with it. If you're able to focus the newly aroused energy in constructive ways using your personal qualities for direction, then raging mad may actually be quite good. It will lead to new ways to work on yourself and at the same time improve the relationship with your kids.

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