The most common question parents want answered from The Parental Stress Centre of Australia, is how to stop anger.
Parents felt it was ‘wrong’ to get angry with their kids and although its not ideal or pleasant for anyone involved, and morally, we can see the wrongness of the act, to label it as being wrong serves no other purpose but to create the impression that you have failed at something.
However, we need to learn to look at anger in a more productive way, because labeling ourselves as ‘bad’ or ‘failing’ only leaves us feeling that way, with no changes made. We need to, instead, understand what’s happening when you get angry and use it as a beneficial learning tool. Use it as a platform for change.
Why do you get angry?
Anger occurs when something is different to your expectations. You had a picture in your mind and the reality you are experiencing is different to the picture you had of that event or situation. You begin to have a conversation with yourself about this difference and this conversation escalates downhill and causes your body to tense until it has to unleash.
How you respond to the difference between the picture you had and reality is determined by the contents of your brain IN THAT MOMENT. You see whenever you look at a situation, your brain is constantly analysing the event and accessing the beliefs you hold about that event.
It determines what these beliefs are by looking at past events (eg, this has happened over and over again), beliefs you currently hold about yourself (eg, I’m late, that means I’m going to look bad or this backchat means I’m not respected), and the knowledge that you have already gained throughout your own experiences and learning (it shouldn’t be like this, my kids should behave differently, kids should respect their elders etc).
In fact, every single time you feel anger, you will have some should/could comment about that event – that is event should be happening another way or someone should be behaving differently. This thinking is in direct conflict with reality and is exactly what is causing you to feel the anger.
The reality is that the event is what it is. Your child is behaving the way that they are. Any thoughts contrary to accepting this reality will only cause you to feel angry and resentful.
Instead what is needed is to align our thoughts with this reality. Not just the reality of what is actually happening in front of you, but also the reality of what this picture really means about you and your life. For example, my child’s behaviour doesn’t mean anything about my worth. Or, this is simply my child learning how to appropriately behave in life. They are learning new skills about life too.
Anger is not wrong, it is simply an alarm bell that a conflicting belief has been triggered and letting you know that this belief is in conflict with reality – both the reality of the present situation and the reality of life challenges and your self-esteem.
There is nothing wrong with you when you are getting angry. Your brain is doing exactly what it’s meant to be doing, which is accessing the current beliefs you hold in your mind and determining the appropriate response, which happens to be anger. This is also what happens when you laugh, cry, feel excited, feel depressed, or any other emotion you feel. To feel an emotion, a belief or beliefs must first be triggered.
Your brain can only ever access the information it has IN THAT MOMENT, because IN THAT MOMENT those thoughts are what the brain accessed and anger was the response it chose IN THAT MOMENT, and it couldn’t have been any other way.
But Jackie, are you saying that it’s okay to yell and scream at your child then?
No. Just because I have said it couldn’t have been any other way that you got angry, I am not condoning anger as an appropriate response that shouldn’t be dealt with. I am explaining what causes anger so you can understand it and stop putting your attention on how bad you are for doing it.
Instead, now that you know that it is because you have incorrect beliefs about the situation, life and your self-worth causing your anger, you can now start looking at how you can change those beliefs to stop the anger, or at least control it better.
For some of us (and I was one of those), anger is a habitual response to life not going to plan which has been conditioned from childhood. In order to change this response we have to be consistent in retraining the brain to think differently about situations when it doesn’t go our way.
I think I could safely say that no parent wants to get angry at their kids, nor do they want to feel the way we do when they’re angry, so if becoming a calmer parent is what you want as a goal, then you need to learn how you can identify the thoughts that cause anger, and more specifically how you can replace those thoughts to reduce stress and retrain the brain to see life differently.
The point I want to stress to you from this blog, is that we are always doing the best that we know how to do. After an angry outburst, it is all well and good to look back at the event and think ‘I shouldn’t have done that’, however it couldn’t have been any other way.
In that moment, your brain accessed certain beliefs that lead to the angry outburst, and just because you now have new information after the event – having seen the consequences of your actions or feeling guilty about your actions – doesn’t change the physical neurological process that occurred AT THAT MOMENT the anger occurred.
It is pointless and non-productive to continue to beat yourself up over an event that has come and gone and much more helpful to yourself and the people around you to get an understanding of what caused your anger and look towards changing the beliefs that triggered it in the first place. That is the only way you begin to change it for the future. This learning is exactly what you will get from joining this challenge.
It is pointless to roll around in your own ‘story’ of how you should have acted differently and how bad a person you are because you didn’t. The reality is, this was your response, so rather than resist it, vow to learn from it by finding teaching tools to think and feel differently when faced with life’s challenging events, and make your anger your turning point in moving towards the parent you want to be.
Interested in learning more on this topic? Why not watch our free webinar which delves deeper – ‘What do do when anger & impatience dominates your parenting’.