Transcript: A is for Angry
Welcome to the US and Kids Podcast. I am your host Jan Talen. I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a wife, a mom, and a grandma. With my own marriage and with my clients, I work to help us avoid that pain of divorce and achieve the grand balance of being married forever while parenting together by using the D.N.A. Method of Communication. We know that working on this is worth the work and is very rewarding.
And today, we're going to talk about the letter A. My guess is you could all print it. You can find it on your keyboard. And, you all have a thought of how many A's did I get in school? Or, you might think of rather ugly words that start with the word A. But today, we're going to start by talking about ANGER, and then add other A words that both lead away from anger in a negative way, or in a more sad way, and lead away from anger into a more healthy or appealing way.
So, first of all, we have to start by talking about anger. And, as I talk often with my clients about it, anger is energy. It's emotional energy that really wants to have influence in some space or another. And often, it comes out sort of, explosively. It comes out in that way, because we haven't just let it come out in a more quiet way. And, so it's this burst of energy that makes it what we call angry.
Now, I think of energy, in some ways, like money. And, this is usually because when I have money, I think about, "Ohhh the choices.... What could I do with this money? How could I spend it? What do I want the most? What would I like the most in five years or 10 years from now?" Especially if it's a rather major purchase. And so, I think that helps, often, for us to remember that anger is energy. It's like money, and we have the power in the choice of how to spend it. So, just like I can spend my money to create harm in someone else. I can also use my money to help someone else. And, with my anger, I can create harm, and I can create good.
Now, let's get the harmful part of angry out of the way for a minute by talking about what that kind of angry is like. I want to do just a little reminder here, a little pause. When I'm talking about anger, I'm talking about anger for anybody at any age. So, you can listen to this and think about your kiddos and what happens to them as they use and spend their anger. And, you can think about your own anger, and how do you use it? Are you using it to help people... yourself, as well as other people? How can you help your kiddos use their anger, so that it's for their benefit, as well as, other people's?
Ok - back to that more ugly path of what happens when we use our angry energy in ways that have less appeal and more pain? Anger often comes from being frightened. The A word in that comes from being AFRAID. Afraid that we're going to be hurt. Afraid that we're going to be rejected. Afraid that we're going to be alone. Afraid that we're not going to measure up. Afraid that we won't be marked, or seen as being worthy, or valuable. And, in order to protect ourselves in that fear, we show anger. It's a protective coating around us that makes it so that people can't see our frightened, insecure, unsure of ourselves and the strength of the relationship that we're in. When we become unsure, we've become afraid. And so, we don't want to show that, and we look and act angry instead.
Now, as a parent, if your kiddo is often going, "No! No! I don't want to! No! I can't." I want you to listen to their fear. Don't respond so much to their anger as them being naughty, but see that that amount of energy is being spent on them trying to protect themselves from being embarrassed, from being shamed for being pushed aside or rejected. And now, approach your kiddo with the space of saying, "You have a lot of energy in your sentence. What's going on? Can I help you somehow?"
Fear, especially for a kiddo, often settles down when we come alongside them. Listen to that A word... come ALONGSIDE them in their fear, and then their anger will begin to diminish. When we reassure them, "Just do the best you can. I'm asking you to put some effort in and some energy. I'm not going to be mad at you, when I see that you've tried."
And, they're like, "No! I can't! I don't want to! I don't want to!"
I'm going to use my, (sort of) angry energy of, "You've gotta do it buddy. You gotta do it." I can now become angry that they're not going to cooperate and afraid that they won't cooperate, or I can move on the flip side of anger and be ASSERTIVE.
This means being aware of what I want and need and continuing to say to my kiddo, "Let's find a way to do this." Maybe your kiddos struggle/fear is as simple as washing the kitchen sink. Maybe it's putting their shoes on, but maybe it's going to a friend's house who they don't know very well. Maybe it's being left with a sitter they don't like. And, you're pretty sure the sitter is safe, but the kiddo isn't happy.
And so we’ll come back to being next to our kiddo, not in anger, but with confidence and saying to them, "Let's talk about how we can manage this." And, if your kiddo's four, or five, or six, maybe seven, or eight, then make a bit of a plan. Sometimes writing it down helps the kids know that you're sincere. You're calm and not afraid of their anger. You're sincere that you will help them and protect them.
