50 Thoughts: Anger Comes Second

Originally published September 19, 2018

One of the best, yet least applied (because I am human and it’s really hard sometimes), life lessons I’ve been handed came from a parenting effectiveness training class back when my two boys were till in preschool.

It’s been more than a few years, but the main takeaway was this — that when it comes to experiencing feelings, anger is (almost always) a secondary emotion.

I don’t know why this struck such a chord, but I’ve carried it with me for more than 20 years. When I have my wits about me, I am able to remember that lesson and think before I react. But when angry, I usually don’t have a single wit. Cue the apology tour.

It’s a lesson that makes sense when you are in the midst of raising young or young-ish children. As a parent, your frustration level is apt to be Threat Level Red more often than not. Toddlers throwing food on the floor. Preschoolers running ahead into a street. Middle schoolers Googling “boobies.” High schoolers breaking curfew. Even saintly children are likely to make at least one parent cut loose with a rage-filled rant at some point before they go to college.

The key, though, is to stop and think. Stop. Think.

Why are you so angry?

With the littlest of kids, it’s likely fear-based. You’re afraid your child is going to be hurt. They’ll choke on the sliced grapes if they don’t listen to your appeals to slow down while eating. They’ll get hit by a car if they chase a ball into the street.

And as kids age, fear-based anger morphs into frustration. Futility. A screaming match over a bad grade isn’t so much about the grade, is it? It’s the frustration that life lessons such as commitment and integrity aren’t sticking. The futility that comes with tutors and hours-long homework sessions don’t seem to be making a dent.

This, on top of new fears — disobeying traffic laws can result in car accidents and people get hurt in car accidents and you could have been killed and damnit why can’t you stay off that phone? Or late nights with parties that include laced drinks and what if you are drugged and damnit I told you not to go!

Almost every time, though — anger comes second. Even third.

We want the best for our kids. We want them to live better lives and have more opportunities than we did. And even when we know in our head that logic isn’t always going to apply to an immature brain, our hearts can’t help but skip a beat when we see people we love so much make a mistake you can’t always be there to stop.

Yep, love comes first.

This lesson from a parenting class isn’t applicable just to raising ankle-biters. Think about other times you want to absolutely lose it. Me? My hate fire runs on the fuel I get being angered by rude people. You know — the fools that cut you off in traffic, jump ahead of you in line at the grocery store, ignore your emails or take the last chocolate frosted doughnut from the break room.

How dare they, right?

But these are not bad people, and they really aren’t worth the wasted energy. Because chances are, you’re not really that angry. You’re hurt. You’ve been treated dismissively, and probably not intentionally. That stings.

It’s the same thing with friends and family, too — we all lose our temper at one time or another at someone in our family. Your partner forgets a dinner date. Or an anniversary. Your boss makes a point to tell you your work is sub par on a project. Friends cancel plans. But if you stop and think, and ask yourself, “Why am I angry?” chances are there is an emotion or two or three ahead of anger in the line.

  • Fear.
  • Frustration.
  • Jealousy.
  • Futility.
  • Love.
  • Grief.
  • Embarrassment.
  • And a million others.

Reading this isn’t going to stop you from being angry. But if it makes you stop and think, then at least you can cut to the quick and maybe solve a problem just a little sooner. And avoid losing your voice. Or accidentally flipping off your kid’s teacher in traffic. Baby steps, right?

Today’s recommendation: So here’s an interesting read. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. An exquisitely written novel and while yeah, the book still is better, my goodness did Justin Theroux do an amazing job of playing a really angry guy on the HBO series based on the book.

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