9.1 Keep Your Cool Toolset
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KEEP YOUR COOL TOOLSET
232 The Parent’s Toolshop
9 KEEP YOUR COOL TOOLSET
Most houses have windows that provide fresh air and sunlight. A house without windows is a dark and dreary place. It is hard to see where we are, where we’re going, and what we’re doing. Windows also let out extra heat and toxic fumes that can build up inside. Without ventilation, these poisons can cause discomfort, illness, or even death.
People need a different kind of light—a clear vision of what’s going on inside us. We need to see clearly what we are feeling, what we are doing, and where we are going. Without this sense of direction, we bump into obstacles and become lost. We also need a way to rid our bodies of toxic emotions. When there are no healthy outlets for angry emotions, the chemicals and energy they produce can bring emotional or physical discomfort, illness, or even death. We need to learn how to control our bodies and minds so we can release chronic anger and stress in healthy ways.
IN THIS CHAPTER
When dealing with a problem, we control our anger first, so we can keep our logic online and respond helpfully. This chapter encourages us to consider seven important ideas:
WHEN TO USE THIS TOOLSET
It is important to use the Keep Your Cool Toolset before any of the other tools in the Parent Problem Toolbox, because anger can turn our tools into weapons—to blame or get revenge. These tactics only cause more defensiveness and rebellious behavior. As with all the tools, we can use the Keep Your Cool Toolset in any relationship, because we can feel angry and stressed in situations that have nothing to do with parenting.
WHAT IS ANGER?
In prehistoric times, humans faced many dangerous situations (like large animals), so the body developed the ability to generate extra strength and energy to stay and fight or quickly escape the danger.
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When this fight-or-flight response kicks in, adrenaline dramatically increases, the heart pumps faster, blood pressure rises, and blood flows faster. The body releases chemicals that make muscles tense, stronger, quicker, and prepared for action (either fighting or fleeing). These chemicals also cause people to lose some of their self-control, which could cause them to wait before acting. (A dangerous thing to do when a large animal is attacking!)
As the human brain developed, people learned how to better control their environment. They had less need for fighting or fleeing and learned to use their brains to analyze and solve problems. Nevertheless, our bodies still have this automatic fight-or-flight response, which we still need in emergencies.
Busy lifestyles can frequently trigger the fight-or-flight response. Traffic jams, hectic schedules, annoying interruptions, and conflicts with others are just a few of the events that can trigger chemical reactions in the body. If the body triggers these reactions daily, the extra tension and stress chemicals can seem normal, but their damaging effects can go unnoticed—until it’s too late.
If people don’t use these extra chemicals for action, the buildup hurts the body. Fat, which is sent to the blood for energy to fight or run, turns into cholesterol, which causes heart disease and eventual death. Chronic anger and stress can also cause high blood pressure, headaches, stomachaches, skin irritations, digestive problems, and eating disorders. Nonphysical problems can develop, too. People can become accident-prone and their hostility, sarcasm, and critical attitudes can destroy their relationships with others. Without healthy outlets for these extra emotions and chemicals, the body acts like a car going 9000 r.p.m. in neutral—eventually, it burns out.
Conflicts are unavoidable when two or more people with individual opinions and personalities live together. How people handle these conflicts depends on their skills and choices.
Constructive anger uses the extra energy from conflicts to resolve them peacefully and respectfully.
When parents try to control their children, they often forget to control their own behavior. Self-control is more difficult when we are angry. Emotions are high, which lowers our ability to think straight. To respond effectively to problems, we need to ease our physical reaction to stress and increase our ability to think clearly. Instead of losing our temper, we can use it in positive ways to solve the problem.
Destructive anger hurts others by trying to control them, win arguments, or get revenge. It gets results because angry reactions get attention. The strength and tension in someone’s face can cause fear and obedience. However, anger may lose its effectiveness over time. People build walls to protect themselves from the angry person and their own feelings and reactions. What once only took a raised voice can later take yelling, threats, or even punishment to get the same results. This cycle has serious long-term consequences on the relationship and the self-esteem of the people in it.
Constructive anger separates feeling angry from acting angry. It releases the energy created by anger and stress in healthy ways, using it to help resolve the conflict. It is possible to be angry and respond assertively and respectfully. Healthy conflict can provide opportunities to practice anger management, negotiation, and problem solving.
