Anger – the morphine of emotions

Anger is the morphine of emotions, serving as an unhealthy way to avoid pain. Dealing with frustrations in a healthy way is how to let go of anger and depression.

Anger, like all human emotions, is natural and has a purpose and place in life.  An outburst of anger is the quickest way of communicating to your loved ones that you have been hurt.  There is an old joke that says the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once – her anger will effectively communicate that she has been hurt by your thoughtlessness.

In today’s society though, many people have developed a very unhealthy lifestyle of anger – sometimes using it as a primary means of communicating. The reason for this is that we do not feel the sting of emotional pain as long as we are holding onto our anger.

Anger is the morphine of emotions.

In our society, we have not been raised to handle anger in a healthy way and we often do not fully understand the source of our anger.

Anger is an outgrowth of frustration and, besides numbing our pain, serves as a means to gain control of a situation – often by attempting to bully those around us.  Anger’s sister emotion is depression which is what we experience when we no longer have any hope of regaining control of our circumstances.

Allowing ourselves to unleash our anger is destructive to our relationships.  Usually the targets of our anger are the few people in the world that actually know us well and love us the most: our husbands and wives, our children, our parents.  These are the victims of our anger.

Allowing ourselves to suppress the anger is not healthy either.  Suppressed anger can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, and in the end, is rarely effective in improving our relationships and circumstances.

The first step in letting go of anger is to fully understand the root cause of the frustration.

We get frustrated when people or circumstances are not in line with our expectations. Therefore, it is imperative for us to understand what our expectations in life are and why we have them.  Once we have done this, we need to educate ourselves to determine if these expectations are reasonable or if they are founded on an artificial and idealistic view of how we think the world should be.

For example, if your four-year-old child has spilled fruit juice on your white carpet after you told them to be careful you might get angry.  But was it reasonable to expect a four year old to obey your admonition?  Of course not!  That little bit of frontal lobe in their brain that controls their executive system is not really formed enough to be depended upon, their motor skills are undeveloped, a let’s face it, a four year old has the attention span of a gnat.  A reasonable parent should expect the child to forget the warning the moment the child spots a toy in the room and a reasonable parent should expect to have to buy a new carpet once their children are grown.

Often, the person that we seem to have the most difficulty with in terms of false expectations is our spouse.  Most of us have the ridiculous notion that our own experiences growing up can serve as a model and yardstick for our spouse.  We fail to understand that the environment that they were forged in was very different then that in which we were forged.

You may have grown up in a home with a strong working mom who ran the whole show.  Your spouse may have grown up in a traditional home where the father served as the family leader.  Without educating yourselves, then in this situation it is likely that the husband will be continually frustrated with his wife’s lack of trust and support, and the wife will be continually frustrated by her husband’s lack of respect.

It is sad when two people like this that are good people who actually love each other can be doomed to a life of continued anger, depression, or both – all because of erroneous expectations of life.

There are a couple of keys to re-aligning your expectations with reality.  These are:

Spent time with well-grounded people in similar family circumstances.

This can be a men’s or women’s small group in church or a group of ladies who get together at play dates with their kids.  As you listen to the diversity of points of view, you can begin to learn that your own way of looking at the world isn’t as universal as you may have thought.  It is vitally important to choose your small group of friends properly – if they do not seem to have a loving and caring spirit, then choose a different group.

Read books on parenting, marriage, or whatever topic frustrates you the most.

Parenting books can help you understand child development and what to expect from your child at different ages.  Marriage books help you understand the different types of personalities, and in particular, how the brain of the opposite sex works.  One of the big motivations for my book Essence of Wisdom for Parents was to help set more healthy expectations for parents and couples and through this, to bring a little more joy and peace into some households.

A caution here:  there is a whole media industry designed to satisfy the relational and emotional needs of people, particularly women:  this includes daytime talk shows, and people-oriented magazines.  This media source is not designed to set healthy expectations of life and, but rather is designed to serve as a surrogate for healthy real-life relationships.  Its fine for a little light entertainment, but it will not be a positive contribution to your development.

Find time to sit and talk peaceably with those that get you angry.

Talk about your frustrations and expectations.  If your expectations do not match, then it is a fair bet that the other person in the relationship is harboring feelings of anger or depression as well.  This means that they need help also.  Note that I am using the word talk here loosely.  If tensions have been building for any length of time, then it may be best to intersperse your initial conversations with some leading questions and then carefully listen to what they are saying.  Give yourself a day or two to think about what they have said before responding.

The goal of each of these three keys is to help you grow personally.  A big component of what we term personal growth, is our self-education on the complex realities of the world and the people that live in it so that we develop more realistic expectations.  The human brain was designed to be a continuous learning machine.  If we aren’t doing that then we aren’t using our brain’s properly.  For some reason, we forget to keep learning.  We think that our school years were the one time in life when we were supposed to learn.  The truth is, our school years were the time in life when we were supposed to learn how to learn.

