I’ve been reading Russell Kolts’ brilliant book The Compassionate Mind Approach to Managing Your Anger, and I have just had a big perspective shift.
One of the attributes of the Compassionate Mind approach is non-judgement, which includes not classifying emotions as either good or bad. They just are.
When I feel angry or frustrated towards my children, I realise that I feel a sense of shame in myself, that I am wrong, bad, or otherwise defective as a mother.
Does this shame help me manage my anger well in a way that encourages my loving relationship with my kids to flourish? No! In fact, the guilt and shame create fertile ground for even more anger.
Because anger is part of our primitive brains. It can be summoned by our brains quickly and efficiently when we feel threatened, and often masks other, more complex emotions. It’s far easier to feel frustrated when my son acts up repeatedly than it is to explore the feelings of shame or inadequacy I feel about myself as a mother.
When my son misbehaves and doesn’t listen to me at all, I think to myself, “What kind of mother can’t control her kid?”
The real answer of course is EVERY mother at some point, but in my head – no, more like deep in my guts and bones – the answer I feel is, “Not a real mother, a good mother, or even a good enough mother.”
The cycle to date is when this starts bubbling up, it gets steamrolled by anger.
…which leads to the question, “What kind of mother gets so angry with her kid for acting like, well, a kid? Anger is bad, so I am bad for feeling this way.”
The feelings in round 2 of Alison v Anger are similar to those from round 1, except perhaps multiplied by being heaped atop the emotions of round 1. And again, anger is a more accessible response than taking pause and feeling the gut wrench of shame or fear or embarrassment, so again anger shoves aside other emotions.
I say all this as a mum who gets angry and frustrated, probably in ways similar to other parents. Maybe at the angrier range of normal at times, but still well within the normal range.
But it’s enough that it interferes with my happiness and contradicts the way I want to be with my sons. And I do feel fear: fear that the anger and frustration will continue to build until I do lose control or cross a line that cannot be uncrossed.
How different might it be if, when my son isn’t listening to me, I can notice the feelings of frustration and, without judgement, I can name it.
Since reading this book and having this new perspective, I have found it easier to live my life in ways more congruent with my values. For me, that has meant being calmer with my son when he misbehaves; being happier, more patient, and more resilient. It has meant being able to let go of frustrations more quickly and get back to the good stuff: cuddles, laughter, sharing his little joys and dramas, peace. I won’t say I’ve cracked the nut completely, but I definitely feel like I’ve got more of a foothold and am more optimistic for the future, and happier in the present.
If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend Kolts’ book, which I link to above.
He also presented at a TedX talk, which you may find interesting to watch here. It’s interesting that his role as a parent influenced his focus on using compassion to manage anger.
I’m also reading Paul Gilbert’s book, The Compassionate Mind, as I found Kolts’ book so important and influential and relevant to me.