Anger and Other Emotions

Anger. Anger. Agh! Anger! What to do with you!!?? I would say, as a mother, no, as a human, anger is my “issue” to deal with in this lifetime. Pride, jealousy, all of those other ‘icky’ emotions got noth’n on me, but anger, oh Lord, may the world be protected from the wrath of me. It’s not what people expect from a Buddhist, from me. People I discuss this with are always shocked, “you seem so laid back!” they proclaim. It makes it all the harder for me to reconcile myself.

I’ve always dealt with anger, but honestly, as a single working person, there just wasn’t THAT much, on a daily basis that could trigger this ugly emotion the way that, now, motherhood does. It’s what drove me to my therapist for the first time – I had so much anger and resentment built up towards my husband and my life in general, that the silt was way past my neck – it was clouding my vision – I was drowning.

What my therapist has helped me see, and where I have made teensy bits of headway, is seeing that anger is just another emotion. When I heard that the first time, I guffawed in sarcasm, like the Taj Mahal is just a building, was what I thought. Or like Hell is just another place to whittle away some time. Because sometimes I feel like when my anger comes to visit, it takes me, temporarily at least, to a whole ‘nother place. And it aint pretty. (don’t know where all of this redneck language is coming from.)

Last night I had an “episode” like I haven’t had in a while. One of those where I get pushed to the point of breaking – the point where I let go of all “appropriate behavior” (two words I’ll usually be using with my children shortly before demonstrating my own lack of it). I am finding it useful to recognize my triggering points so that I can start to see the warning signs, but also hoping to go to the source of this spark.

(totally skip-able paragraph if you are not interested in my own personal triggers)

My personal triggering point is two-fold, and it can happen with children or anyone else, but honestly, children are adept at these particular 2 points. The first trigger – something rooted and wired in me from who knows when – is someone not listening to me. Interestingly, something children must feel a LOT. Then, when someone (again, often children) are not listening to me AND I start pulling out all of my parenting tools (I find my order tends to be something like this: I try compassion and listening, then playfulness, then firm kindness, then play the “consequences” card) and then when none of my tools work, I promptly lose it. I see as I write this that screaming is my final way to get them to listen to me. Perhaps throwing around some pillows or pounding on the bed really hard will get them to pay attention!! Although, really, at the point I lose it, they are so upset that they can’t “hear” me anyway. It’s scary to watch the person who is in charge of your entire life completely lose their minds – there are a lot of scary implications within that. But to be honest, IN that very moment, I am glad they are scared. I am scared too and my child-self is still blaming them for pushing me to this point. Last night it was when I was screaming at my child that HE needed to pull it together (it was his horrendous whining and complaining that got us to this point) that shocked me back to reality. The irony of that statement actually triggered my sanity to return. And almost as quickly as I flare, I can take a deep breath and regain my calm. OK, not always – sometimes it takes a minute of breathing and talking myself off the ledge. It depends. But the point is that I recover and then my new sane eyes look to my children who are either crying and scared or just staring in bewilderment (this was my 3 year old, observing as I ‘lost it’ with her 5 year old brother). We then gather on the couch and this is where I bumble through with everything I want to say about the situation.

But here is where I get all confused in spiritual / conscience parenting analysis. I want my children to know that it’s ok to have big emotions. That it’s normal. Human. But, of course, I want to teach them appropriate ways to handle their anger. This sounds really really good on paper: Appropriate Ways to Handle Anger. Rational. Calm. Anger as part of a pretty floral arrangement of emotions. But anger doesn’t show up like this for me. If it did, it wouldn’t be anger. My anger is raw and messy and bloody (not literally), oily and hot. When I give in to it fully, I revert to something virtually unrecognizable – it eats the floral arrangement of emotions. And I have to tell you, it feels kind of good. In the moment that is, but only in that moment of letting it out. The aftermath is a killer. One does not even get to bask in the glory of letting it out for a few moments before the hangover sets in. This hangover is not of headache and nausea, but of shame and regret, embarrassment and guilt. How in the WORLD can I ever espouse those two words – ‘appropriate behavior’ again after this display, I think, every time. It makes me want to throw in the towel. Give my kids a hug good-bye and wish them well, but explain that it’s best that I’m not their mommy. I can’t handle it. I’m not cut out for it. I’ll be finding a suitable replacement and sending her shortly.

But as it turns out, I might be hard pressed to find the mom who doesn’t occasionally lose it. The more I talk to other moms about this, the more it seems we all do it. It doesn’t make it right (or does it?), but this is where I get lost and confused (two states I find myself in so often these days). I’ve read lots of parenting advice that says it’s OK to lose it, it’s the clean-up of the after-math that is important. But as I fumble around with words, explanations (what mommy did was NOT appropriate), and apologies (I used to apologize for getting angry, now I apologize for the behavior and for ever hurting their bodies – while I have never hit my children or done anything intentionally abusive (though I fully get that this is the point when people do), if I am taking them to their rooms or some other consequence, my hand is not as gentle as I would like it to be when I am angry ), I wonder if and how this can be good for them. And this is where I am with anger. I can now at least say that and sometimes see that it IS just another emotion, I can also see that it is my fear of it that makes it something bigger. My therapist pointed out that I still can’t give myself permission to ever show anger – to really treat it like another emotion. And this could not be more accurate. While I can now put it in a list of emotions and see it as one of the pages in my children’s books that illustrate different emotions (how I wish anger just showed up as a mad face), I would actually like to asterisk that one with the caveat at the bottom that says, *while anger IS another emotion and it’s fine for you to express appropriately, it would be best if mommy just didn’t go there.

So, the reason I am even writing this is to drag you through, once again, my thought process and to work this damn thing out. I feel it, as I write, that it’s a little bit unrealistic to not have anger at all. It can be just another page in the children’s book. Just because it’s trickier – more difficult – is all the more reason to start talking about it early. It’s just interesting b/c it’s not like any other emotion. I can’t think of other emotions that need to be “handled” in the same way, that need to be explained with appropriate means of expressing them and then PRACTICED. But maybe this is just me making it big again.

Even with the bumbling, I am starting to see that maybe this IS ok. That it’s better they see me struggle with emotions, just like they do. And when my son emulates my behavior sometimes, by screaming at his sister, it’s OK…we are BOTH learning…together. But it’s hard to show this vulnerability to the people in your life that you most want to impress. And impress upon. And so this is where I sign off, still in my struggle to find the balance of sharing big feelings and searching for that “appropriate” way to do it. I’m having a hard time summing and wrapping up. It has haunted me for years and I’m sitting in the middle, looking for that ray of inspirational conjecture to leave my other moms out there with. But maybe, like I’m doing with my children, I’ll keep it real and just ask your forgiveness for not having the answers. If you have some, please send, or at least send me your address and I will look you up the next time I’m looking for that replacement mommy. Kidding. Kind of.

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