I don't remember exactly what it was that pushed the point home, finally. Pushed it in far enough for me to act on my realization. I had an epiphany for sure, though. (An Aha Moment, if you're partial to Oprah-speak.) The way that it usually works for me is this: I suddenly realize something that I've known for a long time, even maybe forever. It's like, in an opportune moment, I really see this thing. I see it clearly and in a way that is sudden and complete. Like lightening striking.
How am I supposed to teach my daughter to stop screaming and yelling when she's angry, if I'm all the fucking time screaming and yelling when I'm angry?
I have long thought that my yelling and carrying on (in the parenting realm) was related to my own upbringing and an innate lack of patience. But included in this Not-Too-Comfortable epiphany was this, here:
It's not Lack of Patience. It's Lack of Impulse Control.
When the realization hit me that my ever-increasing-in-frequency episodes of over-the-top, in-the-fucking-red-zone, aggressive-yelling were, indeed, were more about a lack of impulse control than anything else, something in me clicked.
Initially, it was more than a little humiliating, actually. I can only surmise that is why it stayed outside my conscious thought process for such a long time. But a few moments after that, it started to sink in. I was impulsively acting out my anger. And that, I needed to fix.
So, I started with a decision. A decision that will, no doubt, sound absolutely crazy to some of you but what can I say? It's what I did.
I decided that the following day I was just...not going to act angry. Even if I was. I went from thinking that in order to have fewer angry incidents, I would have to do the hard-if-not-impossible work of cultivating more patience (HA!) to deciding that even if I was pissed off, I was going to deal with it internally. I was not going to act angry.
Or, more like it, I was going to act 'not angry,' even when I was*.
As a therapist, I am incredibly adept (most often) with keeping my own feelings to myself. It is a skill that I have honed over the years. I'm actually very good at it. For me to have a feeling and act on it impulsively, professionally, would be unheard of. I am able to compartmentalize and stash away my own feelings for my later examinations. I mean, I worked through two hard pregnancies and the death of my mother, all the while attending to the needs/feelings/problems of my patients when I was at work.
It's not a giant stretch to bring some of that talent to bear with regard to keeping in check my anger at my 3 year old kid.
So, I don't remember what it was that flipped the switch but I remember when it was. It was June 17th. It was a Thursday and I was in the doctor's waiting room with my dad, looking at some parenting magazine with a bullshit(ish) article on 'How To Get Your Kids To Listen Without Ever Having To Endure A Tantrum EVER,' when the lights came on in my head.
And I made my decision to Act 'As If.'
The basic premise being that, initially, I would 'act as if' I wasn't angry, allowing my brain to burn some new neural pathways so that eventually, I really wouldn't be angry at stuff that didn't need to make me angry.
I started that day and have been doing it every day since.
Here are a few things I've found so far:
1) It was easier than I thought it would be. Once I made that decision to act in a certain way, regardless of internal, emotional experience, it gave me a framework, I think. Something concrete to do instead of flip my shit.
2) There were many, many times that I wasn't even really, truly angry. My anger wasn't, isn't, *real* anger. Not the kind of anger that is founded on some reasonable action/reaction loop, anyway. It's an impulsive, angry reaction, out of proportion to the situation at hand. Given 3.4 seconds, I was able to chill and realize that she's just testing or testing or possibly even testing. Like 3 year olds are supposed to do. In fact, if I'm totally honest, I found myself 'trying to teach the importance of certain points' via the angry tone and scowl. As if.
3) Me simmering the fuck down, in an of itself, helped her to simmer the fuck down. Of course, it stands to reason that when your mother is visibly angry and yelling that you, as a kid, will feel...a lot of intense emotions. I did a little thinking about-slash-remembering-slash-realizing how I used to bite the insides of my cheeks to keep from laughing (LAUGHING!) in my screaming mother's face. It is counter-intuitive maybe, but I found that when there was less anger from me, there was more compliance from her (which, I imagine, is due to less anxiety and impulse to be oppositional when a stark line is drawn.)
4) The Out of Proportion Angry Responses were cyclical in nature, creating a counterproductive loop and also a larger pattern of communication. Disrupting that cycle, that loop, that pattern, has resulted in a more peaceful cycle, loop, pattern and house.
5) There are benefits to slower, longer reactions. It was an unforeseen outcome that, while trying to keep in an impulsive action, I was slower to react and thus, took a little more time to work things through. This afforded me some opportunities to actually negotiate and stay places vs. cutting and running when TLNG was acting up.
If I were a math person, I'd be able to calculate for you a percentage of reduction in episodes of Out of Proportion Anger but in my 'just-eyeballing it' kind of way, I'd say it's been nothing short of stunning. They say that to make a new behavior a habit takes a good 6-8 weeks. And we're close to that. I've had slips and I'll continue to have them, I'm sure.
Some days are harder than others. But it's so much easier to recognize and regroup.
And it makes me feel much, much nicer.
*It may go without saying but I'm going to say it anyway, just in case. I'm not talking about not expressing valid or justified anger/upset. I'm not even talking about not expressing annoyance or frustration. I'm talking about a certain level of pissivity, an impulsive acting out of a rush of exaggerated anger. It's hard to define it, really, as it's all on a continuum. I know it when I feel it, though.
Through this experiment, I've found that expressing even my legitimate anger/frustration/whatever in a calmer, quieter way gets better results. Makes a better loop. It's a work in progress, I suppose. I share it as another way of working through. And to close a circle. If you have questions or comments, I welcome them. Don't be shy. It's not like I'm going to FLIP OUT at you. HA HA HAAAA!