Episode #108 – Use Your Anger to Get What You Want
So….my pre-teen just pointed out that every time I have to drive him somewhere, I act annoyed. (which annoyed me). My teenager piggy backed on that saying I’m ALWAYS mad and yelling at her to pick up her things and do her chores. (which irritated me). My partner joined in saying he can’t remember the last time he and I had fun together (which TOTALLY pissed me off!). What is happening to me? Am I developing anger issues?
The last few days I started observing every time I felt angry. I’m mad at other drivers who don’t drive more carefully around schools. I’m mad at the poor job our school is doing to accommodate my child’s learning disability. I’m mad that I have to work full time and have a full time messy house.
I don’t think of myself as an angry person. If anything, I’m too nice and a bit of a pushover. Where do I go from here?
Parent Educator Answer:
First, let me say it sucks when your family gangs up on you. That is not nice and I’m sorry you got called out in that way.
Second, let’s talk about where NOT to go from here.
Do not go from anger to guilt and shame. It’s tempting, but this is what keeps you stuck in the “exploding doormat” cycle. We turn into “exploding doormats” when we feel bad for yelling and being short or snappy, this guilt causes us to abandon our boundaries, cater to our kids desires. Ignoring our own desires and being overly accommodating, ignites our anger, (naturally and appropriately) which makes us snappy, continuing the cycle.
This repression of anger does not help us learn the lessons anger is trying to teach us. Most women are taught to swallow their anger, keep it inside, and not express it.
Some women learned to express anger in a way that violates other people’s boundaries. Yelling, blaming, cursing, name calling, are all unhealthy ways we have witnessed others express anger.
Anger has a purpose. It is here to help us identify injustices and give us the strength to right wrongs and set firm boundaries.
Rather than suppressing or expressing anger, we want to USE IT.
Feel around in your body and mind for any anger you are carrying around with you. Look for anything that says, “It’s not fair.”
In the past, my anger, resentment, and bitterness mostly showed towards my husband. I raged against our unequal division of labor.
The first step in turning rage into the fuel required to make change is compassion. This anger isn’t to be ignored or tolerated, it’s HEALTHY. Your anger is important! As you give it the reverence it deserves, you allow it to turn from suppression, to curiosity, to the strength you need to set healthy boundaries.
Ask yourself, “What do I need that I’m not getting?”
If your answer is “I need my daughter to do her chores”, go broader. Get less specific and more general. Take a deep breath and ask again with compassion, “What do I need that I’m not getting?”
Listen for an answer from your HIGHER SELF. It may communicate in a one word answer: Support. Kindness. Respect. Justice. A break.
Then ask yourself, “What am I experiencing that feels unbearable?”
A lot of my Supermom clients are surprised at the answer their higher self gives them. While the critical, chatty left brain will give long-winded answers about all the changes that need to be made, the quiet wisdom of the right brain often lets them know that it’s loneliness, disconnection, and overwhelm that feels unbearable.
When I was raging against the inequity of household responsibilities, and asked myself “What do I need that I’m not getting?” The answer was rest. I was driving myself so hard trying to PROVE that I was doing ALL THE WORK, I wouldn’t allow myself any leisure time. I felt guilty taking a break in the middle of the day. I couldn’t allow myself to spend time or money doing things I enjoyed. Having compassion for my anger helped me channel it into releasing the guilt and pressure I was putting on myself. I used my anger to override my inner drill sergeant and started having more fun.
When I asked myself, “What am I experiencing that feels unbearable?” The answer was all the mental arguing I was doing trying to get my husband to change his ways. I took the blame off of him, and put 100% responsibility for how I was feeling on ME. This empowered me so much! I felt so free! I started learning more about what it’s like to be married to a rebel personality type with ADHD. Reading books and watching videos of other people in similar situations, gave me the support and compassion I struggled to give myself.
I no longer waited for some imaginary permission slip to let me do what I wanted. I started taking weekends by myself, signing up for coaching programs, and doing things that brought me joy. The more I filled up my tank and prioritized how I felt, the less resentment I felt towards others. I didn’t change the amount of work I did, just my thoughts around it.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in the way from using anger to fuel appropriate action?
Let’s take your example “I’m mad at the poor job our school is doing to accommodate my child’s learning disability.”
When you ask yourself the question, “What do I need that I’m not getting?” Your higher self might answer, “an explanation” or “a teacher who gets it” or “someone else to manage his academic progress”.
When you ask, “What am I experiencing that feels unbearable?”
