I am imagining the scenario of being angry at my boss. In this hypothetical situation, I had this great idea for a project and she shot it down. I feel extremely frustrated – hurt that she didn’t trust me to make good decisions. Annoyed that I know I really did have a great idea, yet I’m feeling as though I’m being restricted in my ability to express it. And the worst part is that I have no power. There’s nothing I can do and I’m stuck with these feelings. I feel like throwing a fit, but if I express these thoughts and feelings to my boss, I worry I will be told that I am not acting appropriate. So I shut down, back down, and deal with my feelings as best I can as I move on.
And that brings me to my next thought, which is the kind of environment I hope to provide my children. I so deeply want them to be able to be their true selves, and for me to be able to know and connect with those selves. I want them to know I am always here to support them, no matter what they’re going through, and that they can always look to me for support, understanding, and to be responsive to their needs. I want this for them not only as they exist as children, but as they grow into adults to. This belief is one I apply to others in my life as well!
So, as I connect the initial scenario with my hopes for myself to be conscious of my interactions with my children, I delve deeper into thought about the concept of anger…and when my children are angry. My personal belief is that anger is a defense mechanism derived from deeper, more complex feelings and used as a way to cope with all kinds of emotions like hurt, pain, frustration, loss of power/control, etc. Anger is an emotion we all have, and I therefore feel it is legit – just like happiness and sadness. If a person was happy, or if they were sad, I think it’s less likely another person would try and talk them out of having those feelings or jump into “problem solving mode” to try and ride them of those feelings. They’re less threatening and considered more “acceptable.”
However, I have noticed children express anger towards their parent, and, often times, the parent responds with a judgment or defensiveness instead of understanding and being responsive to the child’s experience. “It’s not okay to act like that,” is a common message conveyed to children who are angry. Another common one is, “how dare you treat me like that??” As I ponder these interactions, I think about how in conveying these responses, the parent has, in those moments, abandoned the idea of being supportive to their child. Instead, they are being self-focused – either putting themselves in a position of authority as the one who “knows better” by teaching the child about right/wrong based on their own judgments about what is right/wrong, OR they’re bringing it back to the parent’s own feelings instead of responding to what the child is going through. Imagine these ideas in relation to the story about the boss. What if you were talking to someone you trusted about that scenario, and the message being conveyed by their response was, “I know how to deal with this better – the way you SHOULD be reacting is not by being mad. Being mad gets you in trouble, so you should stop acting mad, it’s not okay!” or what about, “You’re mad at your boss?? You’re hurting ME by being mad at them so stop!”
I don’t know about anyone else, but if that’s how the person I trusted were to respond, I would certainly feel that they thought they knew better than me and I therefore would not feel uplifted, strong, or capable of figuring out how to cope since I was obviously feeling the wrong things and was dealing with it in the wrong way according to them…and the right way was if I did what they thought I should do. I would feel even more frustrated that this person was not understanding what I was going through, and
not only that, they were making my frustrating experience about themselves instead of expressing care about my own feelings! Gah! Now I’d definitely be even MORE frustrated. However I would learn that maybe I need to deal with this in another way other than expressing it – shut down? Tell someone else? Because this person wasn’t able to understand what I was needing. So what’s the point in telling them next time?
I know that I personally want to try as hard as I can, as often as I can, to be the supportive person to my children. And as a parent, I also know that I am naturally in a position of authority. However, I want to make it as little about power/authority and as much as I can about conveying my own need as a parent while also acknowledging my children’s needs as people. It’s true, I have a need to keep my children safe and so I can’t allow them to play in the street. I am just not okay with that. And that’s what I hope to convey – that these are my own feelings. And my children may be mad. They might see the neighbor kids playing in the street and feel so sad – so left out. And so upset that they scream and yell at me and tell me I’m such a mean mom and they hate me! I hope that I can get it instead of shut them down. That I can acknowledge their feelings, and say, “I know, I think you are so very mad at me because you want to play out there so bad. You feel left out that you can’t, and it’s a really bad feeling inside. And it’s me being mean because I’m the one that said no.” Yes, I think I’m understanding….but then explain myself, too – “I do feel sad that you’re feeling left out. At the same time, I want to protect you and keep you safe. And that’s why I can’t let you play out there.” Well, they may still be mad for a while. They might hate me for a while, too. And that’s okay. I get it. I’m here for them when or if they need me. And they’ll know I understand their anger. That it’s safe to show me their true experiences and I will attempt to connect with them without judging or shutting them down.
My point is not to say it’s okay for children – or adults for that matter – to act however they want. This might lead to bad things happening. I do feel it is my job to teach and guide my child. However my point is this: sometimes it can be much more helpful not to assume that teaching/guiding/fixing role. To not take things personally and set our egos aside so that we can understand the experience of another. To allow space for error and to convey trust in others so that they can believe in themselves and find it in themselves to cope. Sometimes it’s alright to acknowledge feelings, even if society were to deem them as wrong or not okay, so that our children can know it’s alright to be their authentic selves and that we’ll still accept them. And sometimes doing these things will help our children grow more than if we shut them down or tell them no.
I believe it’s these ideas that can help us to not only connect deeply to our children, but deeply to our adult parents. To our friends and family. To co-workers and bosses. Understanding each other’s anger as legit and not something to shut down, and knowing that there’s space for each of our own experiences even if they differ. We don’t have to sacrifice our own feelings in order to acknowledge each other. Each of our experiences can be valid. Sometimes simply understanding the anger is the most beneficial thing to do!