What causes Anger?
You’re in the kitchen doing the dishes. Your youngest child is having a daytime nap and your eldest child is playing quietly in the lounge room while watching a video.
“Great” you think. “I’ll just finish doing these dishes, tidy up the house, put some washing out on the line and have just enough time to grab a cup of coffee before Timothy (youngest child) wakes up”.
You finish the dishes and just as you are tidying up the house, Timothy wakes up early. Of course this means he is also cranky because he has not had enough sleep, and as a result he is screaming and clinging to you. He won’t let you put him down, but doesn’t want you to cuddle him either.
All of a sudden, the nice, quiet half an hour to get on top of things and sit down for five minutes has been replaced with a loud, aggressive, angry child who is demanding your attention.
Your eldest child has just decided that now is the perfect time to get her paint set out without permission, and start doing a beautiful drawing, which includes getting it all over the carpet, walls and her brand new clothes you just bought.
What are you thinking in these moments?
“No, no, you can’t be awake yet. You’re supposed to be asleep. I was going to get the house cleaned up and have a cup of coffee. I can’t believe you’re awake right now. Now I have to put up with you screaming and tantrums all afternoon because you haven’t had enough sleep. [You go into Timothy’s room to get him out of the cot, mildly annoyed at this point. He starts grabbing at you and flailing his arms about]. “Stop that Timothy you are hurting me. It’s okay. Mummy is here. Let’s go sit in the lounge room”, you say trying very hard to stay calm.
Inside your mind you are thinking “Why couldn’t you have just slept longer? Why do you do this to me? Why can’t I have some time out from you kids once in a while” [Your annoyance is starting to increase. You sit down on the couch with Timothy still flailing about and screaming very loudly and you suddenly notice that in your absence Hayley – eldest child has begun her artistic work]. “No Hayley!” you yell, “what are you doing? That is very naughty! Get out of here now! you scream. “Wash your hands and get to your room, now! You know that you weren’t supposed to paint inside. I’ve had enough of you kids not listening to me!”
You are finding it very difficult to keep your cool and your internal conversations are reaching their peak. “I’ve had enough of this b**llsh*t day in, day out. Look at all this mess I have to deal with. All I wanted to do is tidy up and have a damn cup of coffee and a five minute break. Is that too much to ask? I’m tired of being the slave around here. I’m tired of dealing with you kids not listening to me and ruining my life. I can’t do this anymore. I hate my life!
Anger, resentment and sadness have arrived. But what caused this anger? Was it the kids’ behaviour? Or was it how you interpreted what the kids were doing?
Look back over this whole scenario, how many times were statements made that were in conflict with the reality of what was actually happening? See if you can pick them out first, then look below as I have listed them:
- No, no, you can’t be awake yet. You’re supposed to be asleep. I was going to get the house cleaned up and have a cup of coffee. I can’t believe you’re awake right now.
- “Why couldn’t you have just slept longer? Why do you do this to me? Why can’t I have some time out from you kids once in a while”
- “I’ve had enough of this b**llsh*t day in, day out. Look at all this mess I have to deal with. All I wanted to do is tidy up and have a damn cup of coffee and a five minute break.
All of these statements were about what wasn’t happening as opposed to accepting the new reality, which was different to the picture she had in her mind. This was what was causing her anger.
Also, as we have discussed in the overview of this thoughts step last week, the conversation starts by making judgements about what you are currently experiencing being wrong. You then progress to assessing what this means about being a parent, what it means about your life and eventually, what it means about your self- worth.
If you look again, you will see that this mum’s conversation with herself progressed to this attachment between the event and her self-worth.
The process of how thinking can result in anger
- You hold a picture in your mind of how life is going to unfold (I’ll finish doing the dishes, tidy up the house, put some washing out on the line and have just enough time to grab a cup of coffee before Timothy (youngest child) wakes up”.
- You view the actual real-time situation with your senses and your brain identifies that the reality is different to your expectations. You begin to hold a conversation in your mind about this difference. This conversation is all about how wrong this new reality is and you hold onto that picture of how it was ‘supposed to be’. This thinking is in conflict with this new reality.
- This thinking, if not stopped and re-aligned with reality, will escalate as you find more and more evidence of how this situation is not matching your expectations. It starts with seeing the situation as wrong, then expands until you are seeing the whole parenting experience as being wrong, what you are missing out on in your life and then you conclude that this means something about you. I’m tired of being the slave around here. I’m tired of dealing with you kids not listening to me and ruining my life. I can’t do this anymore. I hate my life!
This all happens very quickly and how far your thinking goes down this path (as in whether it reaches conversations about how bad your life and self-worth is) will be what determines the intensity of your anger.
If you can stop thinking this way as soon as you recognise that you are in conflict with this new reality (that is, my child did not sleep as long as I expected him too) then the quicker you will stop the anger.
You don’t have to be happy about the new situation, but you can bring yourself to the acceptance that it just hasn’t met the picture you had in mind. Take a deep breath and don’t allow that conversation to escalate into this small event in your life, somehow meaning your whole life is bad.
Common misconceptions about life (memes) that can cause you anger
- I have to get life right
We live in a get your life right world. We have been conditioned to believe that if we don’t get something to go well, then there must be something wrong. It is either my fault or someone else’s fault. We have been taught to expect life to be a smooth ride towards what we want. Even though logically we know that this is never always the case, we still try to create this smooth ride and can feel angry when the picture is different to what we expected. This is because we have formed the belief that if I can’t get life right, then what does that say about me?
