A girlfriend of mine who is a mother of three said to me one day, “I’ve never known myself to be so angry”.
This, I could totally relate to. Before having children, I was probably a little impatient, but I was nowhere near prepared for the inability to control my anger after having my two children. It threw me for a six to realise that I wasn’t that naturally calm, patient and loving mother that I had expected myself to be, but instead was quite often a fire breathing dragon lady who could be triggered at any given moment by the smallest (and most seemingly insignificant) thing.
Unfortunately my girlfriend and I are not alone. Motherhood anger is very common and can end up being very harmful, both to your child and to your own general and psychological health.
You may have read in my book, The Happy Mum Handbook, the turning point in my life when I realised something had to change. This was the day that I got so angry that I slammed a knife on the bench and it went sailing in the air, landing right beside my then two year old.
It was a sobering moment that made me realise that I could no longer allow my anger to consume me like it had. Not only was it potentially dangerous to my child, but it was sending me on this roller coaster ride of getting angry, feeling guilty over my anger as I observed its effects on my children and then spiralling into self-hatred and self-disgust.
I have experienced all too well what it feels like to ride that pendulum between anxiety and depression. Feeling like I needed to control my child’s behaviour and prevent them from whingeing, crying, fighting, being noise, messy and generally interrupting whatever it was that I believed should have been happening.
Then, when I realised I had lost the battle, the frustration I was feeling began to turn into anger until it needed to be released. It was done so in the form of yelling, throwing things (not at the children), slamming doors and occassionally smacking my child. It was not my finest hours when this was occurring, but none the less, they were there, once again, ready for the most important lessons of my life to be taught.
Do I still get angry? Of course I do. But I can honestly say that the intensity of my anger and the flow on effects on my children have dramatically been diffused and that is all thanks to the application of my self-created Mind TRACK to Happiness process.
In today’s lesson I want to show you specifically how you can use this TRACK process to stop your angry outbursts too. So let’s begin:
Step One – Thoughts
It gets really interesting when you begin to apply step one to your anger, because you start to become two different people.
When I began observing what I was saying in the heat of the moment, it was like there was one part of me doing the yelling, tantruming and blowing up over the situation, and there was the other part that was observing it curiously, taking note of what I was saying to myself and exactly what I was saying that was causing the explosion within me. It was a very insightful exercise.
What I found though was that all of my thinking was in direct conflict with what was actually happening. I had a picture in my mind of the expected scenario. For example, I would envisage that at 12 noon, I would have both of my children sleeping, leaving me for some much needed rest and recreation (or house cleaning) for two blissful hours.
Often one of them would not sleep this long and interrupt ‘my time’, causing me to feel very frustrated to say the least. This would probably set the whole precedence for the rest of the afternoon and would be enough to send my entire mindset into complete nonacceptance of my now awake son.
“I can’t believe he’s awake. I was supposed to have another 1/2 hour left of ‘my time’. Why can’t I just have them leave me alone. Why is he awake. Now he’s gonna be cranky and I’m gonna have to deal with him all afternoon. Steve [husband] is not home for another 6 hours and it’s going to feel like forever. I just wanted to have this time to relax and now I have to get up already.”
An early waking child, meant he would be cranky, throw tantrums, become demanding and there was no pleasing him really, which didn’t do anything for my current mindset that was still rolling around in how ‘wrong’ this situation was and how I was still missing out on the time I was meant to have for myself.
This would of course spiral into an assumption about my whole life. “I’ve had enough of having to deal with all this. Why is my life so hard. I don’t want to spend my whole life dealing with this crap all day. I just want to be the person I used to be…….” and on and on it would go until finally that release was needed and I would scream, yell or slam something down, then break down in tears.
All of this, simply because I did not accept that my current situation had changed and had become different to the desired and imagined expectation. Furthermore I deemed that this difference in expectation to reality meant something about me and my life.
In the first step of the TRACK process, you need to become aware of your thinking. You will be surprised when you go into observation mode how easily you slip into a running monolgue inside your mind that progresses into the emotion of anger. This realisation in itself can often pull you out of an angry outburst, especially when you realise that it’s because your thinking is in conflict with reality and you make yourself accept the new reality of the present situation.
The Self-worth component to anger
The thinking behind anger is believing that something should be different to what it actually is. It is an attachment you have to a particular outcome that has not occurred in reality.
This attachment to your expected outcome comes from your beliefs about what this particular outcome means about you and your life.
In my example, my two hours of time out was important to me because I believed that my rest time (‘my time’) made me feel better, where as dealing with my children, at that point, did not.
I was not enjoying my children at that point because I was viewing them as hard work, demanding, an interruption to ‘my time’ and a lot of time spent doing something I wasn’t liking.
