Even just the word is hard for me to write. If I’m honest, I feel shame in exploring the topic of anger. It feels dirty. NOT positive. NOT productive. NOT nice. NOT controlled. NOT welcome.
And so, I’ve never mucked around in it. It’s always been a short lived, very controlled (or suppressed) wave for me. So uncomfortable, unacceptable and squelched.
That was the first 40 years.
But now, I get to learn about it. And WE get to learn about it. And anyone other Pollyanna (White) Peacemakers like myself are gonna get a tough lesson.
My daughter angrily poured a glass of water on me this week. I was stunned by my own visceral reaction. And as I searched for tools to help me with parenting, I asked google to to define a ‘wave of rage.’ I got this news by the same title.
As it turns out, rage is playing out on the streets of America. People are protesting out there. And my little person is protesting in here. Whats happening outside is happening inside.
When my daughter rages (a more acceptable term is tantrum), I marvel at her capacity to express. As I child, I was terrified of expression. I would have NEVER, EVER, EVER even thought about letting go like she does. But she refuses to go quiet.
She is teaching me. Not a popular parenting policy if you grew up in my household. There, the grown ups taught the kids and we followed a very clear top down chain of command.
But somewhere along the way I came across the work of Dr. Shefali Tsabary and it changed my parenting.
“When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is.” ― Dr Shefali Tsabary
Perhaps this Super Soul talk she offered landed so hard in my soul because she specializes in the integration of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology. I’ve been studying Tang So Do since 6 and yoga-ing since 20. The old eastern practices are deep in my bones. Or perhaps it landed because she is stunningly beautiful and her delivery magical. Or perhaps there is something I know in my bones too that the me in me was silenced long ago. I’m curious who I am. And I’m curious who the little souls that travel through me are meant to be.
But this parenting style presents a real problem: it’s real messy. Disorganized even.
Whoa. Scary stuff. That’s whats on the news. People that are pissed that George Floyd died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed on the ground. (full video here). Its not just George Floyd, its the underlying “egregious injury or injustice,” that has gone on for far too long.
But we know anger is a secondary emotion. (link)
“Feeling fear and sadness is quite uncomfortable for most people; it makes you feel vulnerable and oftentimes not in control. Because of this, people tend to avoid these feelings in any way they can. One way to do this is by subconsciously shifting into anger mode. In contrast to fear and sadness, anger can provide a surge of energy and make you feel more in charge, rather than feeling vulnerable or helpless. Essentially, anger can be a means of creating a sense of control and power in the face of vulnerability and uncertainty.”
My daughter is angry. But she’s actually sad under there. She’s lost a lot this year and its been traumatic. And we have been working so hard to learn to regulate emotions without suppressing them. And I say ‘we’ because its a relationship. We have to do this together. If I can’t digest my own emotions, how can I ask her too. If I can’t FEEL things in real time and navigate vulnerability with grace, how can she learn that? How can I possibly hold space for her to run the range of rage if I don’t do my own work?
Influenced heavily by my study of the effects of how trauma lodges in the body (Interview with Bessel van der Kolk) and a profound body of scientific work produced by the Trauma Research Foundation, and with skilled support of therapists, we are learning. We are getting to the heart of the matter.
But some days, its literally bananas. I was driving this week, and a banana came flying at me from the back seat. Rage arrived. And the destruction was real and messy and uncomfortable. I’m pretty human in these moments. When someone throws a banana at the back of your head while you are driving, what might your reaction be? Exactly.
The rage raged for about 20 minutes. In the back seat. At her brother. At me. In the church parking lot we pulled off in. Every bit of me wanted to abandon my daughter. Leave her on the curb for a ‘lesson.’ I wanted to shout the most ridiculous ‘consequences’ I could think of.
But I know her Amygdala is ‘Hijacked,’ and we just have to ride this out. Preferably, without me losing my mind too.
