Sunday, September 25, 2016

When I Get Angry

When we talk about anger, I notice people become uncomfortable, self-deprecating, or unnervingly quiet. I have had people tell me I seem to never get angry, they wonder how am I always so patient with the kids, and they deduce aloud they must be missing something, because they feel angry most of the time. First of all, blanket statements (always, never) don't come close to accessing the truth, and second, the underlying message seems to be that anger is bad.

Anger feels bad. It makes us feel hot, anxious, on-edge, volatile and uncomfortable. We understand a social message that says anger is bad, we should avoid feeling angry, and that when we do we are failing. Enter guilt. Enter me. I get angry frequently. Indeed, a lot of the time I spend with my young kids brings up angry feelings when their behaviour begins to decline, when things don't go my way, when something else entirely is on my mind but I take it out on them irrationally, the list goes on. The very day-to-day (or, more accurately, minute-by-minute) experience of motherhood requires so much of us during waking hours that it can feel overwhelming, even at times when things are going pretty swimmingly.

This girl is angry because it is too cold to swim. By Robin

Anger can be a lot of things. Anger can disguise fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, exhaustion, depression, selfishness, annoyance, impatience, resentment, disappointment, and more. In the moment when I feel angry, it is easiest and most instinctual to act out my anger without taking the time breathe slowly, stay quiet, and figure out which of the above underlying feelings might be at play.

Goober is only angry when girls pull his eyelashes

Honestly, I used to get angry a lot. It causes me shame. I think back to some of the times I remember yelling at my girls, slamming doors, breaking plates and stomping around the house and I feel like curling up into a tiny ball, disappearing from that shame. Guilt and shame. Anger bad. But is anger bad? In my experience, anger is always popping up, here to stay, part of the human experience. I don't think I even want to live a life without anger. A Valium haze, rose-coloured glasses euphoria sounds dreamy but denies real life growth.

Anger is growth. My kids get angry, act on it, and sometimes get into trouble for their reactions. Not for their anger. Let's stop feeling bad about feeling angry. My kids see me get angry: A recipe fails. A daughter ignores me for the umpteenth time. I stub my toe. Anything. For them, and for me, I breathe in and out. Sometimes exaggeratedly and with dramatic flair. I remind myself the feeling will pass. If the situation does not require immediate action, I try to take a moment and figure out what's really bothering me. As the really good Buddhists instruct, I sit with my anger, give it some attention, and then watch it move along.

Sometimes anger is a feeling that needs to exist and then pass. Sometimes it attracts my attention to something that needs fixing right away. Sometimes anger calls me to make a positive change. Sometimes it tells me to smash a plate, but nowadays I ignore that directive and sigh. It teaches me, and I am open to learning. Lifelong learning. I may never understand, but I can learn why anger is here this time, and deduce what I can do about it now. I can release myself of the shame and guilt for recklessly obeying anger's call to destruct and find in it an opportunity to create. I can connect to something inside myself that needs attention. Sometimes that's just my tense jawline needing to be unhinged.

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