Yes, this is how I honestly viewed my children. I was not enjoying them at all and it’s little wonder when I was looking through this lens is it?
Once I recognised how often I was thinking these thoughts and how the conflict with reality from within my head was causing my anger, I knew that I had to change my thinking if I ever wanted to rid myself of the anger. The epiphany that came after I nearly hit my son with that knife was that “No one else could do this for me. No one else could change the way I feel about my life. Only I could.”
The same will apply to you. You could continue to engage in the conversations in your mind that cause your anger every time your child (or life) does not comply with what you want to happen, or you can use this TRACK process to look at the situation differently and stop the anger. As always, the choice is yours.
Step Two – Reality
Once you have acknowledged your thoughts, the next thing you need to do is STOP. Straight away. Stop what you are doing, close your eyes (if you can) and very quickly say to yourself “I am in conflict with reality. What is the reality right now?”
- If your child woke up early, this is the reality. It’s different to your expectations, but it is reality. There is nothing you can do about it. They are awake. You must now deal with it.
- If your child is tantruming, then that is what they have chosen to do for their reasons.
- If your children are fighting, then that is what is presently happening.
Any conversations that engage in any thinking that will not accept this reality (It shouldn’t…, I wish…, why isn’t…, I don’t want…., why do I have to… etc) needs to be stopped immediately. Shut them off before they can cause anymore havoc.
Then you need to turn these thoughts around, using the reality thinking model:
The reality of the situation
It is what it is. How my life is playing out now, is how it is playing out right now due to everything that has unfolded in the past. The past cannot be changed. You must accept this present reality, because it is here right now and there’s nothing that you can do about the fact that it is here right now.
The reality of being a parent
Is your child doing something that is a developmental stage? Are they simply learning? This is just one of those moments. This is not all of who they are. If your child is tantruming, try picturing them laughing to remind you that what they are doing is only momentary.
Align yourself with the reality of what occurs when you are a parent. You are their mother and right now you are responsible for dealing with this situation, like it or not. If you don’t like it, then that’s okay, but you have to accept what is occurring right now. In later steps you can sort out how you are going to deal with it, but remember in this step you simply have to accept the reality.
If you are talking about something going on with your children that is causing you to think in a anger-inducing way, then you have to accept the reality that during your experience as a parent you will experience ups and downs that sometimes aren’t going to be enjoyable.
The reality of life
Now you move into expanding your mindset about your life. You have to quickly pull this current situation into perspective of the bigger picture. This particular experience does not define your existence.
If your child wakes up early and is cranky, if your children are fighting, if your child is having a tantrum, this is one small moment in time. Don’t let it consume you and don’t give it the energy to be any bigger than what it is – a moment in time. Everything rises and passes away. This will too.
Hang in there with this in mind because it will save you from frustration leading to an angry outrage.
You will notice that all of these explanations of each of the components of The reality thinking model are short. This is because in the heat of the moment, you won’t have time to go into these elaborate upgrades that you would in a journal with bigger issues or in hindsight.
Very quickly you will need to become aware of your thinking that is causing your mild frustration to reach blow up point, then stop it and realign your thinking with the reality of the situation, the reality of being a parent, the reality of life and the reality of self-worth.
The reality of self-worth
This final part of the reality thinking model is where you will probably have to do the most work. Why is this situation really bothering you right now? What have you really attached your self-worth too?
In the heat of the moment you may need to remind yourself of your 100% worth, by trying to identify how this situation is valuable and how it is contributing to your growth and your child’s growth.
If you are experiencing your child’s undesirable behaviour, then this is merely indicative of where they are at in their development. How do they know what to do unless they’ve experienced what not to do? Detach your self-worth from their behaviour. In fact deliberately detach your self-worth from whatever is happening, because all it is, is just an event.
What’s making you angry is because somehow you are attaching your self-worth to that event. At this point on the Mind TRACK to Happiness process when we are talking about anger, our objective is to stop your anger in its tracks before it can escalate into hurting your child (intentionally or unintentionally) and also because it’s not enjoyable for either of you to experience this emotion.
Right in that moment, perhaps all you need to do is to quickly realign with the reality thinking model and then later on when you have some time, reflect on this situation and investigate exactly why you felt angry, journal it, write yourself a page of upgraded thinking and contemplate your aims, solutions and create your action plan.
I particularly suggest to practice doing this if anger is becoming a repetitive response to things not going to plan.
Summary to the Thoughts and Reality steps
First, take notice of your feelings. As soon as you recognise that you are feeling frustrated, become aware of your thinking. What are you saying to yourself? How is your thinking in conflict with reality?
