Anger can be a tricky emotion. None of us are immune to it, but some of us are more volatile than others. It’s an emotion I was afraid of for a long time because it’s not always easy to know what to do with it. The intensity can be . . . well, intense. Explosive. And often, justified.
Both of my children seem to have inherited my strong emotions (Lord, help me!), so dealing with anger that flares and escalates quickly is a regular occurrence. I was trying my best to help them, and I found myself saying, “There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. We all feel angry sometimes. But it’s what you do with your anger than can get you in trouble. You have to handle it the right way.” And then a teary-eyed child said, “Well, what’s the right way?”
Long pause. Blank stare.
I didn’t know. I’ve spent my life mostly burying it and trying to not explode. When it gets to be too much, I take a shower and have a good cry. I knew how heated my anger could be, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone with it or give the wrong impression or not be a good, gentle lady. So I adopted a cycle of “bottle, sob, berate myself for feeling things so strongly, repeat.” Not particularly helpful or healthy. And now I have two children who also feel AllTheFeels. They needed help, but I didn’t have any to give them.
So I’ve been learning, right alongside them, reading and studying and listening to people who seem to know what they’re talking about. We’re making progress, all 3 of us, although some days, the progress feels painfully slow.
Perhaps the most helpful thing for me so far has been learning to listen to what my anger is trying to tell me, to take those emotions and turn them into a question: what is it I am actually reacting to? What mattered so much to me that it provoked such an intense response?
I had the chance to practice this very recently. Something happened last week that made me angrier than I have been in a very long time. I was shaking with how upset and frustrated I was. And for once, I didn’t bury it or dismiss it or try to spiritualize my way out of it. I gave my husband a heads up that I was furious and it wasn’t his fault but I was going to need to unload (another wise lesson I’ve learned – give the poor man a heads up!). When we were finally able to sit across from each other and he said, “Ok, let’s have it,” it all poured out in torrents. I let myself feel it all and say it all. But as the layers of what happened and who said what and how I felt in the moment and what I wanted to do and what I actually did peeled off, suddenly something shifted in the conversation. I was able to see something clearly about my own heart and what I am passionated about that i had never really identified before.
In the days that have followed (much calmer), as I’ve continued to process and think, the clarity has continued to come. And what could have either been damaging or another thing buried is turning into something that is going to significantly impact my life and some choices ahead of us. It’s been kind of amazing.
i’m no anger expert, that’s for sure. I’m fumbling my way through it as I learn a better way. But one thing I am certain of, our anger is rarely isolated—just anger for no reason. There is something waiting to be revealed about our hearts if we will listen to it, rather than bottling it or letting it poison us.
P.S.: If you know any good secrets for helping children process their anger, I’m all ears!