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Friday, 27 February 2015

Expressing anger, a personal example.

Some people show their anger.

Some people stuff the anger down and hide it.

Some of us feel ashamed of feeling angry or frustrated. It makes us feel sad and we land up crying instead instead of showing our true feelings.

In some families people find it difficult to express what they feel and patterns of non-communication have evolved. They find it easier to separate, each person preferring to withdraw, and keeping to themselves. they keep quiet about what they really feel. Parents might role model what they have learned from their parents and perpetuate the cycle because they don’t know any other way. It is difficult to role model something you haven’t experienced, such as the expression of feelings or vulnerable thoughts, if you haven’t had the chance to learn how to do it.Some people decide to try a different way, without knowing how.

Let’s look at anger as an example as I think that this is a common problem. To be quite honest I didn’t learn how to express anger because in my family my father, an alcoholic was a gentle person when sober but, when drunk had a violent temper. We found it safer to keep the peace so as not to trigger his anger. Challenging him would have been dangerous. It was like walking on eggshells. I, in turn, became afraid to express anger partly because I had grown up with a bad example and because I wanted nothing to do with it. I rejected anger. Also because I had not seen a healthy way of expressing anger I chose to bottle it up for about 40 years of my life.

I became afraid when anyone (teacher, boss, husband or friend) expressed anger - even legitimate anger, almost expecting the worst kind of violence. I perpetuated a cycle to some degree, not by expressing anger in violent ways but by becoming silent and stuffing down my anger.This I think of as the "keeping the peace" cycle. I would say nothing, only cry, but inside my anger grew and grew. I did this because I didn't know how to express anger in a healthy way.

 I also didn't know how to teach my children how express it in a healthy way; for example, if my child slammed the door I would reprimand them for slamming the door (and making a noise). I was inadvertently giving them the message that anger is wrong. Let’s say I said “we don’t want you slamming doors” or “it is bad to slam doors” I shut them down without finding a better way of expressing their anger or frustration. They ended up thinking I didn’t want them to express their anger.  In actual fact the comment was made recently by one of my grown up children that “We were made to feel that anger is bad.”

Transformation is possible, as I have found out, transforming from a fearful person to courageous person in the face of anger. I have learned how to express anger in healthy ways. And I have learned how to stand my ground in the face of anger – not being threatened by it - but being able to listen to what the message is behind the anger. Slamming doors, shouting, hitting the wall etc. are often ways of showing inner frustration at not being heard; or acknowledged; or feeling threatened.

A much better way of helping your child with anger is to tell them, if they have just slammed the door, that slamming the door (or any other destructive behavior) is not going to get what they want and THEN encourage them to use their words to tell you what they need or want. This will go a long way to mutual understanding and discussion. Discussion needs to be respectful – both towards the adult and towards to the child. It is up to you to be able to listen without reacting. Sometimes it is helpful to take a break when things get heated. You might notice that your pulse rate rises – and you find you begin to say things you regret. It is better to come back to the discussion later when you have both calmed down. We all want to be heard: so listen, and really listen. Emotion is a signal to ourselves and others around us. When tempers flare up the main goals are, not to stuff them down, but that both parties get heard; that everybody’s needs get expressed and a solution is worked out so that everybody concerned is satisfied.

Remember if you have never tried this before, and you are breaking an old pattern, it takes time to learn new ways of communicating but with practice you will become better at it. Be patient.
This post is just scratching at the tip of the ice-berg. And I have given just one personal example. There is a lot more experience and information around you. Watch and listen and become aware.

A warm smile,

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