Anger = Expectation + Interpretation
Do find yourself getting angry at what someone else says or does? Their offensive behavior (such as someone insulting you, or your child disobeying you) is referred to as a “trigger event” for your anger.
In reality, you don’t need to pull that trigger! You really CAN manage your anger better. By that I mean you can reduce its intensity, or even eliminate the angry feeling altogether, in any specific situation.
Recognize the importance of expectations and interpretations.
The plain and simple truth is this: Your anger is the result of your own thoughts about the “trigger event” and not the trigger event itself. It’s not your child, or your child’s behavior that make you angry. It’s your own thoughts about it that make you angry. You probably are familiar with the much-discussed medical phenomenon that a “stressful” event may or may not result in a person experiencing a stress reaction. It all depends on the person’s state of mind, and her thought process, in dealing with an event that could easily be seen as “highly stressful.“
The same is true for a person’s response to a ‘trigger event.” The response depends entirely on the person’s state of mind (mind-set, thought process).
Consider, for example, a typical trigger event that appears to set parents off: unacceptable child behavior, like backtalk or disobedience. (This analysis applies equally to any event that anyone can experience at any time–for example, being delayed in the check-out lane at the grocery store, or hearing someone call you an insulting, vulgar, or belittling name.)
Let’s say you have just said “No” to your son’s request to stay overnight at a friend’s house. He says, “You’re really stupid! Everyone else gets to go! Why do I have to have such dumb mother?”
That would get most parents’ blood boiling. But think about it. Who is making you mad in this case? Your angry, frustrated, and disrespectful child? Or is it your own mental process that gets you going? Admittedly, the child’s verbal blast is disrespectful. And it’s also wrong. You are not stupid, you are not dumb, and not everybody else gets to go to events like this.
So your emotional response as a parent depends entirely on your state of mind, that is, your mind-set, or your own thoughts about this trigger event. And you don’t have to pull the trigger! Instead of taking the insult personally, you can just as easily:
1. Expect your child to act that way because he’s immature and self-centered, and he has acted this way a thousand times before; and
2. Interpret what he said as an angry, primitive, disrespectful outburst by an immature, self-centered child who has been snubbed and is intensely disappointed and upset with you. So he lashes out by calling you stupid and dumb.
What he says about you does not define who you are! As I said, you are not stupid or dumb. Those are just your son’s words, and you don’t have to take them personally. Furthermore, the fact that he’s being disrespectful is absolutely no reflection on you. It’s his own anger and disappointment talking, and you have the power to see it as such–and nothing more.
This is a very empowering insight about anger, and it can radically change your life for the better–both in relation to managing your angry feelings, and in relation to your son. The simple truth is that your anger is the result of your own thoughts about the “trigger event” (that offensive thing someone else did or said). And you–not anyone else–can control your thoughts!
Your best response in any situation like this is to remain calm, cool, and collected, and realize that his offensive behavior is a “trigger” for your anger, but you don’t have to pull it. If you are sensitive to being disrespected by your son, you might say that “He’s pushing my buttons.” But please realize: it’s you who are placing that button on your chest as something that’s available and begging to be pushed! You can just as surely take it down and not make it available. How?
- By changing your expectations (make them more realistic, based on what you know about whom you are dealing with). And
- By doing some mental gymnastics (self-talk) to change your negative interpretation to a more positive one (by “giving him/her a pass,” telling yourself you are going to withhold judgment, telling yourself you are not going to take it personally, and telling yourself that getting angry isn’t worth it). These kinds of thoughts will reduce or eliminate your angry feelings.
Your expectations set you up.
Here are some ways to apply this to our example.
- Did you really expect him to do or say something different? Or did you just hope for it?
- Was your expectation realistic, given what you know about your son?
- Might it be helpful to change your expectation of your son based on his previous reactions?
Your interpretations bring you down.
Here’s how your interpretation can affect your response in our example.
- Do you really think his/her offensive behavior reflects on you, or defines who you are?
- Do you take his insult personally? You don’t have to!
- It’s your own behavior (not his) that reflects on you–unless you expect to be the perfect parent, and have kids who never do things wrong.
When you can regularly change your expectations and interpretations of other people’s offensive behavior in the heat of the moment, you will reduce your stress, quiet your anger, improve your relationships, and change your life for the better. Believe it! And try it! It works!
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.