Before having kids, I thought I was just a very calm person, but it turned out I was suppressing my anger and had few skills to identify or deal with this big emotion. Here's what's helped me change that.
When Anger Seems to Come Out of Nowhere
Discovering my anger was rough. During the early years of my kids' lives, I was shocked at the way anger would take over my body.
I'd think I was holding it together…I was trying to keep my cool, and then WHAM, all of a sudden, I'd be yelling at my kids.
Anger seemed to come out of nowhere. My kids would do something completely normal, and it would push me to yell when the day before, I would have just laughed at the same situation. I'd shout and then think, “Whoa. Where did that come from??”
Learning to Notice Anger Signals
It took time, but I slowly began to get more aware of what was happening in my body as I ramped up towards an angry explosion. I had spent so long tuning out and avoiding anger that I was completely disconnected from signals in my body at first.
I had to become more aware of myself to connect anger signals in my body with my angry outbursts. At first, I would only notice the tension in my chest and shoulders and the pressing feeling of swirling thoughts in the front of my skull right before I'd explode. Over time, I became more sensitive to them and realized that I could stop sooner, take a break earlier, disengage, breathe.
Is This Why You're Yelling at Your Kids?
As I gained a better grasp of anger in myself, I started looking for what sparked these feelings. I discovered that it wasn't even my child's actions that caused anger many times. I had just been through an onslaught of other anger triggers for so long that I finally snapped.
Learning my anger triggers helped me be more proactive so I could take care of them before I got too overwhelmed. When I noticed what made me edgy and uncomfortable, I could use that information to make choices to care for myself.
Do You Know Your Anger Triggers?
You might have had one or more background anger triggers heating you to a simmer before your child ever pushed you over the boiling point.
We are human. It is perfectly normal to have a few quirks, some things that just cause you to be more grouchy and more likely to be angry. When you know what triggers your anger, you can be proactive about these triggers and prevent them from causing you to lose your temper.
Anger triggers don't have to make sense. They just have to be noticed at first. If you're aware of what triggers your anger, you can act to help regulate your emotions.
For instance, sudden loud noises make me angry. Too much sound and noise can send me OVER THE EDGE. The kids might just be being kids, so I can turn off the radio or put on ear protection if that extra sound is going to make me snap.
Or if the kids' play is making the kind of sound that I know is likely to trigger me, I need to notice that as soon as possible so I can make a choice about what to do before I'm on sensory overload myself. (ie. Go to another room, give them an alternative play choice, send them outside to play, etc.)
Possible Anger Triggers to Watch For:
- Low blood sugar or being “hangry”
- Being too hot or cold
- Eating sugar (We can be as susceptible as our kids to this.)
- Drinking a glass of wine or beer (I know, many of us would like to relax this way, but sometimes it's the thing that keeps you from holding it together, too. You know yourself.)
- Windy days or other weather that gets to you
- Various sensory input (I have a friend who noticed that bare feet on tile floors make her angry.)
Help Your Kids, but Don't Forget to Help Yourself
As a parent, it's common to do everything we can to keep our kids safe and help with things like making their surroundings more comfortable or choosing foods that work best for them. With all that focus on the kids, it's easy to forget about yourself and forget that we've got to take care of ourselves, too.
Kids are not going to pipe up to give you permission to take care of yourself. You've got to know what is likely to get you triggered and angry and do your best to do something about it.
Becoming aware of anger triggers is the beginning of having better emotional resilience. When we know our anger triggers, we can do something about them before we yell at our kids.
Awareness Is the Start
It's been a slow process, but I've made better friends with anger. Anger is an emotion that gives us information about what we care about. It can be really scary and hard to manage when you don't have the tools, but it is possible to change your relationship with anger, and awareness is the start.