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Why Anger Isn’t Good or Bad

What you do with it can either build up or destroy relationships.

Have you ever come home from work with an expectation that blew up right in your face?

Your “quiet evening at home” turns chaotic when one of your children says they have a science project due tomorrow and your other child suddenly needs cupcakes for the class party. So much for a calm evening after an exhausting day.

You head to the grocery store for supplies and your spouse begins to oversee the science project. When you return, you realize you should have also picked up some lice-killing shampoo.

You have no idea what time you actually fell into bed, but the alarm blares far too soon. You get up with an edge and start barking out orders to everyone. “Comb your hair! Get the dog out before she has an accident. Where are the lunches you were supposed to pack last night?” At this point, it doesn’t seem like anybody is going to have a good day.

On the way to work, as you yell at the drivers around you, you realize you are angry. The question is, “Why?”

Researchers tell us anger is a secondary emotion, the tip of the iceberg so to speak. It’s the primary emotion – things like hurt, unmet expectations, frustration, disrespect, lack of trust, dishonesty, loneliness, jealousy, rejection, betrayal, disappointment, helplessness and exhaustion – that drives the anger.

In many instances, people don’t stop long enough to figure out what is fueling their anger. While anger itself is not good or bad, how you handle it impacts not only you, but also those around you – your family, co-workers and friends.

Studies show that the emotional part of our brain processes information in two milliseconds. In contrast, the rational part of the brain processes information in 500 milliseconds – 250 times longer. Simply put, it is much easier to react than to slow down and respond.

Researchers studying couples in conflict asked them to hit the pause button before arguing so a videographer could film the argument in real-time. In many instances, the couple had calmed down and moved on before the videographer even arrived.

If you struggle with anger, here are four steps that can help you get a good handle on it.

  • First, determine what is driving your feelings. For the parent who expected a quiet evening at home – unmet expectations, disappointment and exhaustion could be driving the anger, in addition to not knowing or forgetting about the cupcakes and the science project.

  • Next, acknowledge the feelings in a beneficial way. Instead of stuffing them inside or spewing them all over everybody, consider how you will share your feelings. Statements such as, “I feel frustrated when you wait until the last minute to ask for my help with the science project,” are more likely to elicit a conversation than if you lose it.

  • Then, determine a course of action. You may decide to help your child this time. Later on, you can calmly share that you may or may not be able to help the next time they wait until the last minute.

  • Finally, make a plan for the future. Use this as an opportunity to talk about appropriate ways to deal with anger.

So many adults say they never saw their parents actually deal with their anger. They saw the anger, but never learned what to do with it. Teaching your kids that anger isn’t bad or good – it’s what you do with it that can build up or destroy relationships – could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.

But don’t stop there. Model for them what it looks like to be good and angry.

Christi and Matt Broom married in 2005, got pregnant on their honeymoon and welcomed their son Bryan into the world in 2006.

“Bryan was perfect,” says Christi. “I had a great maternity leave over Thanksgiving and Christmas. I planned to return to work in January. It was Sunday morning. I remember waking up at 4 a.m. to feed Bryan and then I went back to sleep until 6 a.m. When I woke up at 6, something was clearly wrong. Bryan looked like he was struggling to breathe, so we called 911. When the ambulance arrived, they checked his vital signs and said everything appeared to be normal. We asked to be taken to the hospital anyway.”

What followed were days of many questions with few answers. Everything the doctors thought it might be, it wasn’t. But one thing was for certain, Bryan was a very sick baby.

“On Monday a CT scan  showed that his brain was swelling which took them in a totally different direction trying to figure out what was wrong with our son,” Christi says. “Although he seemed so sick and fragile, the medical personnel reassured us that babies are resilient. I think everyone thought they would figure this out and we would be taking our baby home soon.”

Another CT scan showed Bryan’s brain continuing to swell, but no one could figure out why.

“They encouraged me to go home and get a good night of rest,” Christi says. “We got home at midnight and at 3 a.m. they called us back to the hospital. When we got there, they told us Bryan’s brain had swollen to the point of death. We both sat in the room totally confused. What had just happened? We honestly believed we would be taking our son home in a matter of days. Nobody had any answers. Everything was a blur.

“Somewhere along the way, we spoke with the organ donation people because every organ in Bryan’s body except his brain was perfect. We decided to donate his organs.”

Christi describes this moment in time as if it were an out-of-body experience. They were just going through the motions. As they walked to their car when leaving the hospital, she realized her husband was carrying a car seat.

“Those next days and weeks were complicated,” Christi remembers. “It was like walking into the unknown and having no idea how you are going to make it through the next minute because life as you knew it has been stolen from you. It was a fearful and confusing time. A handful of people shared that this had happened to them and wanted to offer support. I didn’t even know how to truly appreciate that at the time, but I remember seeing someone I knew who had lost a teenage son years ago. I went up to her, hugged her and said, ‘I remember praying for you, but I had no idea it hurt this bad.’ I felt like I was in a club nobody wants to be in.”

If you are experiencing this pain, Christi hopes what she learned from her journey can help you.

“If you are ever going to get to the other side you have to feel the pain – and that’s the worst part because nobody wants to hurt that bad. The emotional pain is so very real. You want to push it away, but the only way to heal is to allow yourself to feel your way through the pain. It is super scary because you have no idea how long it will take for it to go away. You think you will never be happy again. You can be happy, but you have to be willing to experience the raw emotion versus trying to stuff it and avoid it.