You might get an answer like “going it alone” or “watching him struggle”.
Your next step might illuminate itself. It may become very clear what you need to do. But in order to take an action step like advocate for your child, ask for a new teacher, interview and hire a tutor to help or switch schools, it involves going against social programming.
We’ve been taught to play nice, keep quiet and swallow anger. To stand up to injustice or advocate for ourselves or others, we have to believe we are worthy of getting what we want.
Taking action to right wrongs means we have to defy cultural norms. This brings up A LOT of fear! Many people would rather stay stuck in anger than have to feel scared, vulnerable, valuable and worthy!
In order for me to check into a hotel by myself for the weekend, I had to go against my cultural programming that self care is selfish, a mother’s place is in the home, and it’s better to give than to receive.
In order for me to advocate for my stressed out kids and tell the teacher: “I’m taking my kid off homework for the rest of the year.” I had to go against my programming that said good girls obey authority and follow rules.
In order for you to release the anger, you’re going to have to feel the fear and vulnerability that goes along with defying cultural programming.
The best way to do this is in a group setting with other people who share the cultural values you are wanting to adopt. I cannot think of a better way to do this than a group coaching program.
My group coaching program shares the belief that when we pursue things that make us feel peaceful, alive and free, we not only create a life we love, but we inspire our families and communities to do the same. When we focus on “filling up our love tank,” we inadvertently and without effort give courage to others to believe in themselves and their inherent worth.
Supermom Kryptontie – Defensive Teenagers
Because of functional MRI machines, the last few decades have given us huge insights into the minds of teenagers.
You mentioned that your teenager accuses you of “always being mad and yelling” which is not a fun thing to hear. Anger is a natural response when someone accuses us of something negative AND untrue! (No one is ALWAYS yelling).
Researchers showed pictures of facial expressions emoting anger, fear, surprise, shock, and neutral (no expression) to adults and teens during an fMRI. The adults were able to correctly identify the emotion with activity in their logical frontal lobes. The teenagers, however, interpreted them all as anger, using the reactive amygdala to decipher the emotional expression.
This explains why teenagers can think we are “angry and yelling” even when we have a neutral expression. Teens overreact and get defensive because they are interpreting the expressions of peers, teachers, and parents from the emotional amygdala.
With age and further development of the frontal lobes, their defensive reactions will calm down and they will be able to see a wider range of emotional expression without thinking everyone is mad at them.
Supermom Power Boost – Healthy anger
It’s hard to know what healthy anger looks like.
Usually, we see anger expressed in unhealthy ways:
- Expressing it verbally and physically, blaming others and violating other people’s boundaries and sense of safety.
- We see it expressed passive-aggressively, with sarcasm, snide comments, control, ignorance, forgetfulness, ghosting, exclusion, and omission. This can be “the silent treatment”, “backhanded compliment” or a “bless her heart” fake smile.
- Suppression and denial. We say we aren’t mad but it leaks out other places: road rage, overeating, overdrinking, overworking, blaming ourselves, etc.
The reason it’s hard to SEE healthy anger in action is because it often turns to love.
I may join a march for justice, not because I’m angry, but because I love the people.
Angelica might happily drive her son around because she loves him and his passion for social activities.
She may advocate for educational resources because she loves the local school.
She might change schools because she loves the support of teachers who understand learning differences.
To help your rage turn into love, ask yourself this question: “What would make my anger go away?”
I used to get REALLY mad at people who made racial slurs. So angry that it was hard for me to articulate and advocate in a way I was proud of. When I asked myself this question, “What would make my anger go away?” I learned I needed to forgive myself for a racist slur I made when I was 9 years old that caused my friend to cry. Once I made peace with the past and forgave myself, I was able to turn my anger into love.
Maybe what would help Angelica’s anger go away is to spend less time with an angsty teenager and more time having fun with her husband.
Maybe she needs a coalition of other parents at the school fighting the same cause.
Or maybe a few more please’s and thank you’s would make all the difference.
Then ask yourself: “How can I find peace if nothing ever changes?”
I used this one a lot when I would rage against the TV news. Hearing about all the crap happening all over the world, would send me down an angry, powerless spiral. Once I accepted that our world will never be perfect, life got easier. From the beginning of time, there has been violence, injustice, poverty and cruelty. Accepting that this is not heaven on Earth and these elements may always exist gave me my power back. It turned my anger into fuel to act upon change I believed in.
This is a life changing question. Ask it every time you hear yourself say, “It’s not fair!” and watch your anger turn to love.