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AT HOME WITH MY EMOTIONS, PART 3
Emotions are works of art No reason to be afraid Lots of reason to be at home
Anger Envy Bitterness
Check out parts 1 and 2 of this series. All three and subsequent blogs of this series contain information from continuing education classes that I am presenting for foster parents at San Bernardino Valley College. If you live in the area and are interested in attending the classes, which run through Friday, September 24, email me.
FOR TODAY, we will look at being at home with the emotions of anger, envy, and bitterness. You may not understand or misunderstand some of what’s presented here without the backdrop of Part 1, Emotions and Our Brain
We already gave some examples of being at home with our anger in Part 1, but we will pick up there and explore a little further what it means to be at home with our anger.
So, being at home with our anger requires, NOW GET THIS, making friends with our anger. YES, MAKING FRIENDS WITH OUR ANGER
Our anger could, you know, become our best friend, and that friend could move us to be the most peaceful person on the face of the planet. It is an incredible paradox, and one that anal moralists will have a most difficult time comprehending. It’s like telling someone that the shortest way to get to the other side of the world is over the top. It seems simple enough to understand once you allow yourself to see it in your mind’s eye, but my first reaction was, "but you might get lost!" These kinds of paradoxes require letting go of our linear or cause and effect thinking.
So let’s continue! It is so easy for me to digress!! Anger, in and of itself, is not bad, not something to fear, not something to get rid of, but definitely a part of who we are, and we want to know that part very very well and learn to integrate it in a healthy and lifegiving way.
Trying to get rid of a part of ourselves, is like inhumanely dropping a dog off in the desert, only to hear the dog scratching at the back door six months later. Try to get rid of your anger, and it will come back to haunt you when you least want it to.
As you become at home with your anger, you can model and teach your foster children ways to become at home with their anger.
Remember, foster children have PLENTY of anger. Every time any of us experience LOSS, we will be required by our body to go through the stages of grief and one of those stages is ANGER. So take the foster child who has been in and out of sixteen different foster homes, imagine how much anger there is. This anger could be very useful in supporting this child’s healing, if only you can be at home with your own anger and then consequently at home with the child’s anger.
AND HOLD ON. I can hear you already. "So what are you saying? Just let the kid punch holes in the walls and destroy my home....just let the kid hurt anyone he comes into contact with?" If you think I am even remotely suggesting that, I want to ask you, where did you come up with that? There’s nothing in this blog that even remotely matches that. But when we are not at home with our anger for whatever reason, that is the kind of "stuff" we will hear even if it’s not being said.
So the first step here, is for you, the BIG PERSON, and some of us are pretty big, to identify all the major times in your life when you were really really angry. And then ask yourself what you did with that anger? And if you did not find a way to make friends with it, can you identify how it continues to haunt you?
Also ask yourself, as a kid, what were all the things you were REALLY REALLY angry about, but were told, directly or indirectly, that you had no right to be angry about those things and maybe even no right to be angry about ANYTHING.
The simplest way to make friends with your anger is to say outloud or even to another person, I am angry.......
SAMPLES FROM YOUR PAST This is about YOUR past, not the foster kids’
*I am angry that I caught my Dad having sex with another woman, but he couldn’t even give me a hug.
*I am angry that my Mom got angry with me when I got angry, but never said poop to my Dad who raged all the time.
*I am angry that Mom held us to a level of perfection that never allowed stepping outside the line not even a tiny bit. I feel guilty about everything.
*I am angry that Dad sexually molested me and Mom knew, but never did anything about it.
*I am angry that Dad had sex with me and it made me feel really special and no one ever told me that sometimes it does make you feel special and that doesn’t mean I’m some kind of weirdo.
*I am angry that Dad/Mom never came to a single game, single performance.
*I am angry that Mom and Dad never allowed me to get a summer job because they wanted me to stay home and help around the house.
*I am angry that my parents did not encourage me and celebrate me leaving home when it was time.
*I am angry that Mom and Dad refused to come to my wedding.
Sometimes, when we are angry about past events, a loud voice inside says we have no right to be angry over such things. For example, we might be angry with Dad because he died when we were two years old, or angry with a friend who moved away, or a boyfriend in high school who gave us the impression that we were the best thing that ever happened to him, only to find out Susan Hotpants was.
The issue here is NEVER, what you should or should not be angry about. Or what common sense dictates we should or should not be angry about. The only issue is what are we angry about?
.SAMPLES FROM THE PRESENT
*I am angry that my boss does not appreciate my work and what I contribute to the company
*I am angry that my spouse constantly yells at me for one thing or another
*I am angry that the my wife can’t keep gasoline in the tank
*I am angry that my husband can’t pick up after himself,
*I am angry that my best friend does not have time for me.
*I am angry that the next door neighbor does not take care of his yard
*I am angry that my spouse is sick or dying or mentally ill.
*I am angry that my spouse does not earn more money.
Again the issue is not what you should or should not be angry about. Do not minimize your anger. Do not say, "Well, I’m not really angry about that, just a little frustrated." BS! You’re angry, own it, so you can do something with it other than lug it around.
APPROPRIATE WAYS TO DISCHARGE ANGER ENERGY
Yes, anger is energy, and as energy, it can move us and move us in really cool directions.
There are many many ways to discharge our anger energy appropriately and without hurting anyone. There is a wonderful book, an old book, called Creative Aggression, by George Bach, full of wonderful and even fun ways to express our anger.
Vigorous exercise, walking, running, playing tennis, working out, are all ways to discharge anger energy, but it is important to be aware that while you are doing these physical activities that you are doing them for the purpose of discharging the anger energy. So you bring into your consciousness what it is you are angry about as you are exercising. Otherwise, you will feel tired after the exercise, but still angry.