“Sometimes you just have to let yourself cry,” Christi says. “Things would catch me off guard and the tears would flow. I learned that was really okay and part of the healing process.”

Working with a bereavement counselor from Hospice of Chattanooga and someone from the organ donation agency helped the Brooms as well.

Christi also encourages accepting help from others. Let them clean your house, help you pick out what to wear or cook meals for you. Anything you don’t have to make a decision about can make it easier.

Through all of this, Matt and Christi grew closer.

“My husband lost his father at a very early age and his first wife died when their daughter was two,” Christi shares. “Experiencing this helped me understand the pain he had been living with for many years. We leaned on each other a lot. Sometimes we still struggle, but our bond is strong.”

Eleven years later, the Brooms have three beautiful daughters – ages 18, 9 and 5. While the pain never completely goes away, they do experience happiness.

“I remember someone putting a book right in front of my face, so close that I couldn’t see anything else. They said that in the beginning, you only see what is right in front of you. As you slowly move the book further away, you begin to see more. The pain is always there and you see it, but you experience other things too. Our life is rich. We enjoy our children and try to take it all in knowing that every day is a gift.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 3, 2017.

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic.

How to Talk to Your Children When Bad Things Happen

Here's help when you have to navigate some really hard conversations with your child.

One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is explaining to your children about bad things that happen in our world. How do you talk with children about violence, death and other issues that are often difficult for even adults to handle?

Examine your own feelings first. It is difficult to talk with your children if you have not evaluated your feelings about what has happened.

For example, talking about death makes many people uncomfortable. Our first inclination is just not to talk about it. Somehow we believe that not talking about it will protect our children. The truth is, instead of protecting, we may cause more concern. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children constructive ways to deal with tough situations.

Bad things happen and parents need to be armed with appropriate ways to deal with the bad things that happen as well as the feelings that accompany the situation. Children need information, comfort and understanding to help them process different experiences. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.

Is Silence Really the Answer?

While your first inclination may be not to talk about what has happened, often the best thing you can do for your child is to engage them in conversation. You don’t have to say everything at once about a topic. It is best if you don’t because children are easily overwhelmed.

When trying to talk with children about bad things:

  • First, listen carefully to your child.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needed.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

What if I blow it?

Sometimes parents choose not to talk about a subject because they think they are going to blow it and saying the wrong thing will harm their child for life. The truth is, sometimes we do blow it as parents and that is okay. It is rare that one conversation will cause irreparable harm.

Tell the truth

Honesty is the best policy. This does not mean that you tell a child everything about a situation. There are some things that a child does not need to know. You should share enough information to help them understand what is happening and to help them deal with their feelings. Whatever you do, do not be dishonest.

Teaching children about feelings

One of the most important aspects of helping children understand bad things is helping them identify and deal with their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad, they just are, but how we choose to deal with those feelings is significant. Children can often sense when something isn’t right. This can produce anxious feelings for a child.

Children seem to intuitively know when something is not right. Children want their world to be neat and ordered. When something seems out of kilter, children tend to react out of fear and anxiety. Parents can help ease some of these feelings by talking about the situation and helping children identify their feelings. This exercise gives children valuable information they can use for the rest of their life. Children need a strong vocabulary of feeling words (afraid, anxious, scared, sad, mad, happy, excited) to attach to what is happening inside. To say, “This is a sad thing,” or “This is scary,” helps children to understand that feelings are natural and normal. This is all part of life.

In this process, the message you’ll want to send your child is, “We can find ways to deal with this.”

To quote Mister Rogers, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” Asking questions such as, “When you are scared, what makes you feel better?” helps children begin to process and feel like they have some control over the situation at hand.

There are no cookie-cutter approaches.

Finally, experts caution that each child will respond differently to bad situations. Some children will become very quiet while others will become very active and loud. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition. You know your child better than anybody else. As a parent, your job will be to stand by your child and guide them as they deal with their grief, anger, pain, feelings of uncertainty and sadness in their own way. Our world is a changing place. We can help our children feel safe and more in control by helping them to talk about these issues. Through this process, your child will learn one of the basic rules of life that with time healing can take place and things often get better.

Experts suggest that you:

  • Listen carefully to what your child says.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needs.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

Needs of a Grieving Child (taken from Hospice.net)

  • Information that is clear and understandable at their development level.

  • Reassurance that their basic needs will be met.

  • Involvement in planning for the funeral and anniversary.

  • Reassurance when grieving by adults is intense.

  • Help with exploring fantasies about death, afterlife and related issues.

  • Ability to have and express their own thoughts and behaviors, especially when different from significant adults.

  • To maintain age-appropriate activities and interests.

  • Getting help with “magical thinking.”

  • Being able to say goodbye to the deceased.

  • To memorialize the deceased.

Help Your Child Build a Strong Feelings Vocabulary

Happy

Proud

Strong

Important

Cared for

Appreciate

Respected

Honored

Cheerful

Liked

Courageous

Hopeful

Pleased

Excited

Smart

Gloomy

Impatient

Unhappy

Disappointed

Helpless

Uncomfortable

Resentful

Bitter

Sad

Hopeless

Guilty

Unloved

Hurt

Angry

Abandoned