Which of your emotions is the hardest to deal with? For many parents, it’s anger.
And children seem to have an ability to trigger anger in ways we didn’t know were possible. Our anger often comes on fast and catches us by surprise. Sometimes it catches our children by surprise too—and even scares them a little.
So how can mindfulness help?
Become aware: “Ah… I am angry”
Mindfulness means noticing our experience, moment to moment. The sooner we become aware that we are feeling angry, the less likely it is to spiral out of control and find us saying or doing something we wish we hadn’t.
Have you heard the expression “name it to tame it?” As far as the brain is concerned, once you name an emotion, you automatically reduce its intensity. With anger this is very useful—mindfulness brings awareness and the ability to name what we are feeling, cooling it down just a little. It also brings a reminder that all emotions come and go. Anger arises… and anger subsides.
Accept it: “Okay—like it or not, that is what I’m feeling”
Like everyone else, we experience the full range of human emotions (as do our children by the way, but without our maturity and experience to handle it) including anger. Denying we are feeling any particular feeling just makes it more difficult for us to manage it well.
Instead of judging our anger as right or wrong, good or bad, should or shouldn’t, mindfulness helps us to simply accept the reality that this is what we are feeling. We don’t have to like it, we just have to accept that it is what it is.
Soothe yourself: “This is hard. It’s okay, I’m here”
We are harder on ourselves than we are on others. We often speak harshly to ourselves, particularly if we feel that it is wrong to be angry or if we are upset with what we have said or done in anger.
If instead we can soothe our fire with kindness, rather than desert ourselves in horror—support ourselves through this difficult moment—we can calm our anger and regain a sense that there is something helpful we can do in this situation.
Scan your body, softening any obvious signs of tension. Invite it to let go, even a little. It’s natural for our bodies to tense against the storm of anger.
This kind of mindful self compassion is my “go-to” practice for soothing any kind of difficult emotion, including anger. It involves sending kindness to yourself—empathy for what this feels like for you. “This is hard. It’s okay, I’m here.”.
Soften into this kindness. Stay with it a while. Don’t try to change anything or make anything go away. Just surround those feelings with kindness and understanding. Let it be what it is. Don’t run away with it or push it away.
Look underneath anger: “What’s driving my anger?”
Just as it is helpful to try to get underneath any outburst from our children to see if they are tired, hungry, frustrated or in pain so that we can understand how to help them, so too it is good for us to look at our own anger in this way.
Why does what has happened upset us? Is it just this one instance or are we being triggered by something that happened previously?
Mindfulness can help us sit with the question of what is driving our anger, without blaming anyone, until we gain insight.
Slow down: “What do I need?”
If ever there was a time to slow down, it is when we are feeling angry. Mindfulness not only brings awareness and soothing acceptance to the feeling of anger, it develops the life-changing skill of being able to slow down so we don’t react impulsively but instead regain our ability to choose how to respond wisely.
We can ask ourselves,”What do I need?” Pausing to breathe deeply and mindfully to tune in to what we need helps us understand our anger.
Connect: “I am angry so please give me some time to deal with it, okay?”
Anger has enormous power to damage relationships and cause ruptures between us and the people we care deeply about. Mindfulness develops our ability to own and express our anger without blaming others, without hurting others and without damaging our relationships.
If it is something our children have done that has triggered anger in us, then it is important that we communicate “You and I are okay, but your behavior is not,” so that our children do not feel rejected or that their relationship with us is at stake at any time.
Act: “What will I do about this?”
Anger is a call to action. If we can soothe, support and calm ourselves, we are more likely to choose wise action, if any action is required to put things right. Even asking ourselves this question and tuning in mindfully to the answer can take the heat out of our anger, because we feel back in the driver’s seat and capable of doing something that will make a difference.
Remember, if anger is less like the weather, which comes and goes, but more like the climate – “I feel like I am almost always angry” then it might be helpful to talk about what’s going on with a qualified mental health professional. So often past experiences can trigger emotions we can’t quite manage and we can feel stuck in automatic reactions. It doesn’t have to be that way and you don’t need to go through that alone. Seeking help with difficult emotions is a gift to you and your family.