Wednesday, February 17, 2010

anger management

i didn't use to think of myself as an angry person. in fact, i managed to live nigh on thirty years on this earth without really getting angry at all. not even once. not even a little. that's clearly the sign of a non-angry person, wouldn't you say?

(un)fortunately, six years of a spicy cocktail of motherhood and therapy has turned me into a person for whom anger management is an issue to ponder seriously (and repeatedly). It turns out that not only do i have it in me to get angry often and passionately, but i seem to bring to each new outburst somewhat of a backlog of unresolved conflicts (maybe maybe maybe somehow related to the thirty years of not getting angry??), resulting in irrational, hard-to-stop and hard-to-manage rage.

not really what one wants around little children.

so, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, over the years, i have collected a number of strategies, all of which have been successful at times, and have failed me miserably at other times. still, for the record, so my children know that their bizarre memories are not inventions, and just in case these may be of some use to others, here is my 'best-of' anger management techniques for frazzled mothers of young children:

- the first and best one is to not get angry at all. borrowed from Buddhism. this involves becoming aware of the fact that there is nothing to be angry about. it only works if the rage is caught early enough (i.e. before it is rage), and it involves deep conscious breathing and feeling one's way into the dissatisfaction/frustration/tiredness/overwhelmingness/etc. which is at the root of this particular volcanic moment. the idea is to stay with the discomfort, feel one's way into it, manage to see and feel that what one needs is a bath/a deep breath/some fresh air/food/a nap/a drink/a cuddle and what one does not need is to scream at one's child. unfortunately, for people with a serious backlog, like yours truly, this technique hardly ever works because by the time i am aware of needing it, it's usually way too late.

- the anger corner (borrowed from Core Energetics): designate one corner/room in the house as the official anger area and equip it with various thumping, kicking, boxing, and biting equipment. this technique derives from the idea that anger is like vomit: it's no good trying to keep it in, but unloading oneself on, or in the vicinity of, another person's feet is not conducive to good relationships. in other words, 'get it out and do it in private'. in practice, when i feel myself becoming unreasonably angry and i am past the point where the explosion could be avoided, i say to the children, 'excuse me for a moment, while i deal with my anger', and then run upstairs and thump myself back into contentment and peace. this technique works very well but has the slight disadvantage that the children are left alone in the meantime, which they don't mind one bit but it makes it difficult for me to really concentrate on what i am doing, since i am also half listening to make sure they are ok. plus, for obvious reasons, this technique only works when at home.

- the lion (i made this one up): this is my favourite, mostly because it's tremendously effective. and versatile. and really fun. and it happens in contact with the children. and did i mention that it's really really fun? anyway, it's an anger game. the angry person says 'i'm kind of getting angry here, so i'm going to pretend to be an angry lion. is that ok with you?' in my experience, all the children then shout 'YES!!!!'. they get to choose who they are, the options being: not playing at all (extremely safe option for the child), being the lion's cub (also very safe since the child positions him/herself behind the angry lion and is being protected by it), being another lion (if the child also has some anger/energy that wants out) or the prey (if the child feels like running and/or a little thrill). once it's clear who everyone is, the angry lion (me, me, me) starts stomping her feet, clawing at the air, roaring at the top of her lungs, and chasing the prey, with as much stomping, roaring and clawing as is required, until, sated and exhausted, filled with fresh air and laughter, the lion hugs all players and non-players to her ample bosom and asks for forgiveness for being such a complicated mama.

the initial difficulty with the 'lion' game is also what makes it most fun and liberating in the end, namely that in order to be able to use it, one has to seriously let go of all hope of ever being seen as a 'sane-i've-got-it-all-together' kind of mother by street-level strangers.

what about you people out there? what do you do when the mustard climbs up your noses?


Josh said...

Yo, Véronique, this is something I could really use, for myself and for Alma. I better not try it in the hospital the next couple of weeks...
I break things when I get really angry, i even have special plates for it.
Being a lion sounds like more fun.

Jeanette said...

Hi hi, even in het Nederlands, is niet erg toch?: na ruim 16 jaar moederen lukt het me eindelijk om helemaal niet vaak boos te zijn! Mag ook wel na zo'n lange tijd :-). Als ik het wel word geef ik vooraf een waarschuwing dat als ze niet zus of zo doen ik dan denk ik boos ga worden, al of niet met een dreigstem ;-). Ik weet het, opvoedkundig niet verantwoord, maar ach, ik ben ook maar een mens ;-). Maar verder, als ik merk dat ik boos word en er valt niets te dreigen trek ik me terug, ga ademhalen, rustig worden. En dan lukt dus tegenwoordig. Heel soms en dat is eigenlijk alleen bij Stef en heel soms bij Tiel ga ik nog even schelden of met deuren smijten, maar gelukkig inderdaad nog maar heel soms. Is niet fijn om boos te zijn. Waar ik in dit kader trouwens veel aan heb is Eckart Tolle die schrijft dat je met niemand op een vervelende manier in discussie moet gaan. Man, dat is echt fijn! Tiel vindt dat maar moeilijk, maar het scheelt heeeel veel geruzie!


Adventurer in relative freedom said...

Hi Veronique,
Thank you for sharing this.
I realise that my recent construction of a peace corner could mean I was barking (should I say roaring) up the wrong tree. I should have created an angry corner first perhaps. This might have got more use. When we're peaceful we just seem to enjoy it rather than needing somewhere special to go just now.
The lion game will be highly appropriate in our house. Leo (for reasons I should have anticipated when naming him), is a lion most of the day. He will be delighted if I join in more often even if I am using the roaring for a special reason.
What do I do?
To diffuse anger I have a mantra. "Bigger picture, bigger picture, bigger picture" or "Let it go, Let it go, let it go etc".
If I manage to stop before the rage stage I often cry. At least this is an emotionally honest release.
I also find that taking the recycling glass around the corner to the bottle bank is wonderful to get rid of any residual anger and I can smash away.
Lastly I negotiate quiet time with my children. They seem to understand that I'm someone that needs this just like they need constant attention. We can't all have what we want all the time.
The good thing is that over time I can remind myself that when I did these things it worked. It's only when I listen to my ego and let it get the better of me that I end up with regrets.
Something I read once goes something like:
"Between stimulus and response there is an opportunity. Taking that opportunity is how we grow."
I'm only at the start of a journey and trying remove the things that stress me out. Above all I think your first suggestion not to get angry at all is what works best but it's also the hardest to put into practice wouldn't you say?
Love Marie

Véronique said...

thanks for sharing, everyone. Josh: i love the plate-breaking idea... :). maybe the children will want to join me in trying that out. i know at least one of them who would LOVE IT. And Marie, thanks for that amazing quote on the opportunity between stimulus and response; and in answer to your last remark: i have thought about whether not getting angry at all is the best option, and i have come to the (temporary as always) conclusion that although in absolute terms it is the best option, in my very relative and specific situation, it is not: the line between 'not getting angry' and 'repressing my anger' is too thin and difficult to grasp for me. this has to do with a life-long habit of suppressing any angry impulse, which is the backlog i was talking about. so for me personally, right now in my life, something like the lion is infinitely more appropriate, because it allows me to become friends with my anger, to experience it, to let it flow, to clear up a bit of the backlog, and to slowly but surely reprogram myself into a place where repression of anger is no longer the automatic reaction. this is an intermediate stage, part of my growth process. maybe at some point (maybe even at some point in this lifetime :)), i will reach the stage at which 'not getting angry' will truly be my best option. in the meantime, i'm trying to enjoy the ride (whence the lion).