You see, if our kiddos stay afraid, they withdraw, and move into a space of being and feeling ALONE. You see, alone is safer than being with someone who we don’t trust. And that aloneness, can create a great sense of self-protection, but it doesn't build good relationship skills or good personal skills in terms of how they think about themselves. They begin to see the world as scary. And so, they hold back.
I'm not necessarily really talking about our kids who are shy, in terms of what their personality is, and they don't like a whole lot of noise, and they don't like a whole lot of crazy busy interactions. That's a personality style.
I'm talking about the kid that slowly withdraws. And, you watch them over the course of a school year, or when they're around certain people or groups of people, that they withdraw. And then, as you approach them about something, or when they've been fine on their own, until they see somebody pick up their bike. And all of the sudden, they're screaming and crying. And you wonder, "What just happened here? You were just fine." And, the kiddo was alone and afraid, (although s/he looked fine to you) but the emotional energy and anxiety was building. And that came out when somebody touched the one thing that really helped them be free and confident, and that was their bike.
We can be crabby about them screaming and running. But, we are also going to have a lot of empathy and understanding, listening... listening... listening to our kiddo's words but also to their needs. Because, we watched our kiddo be alone and knew that was unusual and maybe not a good sign of good behaviour to come.
And when I watch a kiddo be alone, I wonder what they're afraid of, and I wonder why that angry energy is happening inside of them. Because from alone, if a kiddo practices that a lot, they become APATHETIC, and you begin to hear this language of, "I don't care." "It doesn't matter." "You can't do anything to me." Now maybe, you have some of those thoughts yourself, but this is pretty strong anger, tucked really deep inside somebody.
And from apathy, if we want to help our kiddos move from apathy, then we probably have to lead them slowly, gently. So over the course of three to six months of really being focused, intentional parenting into a space that helps them be okay with, "It's good to be alone. And, it's good to be with others."
Help them talk a little bit about their fears and also help them make plans.
How can we manage that fear?
Do we really have to be afraid of it? Or, can we go and poke it a little bit and see once if we still need to be afraid?
That's the kiddo who tried to do some rollerblading or some scootering, and they couldn't get the balance right. And so now, they're always afraid of it, until we come alongside them and help them learn another way.
Now about for you? Where are you on this angry scale? Do you find yourself responding in anger when you're afraid, or when you're feeling really lonely? When you're feeling like, "Nobody loves me, and so, I don't love anybody either. It just doesn't matter. We just exist, and we're just going to exist here together."
But that lonely, moving into indifference of apathy, is a fairly dangerous place to be in a married relationship. And so, I would really encourage you to begin to do some writing. Begin to formulate some sentences that say a little bit more about what you're experiencing, and what you would like to experience instead. Remember, anger is energy, and we decide how we want to use it. One of those choices, at times, can be to stuff it in, and just like, act like, it's all fine. But, don't stay there for long, and don't let your kiddo stay there for long, because then it becomes swirling, sort of, dangerous energy.
Oh, you still have the energy. If you're not going to go negative with it, and be afraid, or alone, or turn apathetic, what are you going to do? You're going to move it into a more positive space. And, this comes by being more aware of your wants and your needs and aware of how you say them or express them. Because sometimes, we are aware, but we express them in such a loud, sort of, vulgar or pushy way that people respond not with positiveness, because they become afraid.
So anger as energy helps you be aware of your wants and your needs and now you have to use that energy to learn how to say those wants and needs APPROPRIATELY. That's the A in there. What do we mean by appropriately? Usually we mean with assertiveness. And, what do we need mean by assertiveness? It's not aggression, and it's not passive aggressive. It's assertive, meaning that we say,
"I want," or
"I would like," or
"I would appreciate."
"Do you think we could." "Would you be willing to try."
You hear often, but what I'm doing here is I'm using that pronoun “I”. Note that if I have to say “You”, I'm saying it in an inviting way. But, I'm not demanding or pushing.