The next thing to do, is to stop this thinking dead in its tracks. Stop yourself from entering into anymore conversations that are in denial with reality and quickly turn it around. Implement the reality thinking model. It doesn’t have to be elaborate thinking. It just needs to quickly turn your thinking around from being in conflict with reality, to being aligned with reality by expanding your mind in the direction of accepting the situation, remembering what life is like as a parent, putting the situation in proper context of the bigger picture of your life and then reminding yourself that this event is bringing value at some level to your life because of what it is teaching you and how it is contributing value to your life, not devaluing it. Of course the trick is to figure out ‘how’ the situation is doing this and cling to that.
Stopping anger is about clinging to this new way of thinking as quickly as possible in order to stop that progression from annoyance to outburst.
Here’s an example of how quickly you can do this:[You are cooking in the kitchen and your child is incessantly whingeing at you and clinging to your leg while you are trying to get dinner ready.] “Oh my god, I can’t stand this whingeing. I just wish you would leave me alone. Stop clinging to me. I can’t do anything with you hanging on me like this. Shut up. Stop whingeing. I can’t stand it anymore……….” STOP!!!!!! “Okay, just breathe for a minute. The reality is he is whingeing right now. (the reality of the situation) It’s 5pm and it’s witching hour. This is just a phase he’s going through that most kids go through. He wants my attention because he’s tired, it’s the end of the day and he wants me, but I have other things I need to do too. (the reality of being a parent> It’s only noise. This isn’t the be all and end all of my life. This is a moment in time that will pass. (the reality of life) I’m okay. I am not going to let this moment bother me. (the reality of self-worth) Now let’s see what we can do about the situation.(Step Three – aim).
You can see that very quickly, as soon as the thinking causing the frustration was identified, it could then be changed and deliberately sent into a different direction that became aligned with reality and put into perspective, then sent into focussing on the solution.
Awareness, detachment and acceptance in that order. Remember these three words to help your through the frustrating times
Step Three – Aim
In the heat of the moment when you are dealing with dinner, fighting siblings, a whingeing baby, bathtime, tantrums and all the other chaos that can occur at times, you will not have time to sit down and create an aim, test your aim and work out exactly what you want.
Once you have stopped the initial onset to anger by recognising the rogue anger-inducing thoughts and aligning them with reality, you can then move onto focussing on what is going to see you through this current moment.
Step Four – Choices
“Okay, separate the fighting siblings, or put them in their rooms, put the baby in her highchair next to me and give her a spatula to play with (while ignoring the whingeing), bathtime can wait, ignore the tantrum because I don’t have time for it and get dinner on the table.”
Do what needs to be done. Look for what options are around to get your though this immediate situation and then if it is common for this kind of chaos to occur, sit down once the kids are in bed and run the situation through the Mind TRACK to Happiness process properly when you have time to think without interruption.
Look at why this situation is recurring and what you are going to do about it. What is the ideal of the situation? Why is each person contributing to the chaos? What is the reason they are behaving this way and how can you help them to help you?
Seek out resources to help you to change your chaotic evening to being a calmer one.
Step Five – Know your plan & action it
When you are applying this process quickly, the fifth step is just about doing what you have decided is the best thing to do at the time in step four.
If you are looking at the situation in hindsight, then you need to develop an approach for dealing with this situation next time.
I can assure you that having a plan of attack for dealing with regular situations – for example, tantrums, witching hour, fighting children, dinner time and so on, will empower you so much that you won’t even come close to getting angry at that time of the day.
Having a plan gives you some action to take when this situation arises. Your reaction is to implement your strategy and thus is a solution focussed reaction, rather than an angry one.
The bottom line is that anger occurs because you want the situation to stop and become what you want it to be. If you have applied the five steps to those times that are becoming regular challenges, then you have a plan to stop the situation, so there is no need for anger.
But if your life continues to be in chaos with no plan and no organisation, then it is going to be difficult to keep your thoughts from entering into those conversations that end in anger.
Of course you can’t always plan for the unexpected, so the key is to remain aware of how you are feeling, because remember, feelings occur because of what you are thinking.
This motherhood gig is not easy, that’s for sure, but with the Mind TRACK to Happiness process you are always able to gauge where you are at on the ladder and why you are there. If you are angry, it is because you are at the bottom of the ladder sitting in denial and conflict about reality.
Change your thinking, set your aim, resource and create your plan for overcoming your challenge. These are the steps that will not only lead you away from stress, but will have you feeling happier, more organised and living a life that gives back exactly what sort of life you want to lead.
In tomorrow’s lesson we will talk about those times when you feel completely overwhelmed by everything how to apply the TRACK process to this time of your life too.