The second step in letting go of anger is to realize that the people or circumstances around us are not supposed to be perfect.

As you talk with friends, read, and study, you will come to find that God did not promise an easy life for anyone and that everyone has flaws, insecurities, and selfish impulses.  Your anger means that you want either God or other people to care more for you in your life.  However, as you grow, you will realize that these other people need help with their issues as well.  This is an opportunity for you.

Taking your eyes off yourself and putting them on other’s needs is the healthy way to alleviate pain.

Helping others to grow in the same manner in which you are growing will help them to get over the pain of their frustrations, and, over time, will help to heal your relationship as it begins to grow again on a more realistic soil bed.

Helping others does not mean that you are their doormat. You do not need to enable their anger by serving as a human punching bag.  What it does mean, though, is that you need to look behind their angry frustrated exterior to find and encourage the good things that are hiding within.  Transforming yourself from an angry warrior to a patient, educated, loving, encourager will go a long way towards developing that sense of idealistic happiness that we all desire.

Crying Babies

Edvard Munch - The ScreamI’m not an art historian, but I’m sure that if I checked, I’ll find that Edvard Munch painted The Scream shortly after his wife gave birth to his first infant.

In the weeks and months before our first babies are born, our world is filled with thoughts of pretty pink and blue blankets, of fluffy stuffed animals, and of holding cooing babies in our arms as we rock back and forth on quite Sunday mornings. What we really want is that little bundle of joy and its unconditional love for us that is supposed to fill every crevice and void in our lives.

This rosy picture of parenthood begins to change with the first pangs of real labor. After birth, we are sent back to our homes with this little bundle of joy that, frequently, turns into a little bundle of screaming need.

For some babies, their needs can be quickly identified. You find that they were simply ready to eat (again), or maybe needed a new diaper (again), or maybe it was just too quiet, or maybe they just need to be held (again). After all, this baby was held for nine months and it’s just not used to all that stillness.

Yes, for those babies, and for those mothers, life is fairly simple. However, if you’re still reading this post, it’s likely that you haven’t been so lucky. You may be wondering what you were thinking having a baby, you aren’t prepared, you don’t know what to do, this little tiny thing is making you insane!

If these are the thoughts running through your mind, then please take a moment to relax a little. You are in the company of millions of parents who have had to struggle with all these emotions and with all this noise, and yet have made it through OK. The ooy-gooy parental experience will arrive in time, trust me.

One piece of advice I used to share with people (but that I chose not to include in Essence of Wisdom for Parents), is that the best way of dealing with a crying baby is to find a home with more than two floors. This was simply my way of injecting a little lightness into a stressful situation. If you have a crying baby and you’ve checked all the obvious things, then of course go talk to your doctor to make sure that there isn’t anything serious going on. What you’re likely to find is that the baby has colic. Colic is one of those medical terms which have no other value than to make us feel better that the problem has finally been identified. Colic is Latin for your baby cries all the time which also implies, of course, that you are not getting enough sleep which may be causing depression, anxiety, restlessness, and general thoughts of what have I got myself into?

Your doctor will tell you to hang in there and that the crying will settle down in a few months. In seriousness, if the depression and anxiety starts to get to you too much, you need to see a doctor yourself.

Now that my children are older, I can look back on these times and see how they worked to help me grow into a better parent. Those pre-baby feelings of pink and blue blankets are, in a way, selfish feelings. They are focused on how this new baby will make me feel and how the baby will grow up to be a cute little girl or active little boy that will make me proud. In our teenage years and into early adulthood our brains are wired to be self-focused as we make sense of who we are and how we fit into the world. When you become a parent, however, it is time to become selfless focused. It is time to commit your life to taking care of someone else. Parenting is a life of service that if done right, has rewards far beyond any selfish rewards we may have dreamed of.

That crying baby is a wake-up call to you that you are not in control of everything, you are not going to know everything, and this little tyke is a unique little independent human being that you may never fully understand. The baby is not here to serve your need for love, but rather, to provide you an opportunity to express your love through a life-time of patient service, through kind words, through measured discipline, and through endless forgiveness (hold onto that last part for twelve or thirteen years, it will make more sense then.)

So when the baby is crying, do what you can, but then when there is nothing more that you can do, then do nothing more. Spend a little time in prayer asking the Lord for another day of strength and wisdom, maybe watch a little TV (these two things are not interchangeable), and if you are lucky, perhaps ask a relative of friend to come watch the little one while you either go out (yes you have to come back) or get some sleep.

These few months of crying are one of those things that make you stronger and more compassionate as a parent.

Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, almost everyone I’ve spoken to that has had a colicky baby, indicated that only one of their children has been colicky. So if you had always wanted a larger family but are now terrified (a feeling shared by every parent of a colicky baby), then fear not.