This post is going to be short and sweet. I seem to have smaller and smaller windows to write. Please forgive the stream-of-consciousness style – I know this breaks so many blogging rules. But I need to just get my thoughts down on paper/computer.
Here’s what I’ve been chewing on lately:
Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I’ve chosen this verse because well, I have a REALLY hard time not responding in anger to any anger or rudeness or unkindness that is projected towards me. This mainly pertains to parenting, because that’s where I am right now – in the thick of it – but it can also apply to marriage, family and friendships.
My sweet 6 year old said: “Mommy, when I get angry I just can’t keep it inside. It wants to come out so bad.”
Sweet bud. I get it. I totally get it. I’ve heard it said that anger is a surface emotion; that there’s always something deeper going on. But I’m not going to try and analyze that today.
Here’s what I am learning right now:
- Responding to anger with more anger just doesn’t work. It feels ‘deserved’ in the moment, but in the end, it just makes ME feel worse and hurts the other person (which is sometimes my goal in the moment, but it has damaging long-term consequences).
- As hard as it is to do so: Responding to harshness with a GENTLE WORD really DOES work. I know because I’ve been experimenting with it. My sweet little 6 year old has a lot of BIG emotions. Just like his mommy. As ‘outrageous’ as his behavior seems in the moment, it’s not worth getting all worked up about. I’m tired of feeling terrible for yelling at him. I’m tired of seeing that look on his eyes of shame and sadness and a sense that he is trapped, like he wants to stop doing what he’s doing, but he doesn’t know how and doesn’t know if he could even control it if he could because it’s just so big and strong and takes over his mind and body. Oh buddy, I know that feeling! And it can be scary and produce intense shame. I think of Paul’s quote: I do what I don’t want to do and the things I want to do I don’t do! Is this not the human experience?!
- When you have big emotions as a kid, it’s hard to know what to do with them. I felt ashamed a lot as a young girl. I had anger that I didn’t know how to handle. I wish I’d had a tool box, some quick things I could pull out and use to express my anger without being destructive or hurtful.
Here are some things in my toolbox with my son:
Physical touch – as HARD as it is to cuddle with him, much less be around him after he has exploded on me, I know that he CRAVES physical touch. Rubbing his back, giving him a big bear hug, or tousling his hair is very soothing for him. He has a lot of flailing fits and sometimes it seems like his very own body is crying out saying, “Mommy, I need some boundaries! Hold me tight! Don’t let me get out of control.” And oh buddy, do I understand that sense of feeling out of control. So scary. Yet so normal.
Soft answers – Back to the point of this post: responding with a soft word is KEY. I don’t do it every time and often times, I’m too pissed to say a single word. But the phrase I often use to de-escalate things is: “Oh buddy…what’s going on?” It is one of compassion and concern, not judgment. Sometimes, it just makes him angrier. But lately, he’s even been able to identify his emotions and say “Mommy, I am feeling really angry right now.” And I see that as HUGE progress – an ability to recognize his emotions!
Share my struggles/tools – I usually start by sharing my own tools I use when I get angry. I’ll say something like: When Mommy is angry, sometimes I go for a run. Sometimes Mommy has a glass of wine. Sometimes Mommy goes back to her bedroom, puts on the sound machine and sound proof headphones and cuddles up in her soft sheets to calm herself down.
Ask him to identify his tools – It was amazing to see how quickly he could list off several things that helped him calm down! Things like listening to a book on tape, cuddling up with his soft animals, hiding in his ‘tent’ or climbing to the top of his treehouse are all things that help him calm down. Now, when he gets angry, we’ve got this rhythm where he can articulate “Mommy, I’m feeling angry” and I can say: “well, what tool are you going to use right now?” It doesn’t go exactly like that, let’s be honest. But on a good day, hopefully somewhere along those lines.
My point: We all have big emotions. We all have a hard time expressing them in ways that don’t hurt ourselves or others. But instead of responding to anger/rudeness/whatever negative emotion you want to choose with MORE anger (hello our political debate these days…ugh!), try responding with Grace and Gentleness.
Yep, that guy just cut me off (now that I drive a mini-van I feel like everyone thinks they can cut me off! JERKS!). But I can choose to turn on some soothing music, take a deep breath, smile and move on or spend the next 15 minutes cursing him under my breath and trying to ride his bumper as close as possible to make sure he knows I’m pissed and am not going to let him off the hook that easy. He will pay. Not that I’ve ever done that.
I don’t think we do this just out of sheer good will or karma or to tap into some vague ethereal Energy Source out there that everyone has a different name for but no one really understands what He/She/It asks/expects of them. Talk about powerless. Nope. My source of power is REAL and pretty dang SPECIFIC.
Isn’t that exactly what He did for us? He responded to ugliness and hatred and sin with love and forgiveness and mercy. He could have climbed down off that cross and sent his angels to give us the smack down or well, he could’ve given us the smack down himself and sent us to who knows where, but he said: No, that is not the way. I’m going to show them I love them. They don’t deserve it, but I want to lavish my love upon them. It is the GRACE upon Grace, His endless mercies, His kindness poured out on me despite my undeserving it that has lead me after all these years, and hopefully my children some day, to repent of anything in my self that thinks I’ve ‘earned’ it. All of it is grace. A gift of grace. And that is where the power lies…