This assertiveness keeps the people around you calm and helps you be able to think a little bit more about, "That's what they want, and what they need. How can I help them?" Because now, you can both turn that energy into a similar direction to work towards a similar goal. And so, your anger as energy is used to say your wants and your needs, asking for them kindly.
As you do that, you will move to the next level here in terms of anger. This energy would bring to being APPROACHABLE. Really nice isn't it? You know people who are approachable. When you look at them you know that they're going to be okay, hearing your wants and your needs. They're not always going to give them to you, but they're not going to mock you. They're not going to demean, or belittle you. They're going to say, "Wow. If I could, I would." Say, "Well, I can do this part of it, but I can't do that part of it."
So when your little one approaches you and says, "I want more milk." And, you're able to say, "I can hear you want more milk, and you know what? We have to save the rest of the milk for tomorrow morning for breakfast." And he goes, "No! I want more milk," because he's afraid he's going to stay thirsty or hungry. And, you're going to stay approachable by saying, maybe holding their hand, and say, "Let's look in the fridge. What else is here?" as you figure out something else it's just as suitable. Now, your kiddo might not, in the beginning, really want anything else that's in the fridge. Water might not cut it. You're going to stay, using that energy, (instead of becoming mad at them for wanting more milk that you're not going to give them), you're going to just stay approachable by helping them understand you know what they want, and offering them some options. If you become afraid of them, they then become afraid of you. And now, the anger between the two of you becomes pretty ugly.
Stay assertive and stay approachable. A lot of this is in your tone and in your choice of words, but also in what your eyes and your body language looks like. Kindness goes such a long way here in calming down the angries. Use your energy to stay calm and understanding. If you need to do some distraction, especially with littles, do that.
If as adults, you've approached a topic, and it's not being easy. Then, take a minute to pause. Moving on to the next part of anger as energy. When we're approachable, and even if we're approachable, and we're stuck in a tough conversation, we can still stay APPRECIATIVE. Use that word with different endings. Where you can still appreciate- respect and honor the other person's ideas, requests, or needs. We can still work to appreciate others' thoughts. It's in this appreciation, that whatever they're bringing to the table, to the conversation, to the relationship is something that somehow will help the relationship. So if someone has come into your married relationship with either you or your spouse and says, "I'm really tired of your work hours. Since COVID, you have been working nonstop, and I, sort of, feel like we're losing what we used to have."
Now listen to my “I” sentences. This is my anger turning into assertiveness. I might then add on to that.
"I really love us.
I'm afraid we have us, plus your job.
And, I'm feeling a little kicked out."
If I can keep my approach soft and gentle; if I can look in their eyes; if I can smile a little bit; if I can be able to say, "I really appreciate the effort you're putting into work. I'm wondering if we can smooth that around a little bit and remember to take a little bit of time to appreciate the us part of us."
Now, my spouse might be able to say, "Yeah. Maybe I'm a little whacked out of that. I probably have been spending hours at work, because I'm always at home. It doesn't feel like there's much else to do."
You see, I've stayed assertive and gently approachable. So my spouse didn't flip to the other side of anger, or become afraid, or feel alone, or rejected. Both of us now are in the assertive, approachable use of our angry energy. And, we're going to appreciate the effort and the willingness of someone to consider, to talk about it, and to make adjustments. Because often, that's what anger is asking for is an adjustment in some way. And in that adjustment, we hear acceptance.
It doesn't matter how old people are, or how young they are. Anger is a core piece of emotional expression. And when we become calm enough to just consider it as energy, we can then decide how to use it. And, that's really what I want to encourage you to do, as you interact with your kiddos and as you interact with your spouse, in the next week, month, three months, six months, rest of your life, for goodness sakes, right, continue to just be able to think this is energy.
It's like money. Do I want to spend it and use it for the good of our relationship? Or, do I want to make our relationship more afraid and more lonely? Because, we have the power of choice when we use also the awareness of our wants and our needs.
You and I know your family, your relationship, and your marriage are so worth this work.
It does take work.
Be gentle, and take good care of each other.
I appreciate each one of you taking the time to listen today, and I want to encourage you along. Stay close to each other with a smile, a wink, and good conversations. Bye, bye.