Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: How to Keep Your Cool - Anger Management (page 4)
There is a difference between someone who says, "Sometimes I get so mad I could spit" and someone who gets so mad he does spit. The first person can be helped by some sympathy and some good strategies for managing anger when being provoked. If this sounds like you, then the advice in this section will give you additional strategies to keep your cool so you don't lose control. The second person usually winds up with a restraining order, a few nights in jail, or, worse yet, killing someone—she has chronic anger or rage and needs help beyond what I can provide here. That is the difference between managing occasional anger and managing chronic anger or rage. Chronic anger is very difficult to change in a person, and most people who have chronic problems sincerely believe that it is the world at large who has the problem—not them.
Anger is a very contagious emotion. When you come into contact with an angry person, it's often the case that you will become angry, or at the very least uncomfortable and uneasy. If you are in a high-conflict relationship with a co-parent, the anger generated by one person feeds the anger of the other person in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Understanding How Anger Is Destructive
It is always better to disengage or de-escalate hostile situations when you can. Anger and hostility generated by divorce and custody problems are destructive in many ways. The two most destructive ways are to shut down reason and to make you sick.
Anger Leads to Loss of Reason
Anger can lead to the point of complete loss of reason. That is a nice way of saying it can make you insane. Literally. The type of instability this sort of anger creates can lead to assault, even homicide. I have seen it more than a few times in my career—"normal" everyday people driven to extremes by anger at the ex-spouse or partner.
Intense anger like this breeds motivation for revenge. Revenge brings retaliation, and so it goes until one person raises the stakes high enough to either harm someone else or get caught and put in jail for trying to harm someone else. This is all separate from what it does to your children and your relationship with your children; it can and does ruin lives.
Anger Makes You Sick
Anger can make you sick, as well as ugly. Anger is a very corrosive emotion. It can erode your physical health. It certainly makes you age prematurely. It causes a type of ongoing agitation that advances your biological clock faster than the passage of time alone. No one really knows why, but there are theories stating that the type of agitation that anger and hatred causes places you in a state of frustration that builds and builds until it either bursts the vessel that holds it or gets released in the form of acting-out behavior.
This process causes the release of hormones that are associated with anger. Since the biological systems that control the release of these hormones were not designed to be "on" all of the time, if we tape those switches in the "on" position, we remain in a state ready to fight all the time at the expense of other biological processes that keep us healthy.
Strategies for Coping with Anger
Here are a few strategies that you can employ to help you cope with the kinds of anger that people struggle with in high-conflict divorce cases.
If communicating face-to-face leads to an argument and to escalation of conflict, communicate in writing, by e-mail or voice mail, or with the help of an attorney. Sometimes face-to-face communication is unavoidable. If you must communicate face-to-face, bring along a friend—not the type of friend who is going to pump you up and encourage or even assist you in doing something stupid, but the real kind of friend who is going to stay in the background, reason with both of you and stop you from doing something stupid, or advise you to leave a rapidly escalating situation.
Use Your Support Network to Help You Focus on the Positives
When you build a network of supportive people around you and you are going through a rough time, all of your friends want to hear the latest "story" about your last fight or argument with your ex or soon-to-be ex.
Retelling stories of how you argued, were mistreated, of how you told someone what was good for them does not reduce anger—it increases it. That is because your friends tend to reinforce your side of the story and the things you did within that story. Encourage your friends to talk to you about the parts of life that you would like to get back to, presumably those parts that are enjoyable and do not involve daily battles. Friends should distract you from your angry conflicts, not assist you in investing in them.
Don't Stew Over What Happened
Related to the last strategy, do not replay your last argument over and over in your head. Do not rehearse what you should have said unless what you are rehearsing is a way to bring the level of conflict down. Do not imagine the other person dead, or killing the other person. There are different points of view on this. Some say, "Get it out of your system in fantasy, so you won't carry it out in real life." I strongly disagree. The more you think about doing something harmful to someone, the more you weaken your inhibitions against doing it. If you insist on fantasizing about doing something violent to someone, imagine yourself being caught and prosecuted for the criminal aspects of the behavior, as well as the consequences associated with the behavior.
Don't Invest in the Conflict
Examine the aspects of your life that are being brought to a complete standstill by your angry conflicts. There are consequences to your continued development as a person, consequences to your career, consequences to your ability to parent. High-conflict situations between parents tend to place everything else in life at a low priority—including, by the way, children. Even though people do not realize it, investing in conflicts tends to remove them from the responsibilities of day-to-day life. Soon, your conflict becomes your day-to-day life, and that is when it hurts you most.
You have a lot to gain by becoming less angry at the situation you are in. Do not let anyone else's desire to hurt you ultimately succeed in your doing the most damage to yourself.
When Anger Gets the Best of You
Try as you might, however, there are times when anger and frustration get the best of you. When that happens you must do some damage control. The first order of business is to correct any damage that was done to your children. Parents should not have to apologize to their children for every little mistake they make, but they should apologize for the big mistakes they make. This is even true when children do not realize parents have made a mistake. For instance, you are talking on the phone with your friend and you refer to your ex-spouse as a "bitch" or "bastard." As you turn around you notice your seven-year-old staring at you quizzically. Many people would rush the child out of the room and finish the conversation. Some people would not blink an eye and reason "Well, my kid's eventually going to find out what a jerk her father is anyway."
Both of these are very bad strategies. In a situation like that, get off the phone and tell your child that she just heard you doing something that you should not have done and that you are sorry she heard it. It does not matter that the other parent would not do the same if the shoe were on the other foot.
Your primary job as a parent is to teach. Parents teach their children all day long, every day. If you choose to teach your child to hate his parent, you are choosing to teach that child to hate others as well. You may find that when you teach a child to hate, that hatred might be turned against you. That is because you will be teaching your child to hate the things that displease him, and you will not always please your child, either. As a matter of fact, parents often have to go out of their way to displease their children because preventing them from doing certain things is important to their health and safety.
Teaching your child to apologize when she has done something wrong is a very important lesson. This is especially so when this is your primary complaint against the co-parent. So if the co-parent never admits he is wrong, and you never admit when you are wrong, what are the chances that your children are going to grow up and accept responsibility for the things they did wrong?
As in most cases, poor co-parenting makes day-to-day parenting a much more difficult task than it has to be, and as we all know, it is plenty difficult in the first place. When you make a mistake, own up and apologize.
- When you feel like screaming, lower your voice instead. It will get more attention. (Growling in a low voice or mumbling obscenities under your breath doesn't count.)
- Do not tell your personal business to people who will incite your anger and make you feel worse. Talk to people who will help you cope and move on with your life.
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