by Meg Schlabs (Designer, Wife, and Mother to three littles)
Anger is one of my most frequented emotions. It has been since I was a little girl. For whatever reason, there’s a trench in my brain that leads to large angry eruptions. And every time I get close to the edge, I fall right in.
I also grew up being wounded by an angry parent. So when it was my turn to parent, I became terrified of making the same mistakes. At age 19, I turned to books and therapists to better understand this emotion and “cure myself” of anger. Lol. Spoiler: I didn’t find the cure and now don’t believe there should be one. But I learned a boatload along the way. So I’ll share my best anger lessons and finish with one tip for keeping our anger from wounding our children.
Lessons: Psychologists call anger a “secondary emotion.” Meaning, it is usually masking a more vulnerable emotion that we’re not able or willing to expose in the heat of the moment. Anger seems to come out first and fast in my case, but lurking behind the anger is always another feeling. If you could play a game with anger, it would be titled, What’s anger hiding this time? I’ve been playing this game a long time. For instance:
I woke up today 9/10 on the “mom’s angry” scale. My husband and I both committed to an (outdoor) play date on Saturday morning and we both knew what needed to be done before we left the house. But for whatever reason, I was awake and packing lunches, and he was still in bed. I fumed. I avoided eye contact. I hung out with my friend and pretended nothing was wrong. Then back home, I remembered to play the game. And turns out, I wasn’t just angry. I felt alone. I felt abandoned. In fact the whole week, I felt I was the only juggling the necessary tasks of managing our family.
I used to get stuck in angry mode more often and for longer, not knowing what work I needed to do to resolve the feelings. But now, when I play the game and I can put a word to my deeper feelings, I feel an instant settling. It also provides the language needed to resolve conflicts with people I love. When my anger uncovers something that needs to be addressed with someone else, the convo goes over SO MUCH BETTER when I use the deeper emotions. When I told my husband this afternoon that I felt alone and missed his partnership we were already miles ahead of some arguments where we have gotten hung up on how my angry eruption made him feel. He had instant empathy because of my vulnerability. (And like the baller he is, took responsibility for not sharing the weight this week. Love ya.)
Anger exists to point out what we value. We all have values as a person (whether we’ve typed them up and put them inside our bathroom mirror or not). Even though anger feels reckless and exaggerated, it usually points to something good that you believe deeply as a person. Do you think it’s important to be a good listener? Then you might get angry when you get interrupted by your child 1.1 million times a day. Do you think it’s important to have quality time with family? Then you might be mad at your spouse when they bring their phone to the park. Ask yourself the question. Is this (seemingly bad) anger trying to expose a (good) value I have. How can I direct this passion into a channel that will be well-received by my friends and family?
Tips: I “practice the pause” with my anger so it doesn’t go out in wound the innocent. 🙂 During the pause, I refrain from speaking or acting (period) because I’ve seen the damage this can cause. Yes, it does feel so good to release my feelings in a large way and sometimes I am even justified in doing so! But it’s not worth the risk. During the pause I’m asking myself two questions. “What feeling is my anger protecting?” and “Did someone just trip over my values?”
Remember, there is no shame in anger. It exists as a warning light. And I’ve learned that it’s actually pretty handy. I have more opportunities than others to learn who I am and why I tick. After a mom explosion, and many apologies, my kids often hear the same speech, “For whatever reason, God decided to give you a passionate momma. That’s good and bad. You just saw the bad part. But I will always be by your side and love you with all of my being. That’s the good part.” There are good parts to being a passionate person, as we tend to throw our full force behind people and ideas that we love. Ask yourself this week: Who do I love? What do I value? What do I need this week? Go after those things with all your heart.
Have a great weekend, friends.
Meg, the design sister.