STEPS OF CONSTRUCTIVE ANGER/STRESS MANAGEMENT
The abc’s of Constructive Anger/Stress Management
In this chapter, we learn how to do steps a and b, using the Keep Your Cool Toolset. These two steps get our emotions under control and our logic online. Once we have calmed down enough to think clearly about how we want to handle the situation, we can move to Step c and use the Clear Communication Toolset to formulate our response. This a-b-c process can take a split second, unless we are extremely angry. In that case, we control our anger long enough to respond to the problem helpfully. Then we take time to deal with our remaining feelings in a healthy way.
a. Become Aware of Your Stress/Anger Cycle ☆☆☆☆
If we understand how anger eruptions happen, we can recognize unhealthy anger, unhelpful beliefs and responses, break unhealthy reaction habits, and replace them with healthier alternatives for relieving stress and expressing anger.
WHAT REALLY CAUSES ANGER?
Think about a situation that sometimes makes you angry, such as a traffic jam. Most of us can remember a time when we got frustrated and angry and a time when we handled the same situation calmly. Most people mistakenly believe that other people and events cause their anger and stress. If this was true, our reaction would always be the same—we would always get angry. Since this doesn’t happen, there must be another factor.
The process of getting angry can take a split-second, but if we slow down and look at what’s really happening, we see there are actually four steps involved1 :
First, an event happens. Then, in our minds, we tell ourselves something—it could be accurate or inaccurate, rational or irrational, helpful or unhelpful. The feelings we experience are a direct result of what we tell ourselves—what we believe the event means. We actually talk ourselves into believing we should feel a certain emotion. Finally, based on our feelings and beliefs, we respond. We actually choose our feelings, but are rarely aware of this amazingly quick process.
Remember in the Child Problem Toolbox, when we learned that anger is a secondary emotion? It is important to remember this now. Anger can result from a build up of other emotions—frustration, hurt, annoyance, or harassment. If we get in touch with these primary emotions, we can tap into the real cause of our anger.
Our belief about the event causes our feelings—and our feelings influence our response. If our beliefs are inaccurate, our feelings will be irrational and so will our response. If we view the event in rational, helpful ways, we see our primary feelings more easily. This helps us respond more effectively.
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Here’s an example of how positive and negative beliefs can influence a parent’s response to the same situation:
The father thinks, “He is so ungrateful! After all the time I spent cooking dinner, the least he could do is show some appreciation. If I had ever complained about food when I was a kid, I would have gotten no dinner!”
Put out, taken advantage of, resentful, and angry.
The father calls Joey “ungrateful,” lectures him about starving kids in Africa, and tells him “when I was a kid . . .” stories. The father sends Joey to bed without dinner, then stews about it through the rest of the meal. He has indigestion all evening and blames Joey for making him sick.
The father thinks, “I wish he wouldn’t complain after I’ve taken the time to cook a meal. I’d like him to appreciate my efforts, even if he doesn’t like it. I can use this to teach Joey about good manners.”
Unappreciated, offended by impolite comment, motivated to prevent similar behavior in the future.
The father says, “People don’t like it when others criticize their cooking. It hurts their feelings, especially since they made the time and effort to cook something. We don’t have to like what people fix, but we can still be polite to the cook. We can take small servings and say ‘no, thank you’ to more.”
As you can see, the key step in anger control is how we choose to interpret events. That is where the chain reaction really starts.
CHOOSE YOUR BELIEFS
If we can identify and change our self-talk, we can better manage our anger. When we choose our beliefs, we put things in perspective. We get in touch with our primary, rational feelings, instead of getting hooked into the anger trap.
- Use absolute words, such as should, must, have to, need, always, and never. These words lock us into all-or-nothing thinking which keeps us from thinking about other perspectives, feelings, and responses.
- Make assumptions about the other person’s motives or how people are supposed to feel and act in similar situations.
- Judge others’ feelings/beliefs as wrong or take their comments and actions personally.
Helpful, assertive beliefs:
- Use flexible, positive words such as, I can, I choose, I wish, I hope, I don’t like, and I would prefer.
- Consider other points of view.
- Are objective and nonjudgmental.
- Focus on solutions, rather than blame.
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Since our choice of beliefs directly affects our feelings and response, let’s look at the four styles of anger and the beliefs behind each style. People usually develop these beliefs in childhood when they see and hear others expressing anger.
- Expressing anger is childish and bad. I must always be in control of myself.
- I must be a perfect parent—who is always calm, cool, and collected.
- I must avoid conflict at all cost. To do this, I must avoid expressing my feelings, or ignore what is happening, even if others violate my rights.
