Anger. Management?

You guys asked for a post on anger and managing anger, so here it is.

I have to say that I don't have a whole lot on managing your anger in the moment. I'm not afraid of being angry in front of my kids, as long as I don't get mean to them. So for me, the "in the moment" stuff is more about focusing (and refocusing) on making sure my anger is directed at what I'm really angry at--behavior or a situation, not a person (in the case of my kids). I try to let my kids in on my anger, if that makes any sense, so they understand it but aren't flattened by it. But the whole "count to ten" or "take a few deeps breaths" things, those I just can't seem to do.

What I do think I'm pretty decent at is trying to stay out of situations that make me angry, and stepping back to figure things out when I feel myself getting (what I sense is) irrationally, monstrously angry.

I know we've talked here in the past about using your anger to heal yourself. There seem to be stages at which parents get truly, ragingly, scarily angry at things their kids do. And those stages are different for everyone. I think that when you flare up (out of proportion to the event), that's a place at which you didn't get what you needed as a kid yourself.

So, for example, the reason I just go batshit nuts when my kids leave paper snippets all over the floor (while other kinds of messes annoy or demoralize me, and might make me yell, but don't make me feel like jumping out of my skin), is that I was consistently in trouble with my dad for leaving snippets all over the floor. I can remember his coming home from work and just seeing red (in my memory he looks like a cartoon character, with steam coming out of his ears) and freaking out about the snippets. So, duh, of course that's going to be a sore spot in my psyche, and of course that's going to be a trigger point for me.

I have to say that my Snippet Rage has gotten seriously reduced since I wrote my dad note, apologizing for leaving snippets, and telling him I was getting my comeuppance with my own kids. It made me laugh writing and sending it, and made him laugh when he read it, and kind of diffused (and defused) the emotional hold those stupid little pieces of paper had on all of us. But I think to get rid of the anger even more, I'd have to do some conscious work with verbally rehearsing with myself that it was Ok for my kids to make snippets, and it was OK for me to make snippets, and the rela issueis just that we should all clean up after ourselves.

In the comments to Wednesday's "tricked" post, Rudy in Paris said that it was the whining that made her irrationally angry (I'm using RiP as an example because I know her personally and don't think she'll mind being an example). Now, whining makes me want to gouge out my ears sometimes, but it's not that intense, unstoppable, unmanageable anger for me like it is for her. (You know what's normal anger and what's irrational for you.)

So my guess is that RiP has some whining-related sore spot from her own childhood, so her daughter's whining isn't just about that particular whining, it's about that whining *plus* whatever RiP was whining about at that age. In order to really get past her anger about the whining, she's going to have to do some work about whether whining is OK for her daughter, was it OK for her, did she get irrationally punished for whining, etc. If she's not interested in doing a big childhood emotion-search, then she could focus on redirecting her anger so it was hitting her daughter's behavior but not her daughter so much. And that might be just a small tweak, but it might be the thing that flips it for RiP.

Once again, parenting is hard, but not always for the reasons we think it's going to be!

Another thing I've noticed is that when I'm feeling like I'm running at capacity (another idea a ton off people brought up in the comments on Wednesday!), I get angry more easily and more often than when there's a little ease in my life. For me, it seems like I'm affected emotionally more than logistically. So, for example, I was really angry all the time in the few years right before I made the final decision to get a divorce. OTOH, my life was far more challenging logistically when I was working fulltime (plus doing AskMoxie and working freelance) and in the middle of the divorce process, but I just had more emotional reserves and didn't feel angry as much. (Perhaps being able to be honest with my friends and not lying by pasting on the happy face all the time had something to do with that.)

What that means to me is that I should try to build some ease into my life if at all possible. But sometimes it's not possible, and that means that if I get angry I should just cut myself a break. Emotionally healthy people get angry. It's a normal human emotion. As long as you can try to redirect the anger from meanness at a specific person to rage at a behavior or situation, you can express anger to your kids without hurting them. (Some people might debate that, but I'd rather hear one of my kids mutter, "This stupid* thing!" when a toy isn't working right than getting angry at his brother because the toy doesn't work.)

The one trick I have when I find myself starting to wg out at a kid is to try to turn it funny as quickly as I can. So instead of laying into the kid, I use the same intensity of tone but make it silly. I'm always proud of myself when I can do that instead of letting the anger get on top of me.

I guess this is consistent with my general M.O., which is to try to manage the situation as much as possible, and then just do my best in the actual moment. I know some of you out there have to be much better at anger management in the moment than I am. So, please, share what works for you. Or, just give your thoughts on what I've said and debate and give your own examples.

One final thought: It really is OK to be angry. You have a lot of stuff to be angry about! The anger isn't the actual problem, so cut yourself a break on the anger.

* I'm putting "stupid" to keep up the pretense that I've never cursed in front of my children. Heh.