“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people
very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
– Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Erica’s old anger patterns as directed at my children and husband, or, per Stephen King, “Some werewolves are hairy on the inside.”
• Understand that I wouldn’t even be angry if you just did The Thing or behaved the right way/correctly/better.
• Yell or speak in an ice-cold tone. Hissing optional.
• Withdraw affection indefinitely.
• Apologize for my inappropriate behavior illustrated above. Promise not to do it again.
• Do it again.
Erica’s anger evolution, or parenting is still harder than cancer
Despite years of mindful work and healing around anger, I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. Then, last week, a gigantic shift came out of this routine exchange.
Me: Did you send that e-mail?
Son: Ugh, no… [types rapidly]
Me: Are you serious? I reminded you umpteen times… That’s it, I’m pulling you out of all of your activities… [I stomp upstairs] I. am. done. Done. Donnnnnnnnnne!
Self: Okay, Erica, you are so mad right now. What do you need?
(Mark Twain: “When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”)
Me: What do I need? I need him to have sent that e-mail today!
Self: Yes, right, got it. But what do you need right now? What’s happening? What’s really going on here?
Me: I’m really mad that I kept this task on the constant forefront of my mind and wasted all of that energy for nothing!
Self: Whose choice was that?
Me: Mine. So? Actually, you know what? Shut up. Never mind. Can we go back to the part where he messed up, and I did everything right?
[My personal values suddenly spin into my awareness like those old Batman show transition graphics]
…People before things…Is this relationship based on tasks or trust?…Is my love conditional?…How serious is this transgression, anyway?…Does it warrant this level of rage?…Is my withdrawal of affection achieving anything?…
Self: How serious is this problem?
Me: Technically, not a big deal. But I spent a lot of energy reminding him and it didn’t happen.
Self: Nope. It didn’t happen. How do you feel right now?
Me: Ignored. Invisible. Devalued.… [new thought quietly enters] …It’s not the outcome I wanted.
It’s not…the outcome…I wanted? It’s not the outcome I wanted!
OMG I am not angry about a different outcome. I am disappointed.
[Visualization of my ribs, skeletal, free and open, air/thoughts/feelings flow freely through me.]
I lash out at my son because I am disappointed with the outcome, and since disappointment is uncomfortable, I direct all of my emotion and attention toward him, which presents as anger, so I can avoid experiencing the hard feelings myself.
…People before things…I value this relationship…I am disappointed by the outcome. Acting out so I don’t have to feel creates separation between us. I am acting angry at you when in truth, I am simply disappointed in the outcome. Watching the SheBelieves Cup reminds me that I can have all the feels about Team USA’s action on the soccer field, but there is no guarantee about results. My son has nothing to do with my emotional investment, but I am acting like he is squarely to blame. He is the target of these misdirected emotions because I don’t want to feel disappointment.
Yes, I am disappointed that my son did not complete the task required of him, but I realize it’s also about me: I chose to invest too deeply in it. Is it helpful guidance toward personal responsibility to keep nagging him? Maybe better to write him a single note next time, send a text or have him write his own reminder to himself to remember.
Funneling inappropriate emotional “traffic” into our relationship instead of focusing on the issue itself creates distance between us. Separating my punitive anger from the relationship is a complete game-changer for me.
I am free. My anger completely clears away.
(Emerson: “We boil at different degrees.”)
Me: I am sorry for the way I acted toward you tonight. And, oddly, thank you – thank you for not doing The Thing. For the chance for me to learn this incredible lesson. Because of it, my life has changed. Anger doesn’t own me anymore. I love you.
Head On and Heart Strong!
Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.