Perhaps you are trying to get parenting right and get everything to run smoothly in this area of life all the time. Perhaps you are trying to be the perfect mother or father. Perhaps you had high expectations that being a parent was going to be easy and you would be able to cope with anything that came your way and if it doesn’t work out that way, then it is a reflection on you somehow. What would happen as a child if you did something wrong? How were you made to feel? How was this belief set up? The answers to these questions could be the underlying meme that causes you to feel angry when things don’t go well.
However this need to get life right in parenthood is in major conflict with the reality that your children are growing and learning how to behave, become capable, follow moral rules, respect others and develop. Whenever we learn something there is trial and error, so you won’t always get things to go right in the area of parenting. Sometimes there will be weeks where there is one unexpected thing after another. It doesn’t mean that your whole life is ruined. It is just what is happening right now. In the Aim step, you might give yourself some more free time to break it all up. You will also learn, as you progress, why you aren’t doing that right now.
- Life needs to be exciting and interesting for it to be valuable
Also conditioned from our society, is the need for stimulation. Through entertainment such as internet, games, movies, concerts and a strong culture focus on achievement, we have been taught that the only way to have a successful life is for it to be interesting and exciting all of the time.
However, when it comes to being a parenting, you are often faced with mundane, repetitive tasks. If you believe your life has to be exciting and/or interesting to be valuable, then you are going to feel like life is very pointless when doing these repetitive tasks. You may begin comparing your life to how exciting it used to be (in conflict with reality), how you used to have money to do things exciting and how you used to have time to do exciting things. Finally this comparison concludes with the opinion that your life’s worth has now diminished, which can cause anger and resentment.
The reality is that life isn’t always exciting and interesting. Look at jobs you have had in the past, relationships and other experiences through life. Have you always had 24/7 excitement in your life? Being a parent is full of highs, lows and sometimes mundane tasks, just like anything in life. All of these times have risen and then passed away. Parenthood will be the same.
- I should be able to cope
The idea that you should always know exactly what to do whenever you experience something new, is in huge conflict with reality. You have never been a parent before, or have never been a parent of this particular child before and you cannot possibly know how to be a parent straight away. This journey is a continual one full of learning and trial and error.
You are dealing with another human being who is not only learning about his/her world, but is also trying to get his/her own needs met.
If you are not coping it is because you are learning how to cope. One of my favourite sayings is how do you know what to do until you have learnt what NOT to do? We all go through stages in our lives that are tough, or take us a little while to get a hold of. What do you believe it means about you if you aren’t able to cope with a new challenge in life? The answer to this question will unveil the beliefs that underlie your anger.
- Being a parent means I don’t get time for ‘my’ life
This belief can cause anger because you are constantly in a state of missing out whenever you think like this. What you need to understand is that being a parent is a part of your life. It’s not all of who you are, but it is a large part of your life. If you are saying that you have no time for ‘my’ life, then you are in conflict with reality that time being a parent is your life.
What needs to change is your opinions about what being a parent means about your life. Challenge yourself to look at parenthood in a different way, rather than attaching it to meaning that you are missing out on something more exciting or interesting.
- I should be happy
This belief runs rife in our society. We are surrounded by external things to help us to pursue this elusive goal of being happy all the time. However, happiness is an emotion and like any emotion, it gets triggered by our beliefs. Happiness occurs when the situation has matched our beliefs on the way something should go.
Does life always go to plan? No it doesn’t, however if you have this belief that you should be happy with a smile on your face 24/7 and be able to enjoy every single moment of your life, this can cause you anger when it doesn’t happen that way.
We can learn to look at unenjoyable situations differently (which you will do in this program) but you will never capture that emotion of happiness 24/7. This is because we are constantly rating our situations based on our beliefs and we will never always rate events as being wonderful and enjoyable, thus feeling the emotion of happiness.
Tell me you would ever feel happy if you lost a loved one. You might have a healthy understanding of the reality of life, being that everyone dies at one point or another, but you are not going to feel happy about it.
Similarly if your child puts paint all over the walls and floor, you are not going to feel happy about that either, but you can change the way you look at it so that you don’t enter into these conversations in your mind that end up meaning your whole life is miserable and meaning something about you, which incidentally, will be the cause of your anger.
Remember, it is your thoughts about your quality of life and your self-worth that send you into depression, major stress and anxiety. You can still feel sad or bored here and there and I believe that is normal for everybody, but it is the fact that you see these boring moments as a reflection of your whole existence, that is the cause of your stress.
It is because you have attached your whole life’s purpose to this small event that is not meeting the expectations you had in mind. It is the belief that this event not meeting your expectations is a reflection on you and your life’s value.
The relationship between Anger and Self-worth
You can easily see from the examples above, that it is not about the event that makes us feel angry. It is essentially what you have believed this event to mean about your self-worth, the person you are.
You will have expectations of yourself that you feel you have to live up to in order to be valuable (set up from childhood) and when you see evidence of things not going that way, you desperately try to hold onto the picture of how it was supposed to be, which is really your mind’s way of trying to protect your self-worth.
However, as you continue to see that this picture is not happening, you then feel resistance (the feeling of anger) because you believe that this new event now means something about you.
I know that this is a fairly deep explanation of anger, however this is what is essentially occurring underneath that anger.
Next week and in the following two weeks after that, you will learn how to change this thinking and get an accurate view of both challenging situations, and self-worth.
Understanding your anger can help you to stop it. Becoming aware of your thinking and observing how it goes down that destructive path, can help you to see that you are in conflict with the reality of what is really happening in this moment.
As we progress through this program, you will learn to change how you think about unwanted events so they don’t turn into angry ones. It doesn’t mean you will necessarily become happy about these moments, it just means that you won’t spiral into anger. You will be able to replace these thoughts to bring yourself back into alignment with reality.
In tomorrow’s lesson you will learn more about what thinking causes guilt.