April 20, 2010

Anger Mask

"Anger blows out the lamp of the mind." 
~Robert G. Ingersoll

Does this happen to anyone else?  You read something that makes a pretty powerful statement, but for whatever reason it just didn't click.  Then one day (lightbulb!) it just makes sense.  Not only that, but it seems so ridiculous that you didn't pick up on it sooner.  That happened to me this week.

On my fridge, I have one of those magnetic mood thingymabobs.  The kind where you move around a box that says, "Today I feel..." and put it over the cartoon of the emotion you are feeling.  I always thought it was sort of silly for me to be practicing emotional intelligence since I seem to only have three feelings:  happy, angry, sad.  An embarrassing revelation, I assure you.

Well this week the realization that anger is a mask for most of my other emotions (happiness aside) was illuminated by my lightbulb.  Anger is always a secondary reaction to a more difficult emotion that I have learned to cover up.  I think what triggered my epiphany was hearing my kids say, "Mommy is angry again."  We've been working on using I-Statements lately, but I was beginning to sound like a broken record.

"I feel angry about this."  "I am not happy to see this mess."  "I will be irritated if I have to keep reminding you."  

Terrible isn't it?  I-Statements are important, but those are complete crap.  I didn't always say those things.  Sometimes I did better, but the message was the same.  I'm going to be mad.

So now I am focusing on what I am really feeling, but trying to hide.  When one kid pushed another, I told them I was worried someone would get hurt.  When one cursed in front of another, causing the other to repeat it over and over; I explained how embarrassing it was for parents when their kids throw around curse words.  When the chores don't get done, I felt stressed and tired at having to do more.

But there is more!  All of the following would have just translated to anger.  See if any of them resonate with you too.  The anger response is in parenthesis and try to imagine all with anger or sarcasm.

I am confused when I seem to be the only one who notices the toilet paper roll is empty.  (I am irritated that I had to change it again.)

I feel guilty when they repeat back to me the same tone of voice I use with them.  (I am angry that they dare to talk to me that way!)

I'm suspicious when I hear a tall tale, but I can't prove it's validity.   (If I find out this isn't true, I will be angry.)

It's disgusting to hear smacking lips during dinner time.  (I hate that noise!)

It scares me when you won't hold my hand in the parking lot.  (Grabbing for a hand.)

It's depressing when I make so many mistakes over and over.  (I'm too frustrated to do this anymore.)

I am completely overwhelmed by all the noise!  (It drives me crazy when you yell like that.)

I'm jealous that B gets to go to work and deal with adults all day.  (What reason do you have for being tired?)

I am shocked!  (You really went too far this time, now I'm pissed!)

Some of the changes are subtle, but revealing.

Ever write a post that you aren't sure you will publish?  This is one of those, but the reason you are reading it is because I determined to do better.  I'm not a terrible ogre that is always getting onto my kids, but I have done every one of those things.  I'll probably do them from time to time for the rest of my life.  The difference is that now I am going to be mindful of my feelings.  I am going to label them, if not in the moment, at least upon reflection.  Then I am going to clarify and restate.  I want my kids to see that I have a whole range of emotions that are perfectly healthy and normal, and that it's o.k. for them to have them too.  


  1. Great post! Very courageous. You exposed yourself to us.

  2. It can be very challenging to find names for emotions, but strangely liberating.

  3. Insightful post. Often I hear what I'm saying and realize that it's just a 'you' message in disguise and not the 'I' message I thought. It's a hard change to make even when you have that awareness.