ASK LISA - How Do I Stop The Cycle of Anger?
Ask Lisa is a advice post for people who write in to me, asking questions about a specific problem or situation. Although this is in no way a substitute for therapy, my hope and prayer is that it gives encouragement and direction for whatever you face.
If you have a specific question you would like answered, write in. I’d be glad to tackle it together!
I know you write about emotions, but I have to be honest that it is something I still struggle with. My mother never showed any emotion —except anger— and no matter how hard I try, I find myself lashing out in anger with my children. I always promised myself that I would never be like her, yet I am helpless to stop.
My childhood was filled with abuse, addiction, and neglect. I can’t think of anything happy or warm about it. The more chaos I saw as I child, the more I shut down. I hid behind a veneer of nothingness. I never let myself feel anything. That’s how I survived. Though inside I could sense that things around me weren’t normal, it was the only life I knew. In my teens, I went to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain inside. To allow myself to feel would have been too overwhelming for me.
Having been in recovery for three years, I am learning for the first time how to feel. It is the single hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes it seems easier to go back, to once again run from and mask the feelings of pain. But I can’t. I am committed to myself —the child in me who was wounded so long ago. I am committed to her healing, learning to love her so that I can learn to love my children and parent them well. My question is this—how do I stop the cycle of anger? Why am I unable to respond in a healthy way to my children? I want freedom.
Angry in Arkansas
Thank you so much for your authenticity in sharing the realities not only of your childhood, but your recovery and anger issues. It takes so much courage to be able to let down our defenses and acknowledge the truth of our situation. First of all, let me say that my heart breaks to hear of your childhood. No child should ever experience the pain that you felt when you were so young. Part of your healing journey is to grieve for that little girl, to let her know she is seen, to mourn with her for what she endured for so long. I encourage you, as part of your recovery, if you haven’t done so, find a grief recovery group or therapist to walk with you during that process. I imagine part of your anger is associated with grief, as anger is one of the five stages of grief (shock, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance), and is needful for you to experience in a healthy way.
As I hear you recount how you survived childhood by shutting down, I would ascertain that you never learned to feel or deal with your emotions and learned instead to stuff them and/or numb them. Dear friend, you will never find full healing until you can a) give yourself permission to feel and, b) learn how to calm yourself IN your emotions so that you can talk yourself through them more productively. As children, we learn our primary responses to emotions through watching and mimicking our parents (or primary caregivers). You are simply repeating how you saw your mother deal with her emotions.
You can choose to cultivate a different relationship with your emotions. You can step beyond and discover ALL of your emotions —how to feel them, name them, calm them, and talk yourself through them. CLICK TO TWEET I do encourage as well that you find a good therapist who can guide you along the way, so that you can experience the internal calm and confidence that comes from knowing how to regulate our emotions effectively.
For many, anger puts us into “fight-or-flight” mode where we become reactive vs. responsive to a situation. In those moments, allow yourself to walk away. Do not parent in anger. Calm down, think through how you want to respond to your child, what appropriate consequences need to be enacted. Breathe. Outside the moments of anger make the commitment to no hitting, no swearing, no name-calling, no screaming. If you need to scream, go to your room and scream into a pillow.
Lastly, I do encourage you that you are probably doing better than you think. You have been committed to recovery and that is such a courageous step to take for yourself and your family. All parents fail, we all lose it with our kids. We do. Don’t shame yourself. The enemy would love nothing more than to see you spiral in your shame back into addiction. Remember that you are on your journey. Shame steals while compassion heals. CLICK TO TWEET
God loves you. He has a plan for your life. He is healing, and teaching, and growing you to become the woman He designed from the beginning. Hold onto that. Don’t let go. You are the Beloved. You are His child. You are becoming. I believe you will learn how to manage your anger, I believe you will learn more and more who you are in Christ, as a woman, a wife, and a mom. I believe that God has future for you —Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG) says, I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Keep going. Don’t stop now. The work you do now can change the legacy for your entire family!
**The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.
If you struggle to feel, name, or work through your emotions effectively, I’ve created several powerful resources, including my Emotions Chart, Emotional Intelligence Toolkit to help you grow in your emotional wellbeing and equip you to walk well in your life and relationships. They are FREE (along with my ENTIRE resource library) when you subscribe to my weekly newsletter and will empower and equip you to discover the spiritual, emotional, and relational healing and wellbeing you’ve always desired!
About This Community
Don't we all want a little peace? My heart for this community is to provide just that - a needed refuge from all the burdens that weigh us down, some encouragement and inspiration to keep us weary travelers moving forward on our journeys, and some practical advice to help each of us navigate the challenges of life and relationships. Whether in our parenting, our marriages, our faith, or the broken places in our hearts, this place is for anyone who dares to reach beyond the hopelessness that surrounds us and embrace a lifestyle of emotional abundance and peace!
About Peace for a Lifetime
In my book, Peace for a Lifetime, I share the keys to cultivating a life that’s deeply rooted, overflowing, and abundant, the fruit of which is peace. Through personal and professional experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I've discovered how to take the broken pieces of life and find indestructible peace with myself, God and with others. Through my story and other’s stories you’ll realize that you can experience the life for which you long. You can experience abundance beyond anything you can imagine. You can experience peace, not just for today, not just for tomorrow. You can experience peace —for a lifetime!
Peace for a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com.
Book Trailer: https://vimeo.com/155392891