Knowing the biology, I can shift to compassion. I think of how BIG and SCARY the feelings of sadness, anger and rage are. And how little she is. I said to her, as I always do, “I have no problem with your anger. In fact, I can understand why you are angry and I think you have every right to be. AND, that anger is causing destruction right now. You’ve got to get that anger out, I get it. AND, I’m not your punching bag. In fact, I’m on your team and I’ll be right here with you while you have these big emotions.” And then I just wait. (sometimes I field off some swings, assaults or protect her siblings.)
“The trick to ending a tantrum, the scientists concluded, is to get the child over the anger peak as quickly as possible and the trick to that was … doing nothing. Even intervening to ask what was wrong appeared to prolong the process.” (The Guardian)
After a while, she put down her weapons (her arms and legs and bananas), grabbed a blanket that was sitting in the front seat and squeaked out a ‘leave me alone.’ There was a shift in her voice. Within 5 more minutes, she moves beyond the anger and into the sadness.
I think of the sadness like the heart of the artichoke. Its soft and tender. It needs to be handled with care. If she will let me, I will touch and hold her delicately (and sometimes rub her with butter). I always cry. Its so painful in there with her. The depths of sadness are profound.
Meanwhile, I also have two other kids and we are sitting in the middle of a church parking lot with the car doors open and banana peels all over. They don’t know what to think of this, or really couldn’t give a rats ass that their sister is angry or sad. My little one copes by wandering around the parking lot in her fluffy unicorn slippers, singing like a pop star.
My older one try’s to UNDERSTAND with his head, with logic. He tries to help and solve the problem through negotiation or shaming his sister. Further, he is particularly angry (read sad) because his sister is (once again) derailing our plans and getting ALL the attention. When I turn to and look him straight in the eyes and say “I see you too. I KNOW you are angry in there too but you would NEVER act like this because you are afraid people would see your anger. ”
His eyes well up with crocodile tears.
I continue. “And I see that you don’t understand how she can do this and get away with it. I know it feels like an injustice to you that she gets attention for this.”
He smiles. He does this when I read his mind. He cries more.
I continue. “And I want to remind you both that its okay to be angry and to get it out. I will be here for you. Whether you want to hold it in our let it out. Lets SUPPORT each other in that ok?.”
“Ok, lets just go Mom,” he says. “Can we please go now. Its been 5 minutes. And can you guys just NOT TALK to each other please.”
And we drive off. The wave of irritation, to rage to sadness, thru repair, back to stable took about an hour in all.
Who has time for all that? Get it together, control your emotions, don’t cry, all things I am tempted to say. Its so messy, so inconvenient, so uncontrolled and so unpredictable.
All I can hope is that its the right thing to do. I hope EQ (emotional intelligence) continues to matter in the digital age.
…emotional intelligence predicts future success in relationships, health and quality of life. Psychologist Daniel Goleman
And I hope these micro moments of flying bananas and church parking lot rage sessions in our tiny little family yields compassion that spreads in our much needed world. I hope it yields a broader understanding and the capacity to feel feelings and leave space for others to do the same.
When I watched the video of George Floyd getting the life squeezed out of him slowly, I felt profoundly sad. And then angry. I felt itchy inside my skin. I imagined what it would be like to stand there in person and watch it. To be the bystanders that were screaming at the police officers to stop.
I’m not black. I’m white and privileged. I don’t know what its like to feel like this all the time. But there are people that do. Young inspired women particularly, like Austin Channing Brown who are leading the way to inspire racial justice.
The stage has been set for protest. The world is reeling in the face of a pandemic. Isolation, lack of work, financial doom and lack of soothing human connection and contact are devastating for humans mental health. COVID-19 has changed the face of American Activism.
My little white girl turns 10 this week. I’m grateful for her anger. It gives me hope. She has more courage than I have ever had in my four decades combined. In time, she will learn who to throw her bananas at and how to harness and direct her transformative firepower.
Some things need to burn. And some people were born to not let us turn our eyes from the suffering.