Emotions are often misunderstood and misinterpreted. We seem to forget too easily that we are, biologically speaking, far more emotional beings than we are rational-intellectual ones or behaviourist-robots. And the programming in our brain – the sum total of our emotional experiences to date – often interferes with our ability to really get to grips with what is going on for us and those around us. Add in a bit of social-expectation that we don’t behave like sissies, whingers or fuss-makers and it’s no wonder that so many people lack in true emotional intelligence.
One of the keys I spoke about in my first post about identifying emotions ( Emotional Intelligence Part One: Cross, Angry; Mischief, Naughty.) is the ability to make finer and finer distinctions between our emotional states. Happy can be: content, excited, delighted, enthusiastic, blissful, jolly, glad. merry and so on.
Anger seems to be the emotion, which many people cannot identify properly. And it’s kind of a good sign – because many of us in modern western society rarely have to experience true anger.
True anger is a natural and unstoppable reaction to a threat of death or trauma. It’s what we should experience if someone is trying to physically hurt us or ours (if it happens frequently we tend to shut-down emotionally in order to survive*). It is what we should feel if we are victims of sexual-abuse (if it happens frequently we tend to shut-down emotionally in order to survive*). It is experienced when our property or territory is threatened. It is the ultimate defence mechanism. (*It takes a great therapist to help turn-on these emotions again appropriately and at the correct stage of the process individual to each person.)
If we’ve never experienced true anger – it might mean that our experiences have been more safe than not. Yet that also means we could be more likely to misinterpret other emotional states as anger.
Other possibilities are:
#1 Embarrassment: We have been talking about how well-behaved our children are and then they misbehave in public. A common reaction is to behave as if we were angry: we might want to hurt our child in order for them to feel our pain through shouting, spanking or some other kind of punishment. Rather than accepting that the child could easily be experiencing some form of anxiety whether it’s disconnection, exhaustion, hunger or a sense of being overwhelmed.
#2 Insignificant: Our children show a preference for their other parent or aren’t as grateful as we would like for the things we do for them. Here we might see passive-aggressive displays of anger. There are parents who will flounce when their children do this, or say mean things or threaten to emotionally disconnect or otherwise use emotional blackmail. Rather than accepting that it’s not a child’s job to show gratitude (as pleasant as it is when they do) and it is allowed to show a preference – truly.
#3 Powerless: Our children will not behave as we would like them to behave. This is where many parents will use their physical power and punishment or threats or bribery thereof to gain submission. Rather than make a stand through Mindful Disconnection, Swoop and Drop – as in pick the toddler up and put them in the car seat – ignoring the fuss, or by dealing with the cause of the refusal.
#4 Insulted: Our children criticise us or our parenting or they say mean things about us personally. Any of the above reactions could happen instead of accepting they might have a point, or using Mindful Disconnection so as not to add fuel to the emotional fire.
#5 Frustrated:When we cannot achieve what we want to achieve because our children’s needs impinge on our time or attention. Or things don’t go to plan. Again, any of the above reactions can and do happen in various homes rather than acceptance of the status-quo and understanding that these phases pass…eventually. With the planning situation, I have learned to be super organised before the event and then go with the flow during it.
Frustration: when you’ve cleaned up other people’s mess all day and then turn around and see the baby bouncing in this…
#Disappointed: When our children do something they know is wrong or don’t achieve as we think they should. You can often see this at weekend sports fixtures where parents show their disappointment in their child’s performance (where the child might not be developmentally ready to play sport or interested or overwhelmed by their parents expectations). And at times when children just do something silly which they’ve been told/asked not to several times.
Yes, of course in most of these instances setting a boundary might be what is called for – at least in the short-term; however, by misinterpreting our own emotional state and over-reacting: we don’t help our relationship with our children or their chances to develop maturity.
I really do walk around the house saying things like, “I am immensely frustrated that I can’t work on the blog” and, “I feel powerless when you won’t do your piano practise properly“. At other times I also scream like a banshee and react in other ways which are not useful or helpful for our boys. For those times I do try to use these strategies for repair:
When things don’t go to plan and I have the time to repair immediately – Strategy for Repair: Immediately after your Anger
When things don’t go to plan and I want to repair the connection but don’t immediately have the time (or the inclination) – Autobiography: Why you need to have one.
So next time you think you feel angry you could try asking:
Is it really?
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