“I don’t take sides”.
That’s what I thought too! I aim to stay neutral and calm, to first gather the facts and after that, respond in a wise and measured way. But then a reality check came in yesterday to test me when my son, in his “new-used car” went careening off the crowded 101 freeway in Phoenix, Arizona and slid down an embankment in 8 lanes of speeding traffic. The good news is that no one was hurt. Even more miraculously, not a single car was scratched or dented. The “interesting” news was how I reacted, as you’ll see below.
The topic I am tackling this week is identification and anger. Admittedly, it’s a topic we don’t deal with often but it the emotion will come up at times to provide us with lots of information about who we identified with in our formative years and how we learned to express this important human emotion. In fact, I thought I had figured this one out! I even went so far as to express anger on-screen in chapter 2 of my film, Sacred Journey of the Heart. As I always say though, with insight comes opportunity to change.
After reflecting on my initial reaction to my son’s “near-miss”, I have to say I was surprised that a part of me had been identifying with my passive-aggressive, chronically angry father. But I’ll discuss my personal experience later on in the article.
Anger: A Normal Human Emotion
Anger is a normal emotion that is naturally displayed in infants around 6 to 9 months of age. In healthy situations, it simply indicates one of two things: 1) “I’m not getting what I want” or 2) “my personal space (in psycho-babble talk a “boundary”) is being crossed and I’m upset”. The interesting aspect of this topic comes in when we look into the roots of learned-behavior and examine the type of anger-examples and anger-messages we experienced in growing up.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Anger
Very few of us were raised with healthy anger examples. An example of a child seeing a healthy adult expression of anger would be this: 1) Adult A is angry about something and says “I am angry because you did (or did not do) x!” 2) Adult B would say, “I hear you.” And then the two adults would proceed to discuss what happened and what to do about it to resolve the situation. Often, all that is required is a simple, sincere apology. (And by the way, this is how my significant other and I handle anger! It’s not just a hypothetical.)
The reality we experienced as children is more like this: Adult A flies off the handle and accuses Adult B of something. Adult B becomes instantly defensive. A screaming match ensues wherein one of the two Adults emerges as powerful and victorious. OR both leave the scene still simmering with anger over the unresolved situation. Sound familiar?
Another variation is that one adult in the household is chronically angry but doesn’t express it outwardly. The rest of the family tiptoes around and waits for a passive-aggressive display of anger – like slamming doors, muttering to him or herself, cursing at the TV program, and talking about how everyone else is an idiot and moron… and generally making everyone else uncomfortable due to the underlying expressed emotion.
The fact is that growing up in any of these environments teaches children what is acceptable about the expression of anger. The question I am posing is this: if you grew up in an unhealthy anger environment, which “side” of the anger equation did you identify with most often? If you have this insight, you can then watch and commit to consciously ferreting out the vestiges of anger-identification. For most of us at this stage of the game, it’s subtle, like it was in my case. But unexamined, it can lead to underlying stress and relationship discord as well as a more pervasive world-view that will be reflected back to you in the form of frustration, anxiety and doubt.
I will be talking tonight at 5 pm Central Standard Time about a technique I use to shift old-learned behaviors. It’s based on my program called “Spirit-Heart-Intelligence-Feeling-Technique”. (Learn more by clicking here.)
What children learn about anger
As children, most of us typically learned that if we expressed anger outwardly we would be punished. So we learned to suppress this natural emotion and we continued to observe how adults dealt with it. Without knowing it, we took sides with one of the parties involved in the emotional interchange. In my counseling and coaching practice, I’ve seen men and women who have an “angry” personality – they have a chip on their shoulder and feel that they’ve unfairly been dealt a bad set of cards. Some of them don’t even know they are projecting this anger. When I encounter repressed anger, it feels like I’m face to face with a cornered cat that has arched its back and is snarling with its claws out. These people wonder why they have difficulty making friends, staying in intimate relationships and in some cases, making babies cry when they come in the room. (I’ve seen it happen!)
The Anger Equation
After delving into the anger equation, my clients have experienced growing up, we often find out the they’ve taken on an identification with either the angry parent (aggressor) or the silent-suffering parent (victim). It really boils down to two entangled beliefs: “It’s all your fault” or “It’s all my fault”. These beliefs play hand-in-glove and complete the dysfunctional anger equation. And it’s surprising how easily we revert to the identification of one or the other roles in times of stress. Ultimately, we are not really tested until we experience a real-life situation that calls this old pattern up onto the real-life screen of our lives.
My blame-game anger reaction
In relation to the event with my son yesterday, I learned that a small part of me was still acting on learned behavior from my father’s passive-aggressive anger that would explode into accusations without facts. He would blame people without information and burn his bridges leaving a number of wounded behind. As a child, he looked like the powerful one- he was right, everyone else was wrong.
How that played out for me yesterday was this: after going through a myriad of emotions in about one minute after my son’s phone call, I landed on anger and found myself wanting to react. I jumped to a number of conclusions, none of which were correct. I found myself ready to call the used car dealer and launch accusations and a few choice words about their selling dangerous, mechanically deficient cars to young adults. Next I wanted to call my ex-husband to blame him for failing to take the used car to an independent inspector to check it out before completing the sale with our son. My anger was raging about as I was searching to cast blame on everyone I could identify as having been responsible for my son’s near-disastrous experience. I even blamed the other drivers on the road because not one of them stopped to see if he was OK. Mind you, I didn’t have any facts at this point.
The Choice to SHIFT
But through the phone line my son said: “Mom, chill out, I’m OK”. Then all my training and personal commitment kicked back in and I chose to SHIFT out of this state of reactivity. After all, I know how anger looks on an emWave readout:
I went through my practice and got into coherence. At this point, my primary emotion shifted to gratitude and I stopped reacting without facts.
After all the facts are in, the car has been inspected and I had a calm discussion with my son, it turns out that the brakes are fine. The primary contributing factor was a 20 year old, my son, driving too fast and too close on a crowded interstate highway. Lesson learned, all the way around.
The SHIFT foundation
As I listened to my son play guitar that evening, I immersed myself in one of the deepest feelings of gratitude and contentment I have ever felt. His music is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth to me. The opportunity to examine and SHIFT an old anger identification was just the tip of iceberg. The foundation, what lies beneath, is love and appreciation. I almost lost my son exactly 20 years ago when I was pregnant with him. I slipped and fell on the ice at 6 months gestation and went into pre-term labor. I defied all the doctors’ predictions and went on to give birth to him at full term. I realize that Spirit is at the core of this and every other life-changing moment, which is why I always begin my conscious-change creation process with an acknowledgement of the Spirit in all things, the perfection in experience, and gratitude for the big and small things in life.