When my daughter gets angry, I find myself becoming enraged. I don't want to have that reaction. In fact, I want her to be able to express frustration and anger in ways that I was not allowed as a child. But in the moment, I become furious when she stands her ground, or shouts! "No !" Any advice?
No one will push our buttons like our children. But seen another way, no one provides us with such rich opportunities to heal the tender and wounded parts of ourselves like our kids, either. I have just finished a new book called Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids. The book is about the possibilities for our our growth and transformation that come when we allow the upsetting moments with her kids to be catalysts for our healing. Here are my thoughts:
• Hit the Pause button. As soon as you realize your blood pressure is rising or your heart rate is going up, do whatever is necessary to slow your reactions down. This may mean excusing yourself for a bathroom break, stepping outside the front door for a breath of fresh air, or just closing your eyes for a few seconds. See the flood of emotion as a physiological response to a story or belief you're holding -- often from long ago -- rather than something you have to act upon.
• Narrate for yourself what's going on. In the heat of the moment, it's not easy to step away from the storm of feelings you're experiencing, but try to name or describe what's going on to yourself (quietly, in your mind.) You may say something like, "I'm furious right now that Catherine is refusing to clean up her mess. It feels like she doesn't care about me. It feels like she doesn't appreciate how much I do for her. I feel invisible, and unimportant...like I did as a girl, when no one listened to me." Of course you may have different words associated with what you're feeling, but the important thing is to try to get a handle on the story you're telling yourself, and what old feelings it may be activating.
• Be caring and kind... toward yourself. Many parents tell me that they feel tremendous guilt and shame for getting angry at their kids. It is perfectly normal to get upset when someone treats us poorly -- including our children. I urge you to focus less on tearing yourself down for having strong reactions, and more on staying present to what is going on. By allowing your feelings to be there, you have the greatest chance of processing old hurts and becoming free of their crippling influence.
• When the storm of emotion passes, look for what old memories have been triggered. If our children's behavior enrages us, it may have reminded us of painful experiences from our own childhoods. Let unresolved feelings of powerlessness, hurt or sadness be felt in your body so they can move through you. If the feelings linger or are particularly strong, seek professional help to process and release yourself, finally, from their grip.
Anger is a very normal emotion; we all feel it from time to time. It is important that we model for our children the fact that everyone gets mad, and that's okay if we find healthy ways to deal with it. But if rage and fury seem to govern your life, it can be liberating to do the work to heal.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the upcoming, Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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