We all get angry when we believe we are being wronged, misunderstood or unjustly accused. It's a natural reaction to circumstances that put us on the defensive. For many, divorce is the perfect storm that triggers all our anger issues. When we're parents and cannot manage our anger, it can take over our lives and affect the well-being of our children. Focusing our anger on our divorcing spouse can fuel the fire to dangerous levels for everyone involved.
Anger is a feeling that alerts us that something is wrong. What we fail to understand is that we, as human beings, have choices about how to act on those feelings. Acting before thinking can lead to mismanaged anger. Once we have reacted to anger, we have allowed our feelings to control us. This can lead to actions and behaviors we never would have taken if we were making rational choices. Knowing how to manage anger can help us set limits and determine comfortable boundaries in our relationships -- including a co-parenting relationship with an ex.
If managing anger has been a challenge, it is important to identify "red flag" warnings in advance before we explode out of control. With intention and practice, we can learn healthier ways of expressing anger, frustration and other difficult feelings, resulting in a more peaceful divorce and future.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to identify whether we have an anger management problem:
• Do I lose my temper easily and quickly? Do small things set me off such as a text from my ex, children running around the house or spilling my coffee? Do I have a low tolerance for frustration? Is it difficult for me to take things in stride?
• Do I show inconsistent behavior that is intimidating to others? Is my behavior so unpredictable that one minute I'm feeling good -- and the next I become explosive?
• Are family and friends afraid of me? Do they often tell me to calm down? Do people say they "walk on egg shells" around me? Do they avoid giving me bad news for fear of my reaction?
• Have I hurt people close to me because of my anger? Have I lost friends, family or even my job as a consequence of my outbursts? Do people distance themselves from being close to me?
• Have I tried to control my anger, but failed? Am I unable to control how I react to my ex, even though I have tried several different approaches?
• Do I find myself explaining or justifying my aggressive behavior toward my ex or the kids? Do I usually blame them for enticing or provoking me to anger?
• Is it difficult to express myself without cursing, swearing and blaming? Am I defensive when talking about the divorce and usually believe the problem "isn't about me -- it's them"?
• Does anger cause me to become destructive? Do I frequently break things or become violent towards family members or friends? Do I pound on the table, punch a door or throw things to make a point? Have I hit, bit, pushed or forcibly held my ex because of my rage?
• Does my anger spiral out of control?Once I get angry, is it difficult for me to de-escalate? Does it seem to take over and take a while before I am able to settle down?
• Do I have difficulties with authority figures and the courts? Do I purposefully refuse to complete assignments or follow directions, as a sign of rebellion?
• Do I frequently argue at home? Is it difficult for me to have a conversation without getting angry? Do I get upset when others disagree with me? Do I believe others have the power to make me feel stupid or inadequate?
• Is my body language intense? Do I communicate with clenched fists, a tightened jaw and a glaring stare?
These are all signs of anger management issues that need to be addressed. Divorcing parents who have been ordered by a judge to take an anger management course can now take these classes online. There are eight and twelve-hour courses available that provide the tools, skills and strategies to change our state of mind, perceive circumstances differently, catch ourselves before our anger explodes, harness our anger in more productive directions and create more inner peace in our lives. Those who haven't been court ordered to take such a course will still benefit from learning these skills. Mastering them will not only make life more rewarding, it will improve relationships with our children as well as our ex and other family members -- bringing more acceptance and respect from them.
Co-parenting after divorce is always challenging. Bringing emotional baggage from the past into play through angry displays, intimidation or violence will deliver dire consequences in the courts and legal system, not to mention severed relationships with our children. Parents who learn to control their anger and make better choices when emotionally charged enjoy the privileges of co-parenting more affectively and successfully. They discover how to still get their needs met, but without the struggle, turmoil and negative outcomes.
Anger management courses are available in many communities, as well as online. An internet search using the terms anger management and your city should deliver numerous results. Making the investment in ourselves will reap rewards that will pay off for a lifetime!
Rosalind Sedacca and Amy Sherman, LMHC, are co-authors of an 8-hour and 12-hour online Anger Management Course focused on divorce and relationship issues. The content includes insights, advice, strategies, questions, videos, quizzes and more, all designed to help men or women create better alternatives in their lives. The courses are also approved for court-mandated Anger Management programs in many counties throughout the United States. Visit: onlineparentingprograms.com to learn more.