As I coach families around the country, anger is a topic that comes up very often. Anger is a part of life, it is how you use it that will make all the difference. The range of anger has manifestations that start from negative emotions, to irritation, frustration and being upset, to yelling.
Being angry is not always wrong and there are plenty of times where anger is justified, like being betrayed, bullied, and bad things that happen that are out of your control. Yet for many of us, anger happens way too easily. Even in situations where anger is justified, how it’s handled and addressed can either lead to understanding and resolution or have negative and damaging impacts on our families and relationships.
When coaching families, I see the emotional distance that develops when parents and or children have anger issues. It is natural that those around family members with anger issues do not feel safe. They describe themselves as having to walk on eggshells or just waiting for some unexpected event to trigger an outburst of frustration, yelling or a tantrum. Often I find that children with anger issues have seen it modeled by a parent or highly involved relative.
A common weakness in humans is the inability to identify the source of our anger.
In my own life and in those I coach struggling with anger, often we have developed a habitual response, when we were young, to strong emotions. When we feel strong emotions we jump straight to anger. This habitual response can be rooted in many potential sources. One example is that we use anger to protect ourselves.
Anger frequently masks other feelings. Underneath anger in children and adults are often a group of two, three or four other feelings that are not perceived in the moment that result in anger. I attribute this to the predominant parenting paradigm that is used in our country. This paradigm does not facilitate and encourage the exploration and sharing of feelings when we handle behavior and motivation issues. Often, the parent themselves or the child will be misdiagnosed with a mental illness, basically enabling their behavior. As a result, children as well as their parents do not develop emotional awareness. Thus, when strong feelings hit it is easy for them to jump past this discernment process and only become frustrated, upset or irrational.
Whether for ourselves as parents or for our children, learning to identify the emotional source of anger is critical to breaking the cycle. Identifying the source of anger requires personal reflection and the ability to ask emotionally based questions of our children. We need to become proficient at discerning the feelings that lead to anger and help our children do the same.
Apart from developing healthy communication patterns, it is difficult to reverse the impact of anger in our families and to restore emotional connection.
Emotional connection is crucial, especially with adolescents, given the changes that occur in their brain which leaves them more emotional, process their lives and decisions through an emotional grid. If they cannot discern and communicate their own emotions and we do not help them, or their emotional nature frustrates or angers their parents, they will lose emotional connection with their parents. When this occurs, they will form emotional connections elsewhere to fill the void. Given their emotional nature, the people they form emotional connection with outside the home end up with more influence in their lives and their decisions.
When I am coaching children, underneath their frustration/anger, I find feelings like not being heard, understood, or listened to, as well as feeling like they are never good enough, believed in or are the problem in the family. Identifying the right feelings that lead to anger is the first step in short circuiting the anger response.
Few of us had parents who would ask us why we were angry, or taught us to understand our feelings and how they impact our behavior and relationships. This is why so many adults and our children struggle with anger.
We were not asked emotionally focused questions growing up like:
What feelings are going on inside right now?
What feelings led you to get angry?
Did you feel like I heard you?
Do you feel like I believe in you?
To identify the source of anger we need to begin to process the feelings that underlie our anger. Once they are identified, as these feelings arise in interaction with family members we need to begin to share those feelings in non-accusatory ways like:
Right now I am not feeling appreciated.
When I am not listened to I do not feel loved.
I am not feeling important because I am not getting the attention I need
Sharing these feelings prevents us from stuffing them, and keeps us from releasing the pressure like an uncorked bottle when something bumps us down the road.
When a family begins to:
- Discern their inner feelings
- Can safely share those feelings with each other
- Come to a point of understanding of what leads to those underlying feelings
- Adjust communications patterns and respond to each others feelings
The reactive culture that can develop will disappear, people will begin to listen, hear and understand each other; which leads to closer relationships, more joy and better decisions by parents and children alike.
If you need help in altering the culture of your family, join Revive Family now and watch the Secrets of Influential Parenting and then follow the Implementation Process. Change is possible, Revive Family is here to support the changes you want to make, to guide you through, and help you understand the coaching process that brings about understanding, new perspectives and cooperation.