There are different pounding exercises that I can demonstrate for you in person. Care has to be taken that you do not strain neck muscles, so if you are interested, contact me, and I will walk you through some of them.
Some folks, even some professionals fear that doing things like pounding on a punching bag or pounding on a pillow are like rehearsal and generate more aggression. I have never had that experience with any of my clients when walking them through these kind of exercises, including inmates. They always come away feeling relieved and having less aggression.
Journaling, writing letters you do not send, drawing, sculpting, writing fiction, poetry, composing angry music or an angry song are all ways to discharge anger energy.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANGER AND RAGE
It is probably useful for us to take a moment to look at the difference between anger and rage.
Anger comes from a place deep deep deep inside where I really value myself and my anger is a signal that I have allowed myself to be violated.
Rage comes from a place deep deep deep inside where I have stopped valuing myself and my acting out ragefully is my last ditch effort to hold on to a sense that I have any worth or value.
Anger is not destructive to either others or yourself. Rage is usually destructive to both yourself and others.
It may be difficult for us to acknowledge when we are experiencing envy. But we probably feel envy or envious on a daily basis. We wonder why particular people win the lotto, we wonder why some people are so successful at what they do, we wonder why some people get all the breaks. We may see someone with a new car and wish that was our new car. We visit a friend’s home and immediately feel awful inside that our home is not even close in comparison. We see someone who has been successful at losing weight and regaining their health and we wish that was us.
As with anger, it is helpful to make a list of all the times in your life that you felt envious both past and present. Again, do not get caught up in your shoulds or your so-called common sense, and be aware of downplaying your envy. You know when you hear yourself saying something like "Oh, it’s not really envy. I just feel a little jealous like everyone does." BS! You feel jealous, period, envy.
Again, I invite you to make a list of all the times in your life that you have felt envious as well as a list of the times in the here and now when you feel envious. Take a risk and let yourself be really honest.
One way to discharge your envy is to be honest with yourself and then find a safe friend to share your envy with. And then as you share your envy, let yourself feel the pain and sadness that may come up, and then you might discover that this envy is about something else all together.
Your foster children may experience lots of envy because as they look around, they will see other children and other people seemingly having much more than they have, not just in terms of material possessions, but also in terms of warm, rich, and loving relationships and experiences.
Sometimes jealousy for foster children can trigger considerable acting out. If you are not at home with your own envy, you will only look for ways to punish the acting out, rather than responding to the envy, and supporting the child finding a more life giving way to express the emotions connected to their envy, bascially to their losses.
And finally we have BITTERNESS. It is not easy to face the bitterness that we, as adults, carry around. We much prefer to cover it up, pretend we are not bitter, turn the bitterness into anger, and withholding, and find good reasons other than our bitterness to justify our passive aggressive or aggressive behavior.
Life hits us with disappointments, pain, betrayals, losses of every kind imaginable. We are going to feel bitter. Bitterness is normal. That does not mean we have to get stuck in the bitterness, but again, it is important to own it, no matter how minute we claim the bitterness is. If you can find ways to verbally express and share your bitterness, you will begin feeling other emotions as well and at some point WEEP! Unfortunately, weeping is still very unacceptable for too many of us, so we resist. But again, take a look at the foster children in your care. They have a great deal to be bitter about. If you are not at home with your bitterness, then you will not be able to tolerate theirs and not be able to reach out to them and bring them through the swamp of bitterness to the other side.
I gave some examples of things we can say to foster children about their anger in Part 1.
The following are more scripts for talking to foster children about not only their anger, but their envy and bitterness.
"Wow, look at that fancy car. Man am I ever jealous! Do you ever get jealous?"
"I saw the way you looked at Johnny the other day when he brought home that good report from school. It’s gotta be rough for you, getting into trouble so much all the time. Do ever wish you were Johnny? But you know what, you might be more courageous than Johnny!"
"You know as well as I do that the skateboard belongs to Sammy, but I get it. I’ve watched you the other day looking in the window at the skateboards when we went shopping. Do you want a skateboard of your own?"
(You’re in the car, driving, on the way to get a big Mack or some place fun.) "You know, we really haven’t had a chance to talk about what it was like for you when the Smith’s said they couldn’t keep you. I mean I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you......."
"You know, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in and out of so many foster homes. I think I’d just be plain bitter. Yep, bitter!"
"You know I’ve watched you pick on the other kids and I really get it. It’s been so so sad for you in recent years, and I bet you feel really tough and like you’re somebody when you push the little kids around. Maybe even makes you feel good when you push them down and make them cry. Am I right?"
"Wow, you really got angry with me the other day. How did I handle it? Did I do good? Wasn’t that cool the way I stayed calm?!"
"Hey, I can handle your anger. I probably can’t handle you hitting me. That would hurt, cause I’m old....But your anger. I can handle that any day."
"I noticed you got some stuff in your room that belongs to other kids. So what do you think? Why don’t you make a list of the things that other kids have that you would also like to have. We could have some fun with that. You want to hear what I’d like to have? You know, Jack across the street. I’d sure like to have that sitdown mower he has and that fancy sports car. What about you?"
So when we drop our moral armor, which we wear because somewhere inside we see ourselves as out of control or something, we can begin to own not only our emotions, which have NO morality, but we can also begin to humbly own our behavior, which does raise moral issues. And sometimes, we are not very nice people. Sometimes we are mean, selfish, wicked, anything but loving. When I can own the whole ball of "wax," I can give up being the foster child’s judge and jury, and rather be a mirror for them to see just how normal and human they are. They are just like us, struggling to make it through. We can have the kinds of conversations posted above. We can give up having to come up with a punishment, a consequence, or even a reward for everything. We can simply be committed to walking with them, as in the poem, Footprints, and walking them all the way home, wherever home ends up being.