People who stuff their anger were often taught as children that anger is an unacceptable emotion. If they expressed anger, they got sent to bed or to a corner. This taught them to not show their anger. The anger, however, didn’t just disappear. They learned ways to deny and avoid their feelings or cover them up with other thoughts, feelings, and actions. Some people turn their anger inward, which can lead to harmful habits such as drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, sleep disorders, and physical illnesses. Instead of trying to stuff the anger altogether, these people can learn to express it in nondestructive ways.
Aggressive anger explodes at targets. It is the result of believing that other people make us angry so they should be punished for upsetting us. Aggressive people control their anger by trying to control the person they blame for causing the anger. Aggressive anger can have one or more of the following beliefs:
People who act out their anger aggressively often feel relief after the outburst, but those on the receiving end usually feel hurt or scared. People who express their anger aggressively usually pass on blame to others. This eases their load and helps them avoid responsibility. “It’s not my fault!” Sometimes they hold their anger until they can find a target. Children, who naturally misbehave at times, are often targets for a parent’s blame. Parents who save their anger, waiting for a target, often erupt when their children misbehave and overreact to the child’s misbehavior. They let out not only their valid concerns, but also their stored up anger and blame from previous events.
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Passive-aggressive anger is a less obvious form of aggression. The most common form is to outwardly deny anger, but do hurtful things that only angry people would do. A few examples are the silent treatment, conveniently forgetting, or ignoring. Defiant compliance is obeying a command in a hurtful way to get revenge. (For example, cutting the grass and all the flower beds.) Passive-aggressive anger can also be outwardly passive and inwardly aggressive, as in putting ourselves down to others. Passive-aggressive anger can have any of the beliefs listed so far and any of the following beliefs:
Assertive anger expresses emotions honestly without hurting our self or others in the process. It appropriately expresses feelings after deciding how to best express the anger. Assertive anger tries to fix the problem, not fix the blame. It can have one or more of the following beliefs:
REWRITING UNHELPFUL BELIEF STATEMENTS
I need …………………………………………………………………………………………………… I want
I have to …………………………………………………………………………………………….. I’d like to
I should or I must ……………………………………………………………………………….. I choose
They should …………………………………………………………………………… I wish they would
I must or I want …………………………………………………………………………… I would prefer
I can’t ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. I can
This must happen ……………………………………………….. I wish or I’d like this to happen
I expect ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. I hope
PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
When we stop to examine our beliefs, we become aware of our primary feelings. But we can still get hooked into looking at the conflict from our personal, biased view. To grasp and maintain an objective perspective, try asking the following questions:
|1.||Even if we are only two percent of the problem, we can change that two percent. If the situation is out of our control, we may need to adjust to the situation and accept it. To do this we can step over it or find some humor in it (which is usually best in these situations). We may need to shift our focus from resisting what is happening to planning how we can live with it.|
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A Personal Story. When I worked at a runaway shelter, there were frequently parents who were unwilling to change in order to resolve the problems with their teens. There wasn’t any blatant abuse or neglect (so removal from the home was not an option), but it was clearly difficult for these teens to get along with their parents. In these situations, our case plans often focused on helping the teens accept that their parents might not change and find a way to love their parents in spite of their behavior. We’d help the teens plan ways to live in their home environment, until they turned 18. Beyond independent living skills, we taught them how to choose helpful attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that might help them do their part to improve the family, whether their parents ever met them halfway.
If we weigh the importance of the problem against the consequences of our anger to the person and our relationship, we can pick our battles carefully. Major issues usually involve physical, emotional, or moral danger: serious SHARP RV issues. Minor issues are usually a matter of preference: food, clothing, hair styles, and housecleaning habits. We can still address these problems, but not make the issue more important than our relationship or inner peace.
For example, if children refuse to use safety gear (such as a bicycle helmet or car seat), we need to stand our ground more firmly than if children refuse to bathe, but are not filthy. The cost of arguing about safety gear is worth the benefit; it could save their lives. The cost of forcing a bath, which could increase power struggles, damage the relationship, or create a hatred for baths, is not worth the benefit; children are more clean than they already were. If we experience more than two or three unhealthy anger episodes per day, our anger could be greatly affecting our body or relationships. And if more than a fourth of our angry events are not worth the cost, we are probably having too many of them.
If we experience more than two or three unhealthy anger episodes per day, our anger could be greatly affecting our body or relationships. And if more than a fourth of our angry events are not worth the cost, we are probably having too many of them.
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