“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” ~Eckhart Tolle
As a special-needs parent, it feels that I am in constant anger and fight mode.
I am fighting with my children on the home front.
I am fighting for their right to get access to services.
I am fighting for their acceptance.
I am fighting for my children to help them make progress.
To be in constant fight mode can be overwhelming and exhausting.
In my weakness, I let my emotions get the best of me.
I lose my temper with my loved ones.
The One Thing I Regret Saying to My Daughter
A particular incident that took place many years ago stands out in my mind to this date.
The principal of my daughter’s school told me she was causing lots of problems there. Her behavior was disturbing her classmates, and many parents had complaints about it.
“We feel that this school is not suitable for her and it would be best to find her another school,” said the principal.
I fought with the school to let her stay. This was the third school we had to fight for her acceptance.
I felt that I was coming to another dead end.
After that meeting, I headed home and was greeted with an onslaught of screaming and shouting children.
Adding to that chaos, my daughter with autism poured out the contents of every toiletry bottle she could find into the bathtub. It is incredible how much children can do given one minute unsupervised.
At that very moment, I snapped and yelled.
“What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?”
“Why are you always wrecking the house?”
“Why can’t I have a moment of peace without you causing any trouble?”
“I did not sign up for this!”
“I don’t want you!”
My daughter with little communication skills stood frozen. I saw fear in her eyes. She felt every ounce of anger I had in me then.
Why Yelling Further Delays a Child’s Development
When children misbehave, yelling at them seems like a natural response. We feel that when we yell at them, we get their attention, we are disciplining them.
None of us likes to be yelled at, and when we yell at our children, they are more likely to shut down instead of listening. That is not a good way to communicate.
For children on the spectrum, yelling can be particularly detrimental, as it may result in them retreating into their own world and not engaging with other people even more.
The more we connect and engage with them, the more they can thrive and grow. Hence, yelling can never be a means to “discipline” them regardless of how stressful and frustrated we may feel at that moment.
Not Yelling—Easier Said Than Done
Trust me. No one understands this more than I do. When you are stressed and frustrated, releasing all that pent-up emotion seems like the only solution.
I struggle at managing my anger. There are so many times I find myself regretting the way I spoke and raised my voice to my loved ones.
With each angry word exchanged, I see my daughter retreating into her own world, and it pains me so much. Her mother caused all of that.
The truth is, I am not angry with my daughter for the silly things she has done.
It is not her fault.
My beautiful daughter is not making life difficult for me, she is having a difficult time.
For her sake, I’ve I had to find a positive way to deal with my anger issues.
I’ve needed to help myself so that I could help her.
Anger Is Just a Mask for Another Emotion
Anger is often a secondary emotion. It is a mask that covers a deeper feeling that I am unwilling to address.
Behind my anger are my fears, frustration, and insecurities.
More than often, my anger stems from my inability to control what is outside of myself.
I am unable to change the school’s decision not to accept her.
My daughter is unable to receive decent therapy support in our home country.
Instead, I have had to be my daughter’s therapist, and I felt insecure about my abilities to help her then.
All these overwhelming feelings of being frustrated, being unfairly treated, not being respected, triggered the anger inside of me. Unfortunately, my poor daughter had to bear the angry burns of her hot-headed mother.
How I Address the Real Meaning of My Anger
In order to manage my anger, I’ve needed to:
1. Acknowledge the emotion I am feeling.
What am I feeling now?
I am feeling angry.
Telling myself that I am angry helps me to calm down.
It’s important to recognize and feel the anger in these situations. By addressing it, I am acknowledging that I matter, and it prompts me to take a deeper look at what is going on behind the scenes.
2. Identify the emotion behind the anger.
What am I feeling besides anger?
I am feeling rejected by what the school has done, and I am also feeling anxious about having the time to find another school for my daughter, or if I even can.
My anger is always trying to tell me something. Once I listen to it, I’m in a better place to understand the situation and move forward toward the healing process.
The more clarity I get about why I am angry and the more I acknowledge those emotions, the less my anger impacts me. By gaining more clarity, I can also find productive solutions to solve my problems.
How I Manage My Anger
1. Replace negative thoughts with more constructive ones.
I realize that my attitude affects how I interpret my circumstances. It impacts my thoughts, energy, and above all, the actions I take.
Much of my anger and frustration can be better managed when I practice reframing.
Instead of saying, “My child is a brat who doesn’t listen and is out to make my life miserable,” I try to say, “My child doesn’t quite understand what I’m trying to tell her. I need to demonstrate to her what she is required to do.”
By reframing my thought process and how I describe my children and my problems, I am able to see things with acceptance, compassion, and empathy.
2. Identify common anger triggers.
Identifying my common triggers helps me mentally prepare myself prior to the event.
I start by visualizing a typical situation and ask myself how I can respond to it wisely. The more I practice this visualization, the more I can react to such situations more appropriately.
It also helps to journal down what times and moments cause these triggers.
3. Practice some relaxation/calming exercises.
Using simple relaxation and calming strategies helps me soothe those angry feelings.
Some examples of common relaxation exercises:
- Having a cup of tea
- Using breathing techniques
- Practicing yoga and meditation
- Listening to music
- Using stress-relief tools (e.g. stress ball)
Since I’ve been practicing these exercises, homework and therapy times at home have been more pleasant for me and the children. Meditating for five minutes before homework takes away any lingering frustrations and stress.
4. Focus on the solution, not the problem.
All too often, when a problem occurs, I focus on the negative situation, and this puts me in a bad mood. I resolve more things when I focus more on the solution instead.
To start, I take the time to fully analyze the problem and make a list of possible solutions.
When I do this, I know I am taking proactive steps to improve our lives. I am focusing on what I can control instead of mindlessly reacting to my circumstances.
5. Find humor in the situation.
Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.
Finding humor in a situation, even amid the most trying times, can be both relieving and empowering.
I was in the car when my daughter started screaming and crying suddenly. I stopped the car and asked her what the matter was; no amount of coaxing, hugs, and bribes sweets was able to calm her down.
I was feeling stressed with the situation, so in desperation, I made funny faces and fart noises at her. and she laughed hysterically. After a good laugh, my daughter explained that she was angry with me because I promised her earlier that I would bring her to the shop, but instead was driving toward home.
If I had responded in anger then, I would not have been in a position of empathy to help her, and the mystery to her emotional outburst would remain unsolved.
6. Take a time-out.
When I sense a wave of anger coming up, I try to excuse myself from the situation. Taking a time-out prevents me from saying things that I may later regret.
Finding a quiet area to cool down and practicing some of the relaxation exercises mentioned above has saved me on many occasions.
When the anger has subsided, I find it helps to think of what I may say before returning to the scene.
7. Practice forgiveness.
It’s difficult to find peace when we’re bottled up in anger and pain. Constant internal hostility saps away our energy both physically and mentally.
It helps me minimize the hostility within to see everyone like my daughter—not giving me a hard time, but having a hard time. It’s much easier to forgive when I consider that everyone else is struggling, trying their best, and sometimes falling short.
By forgiving, I accept the events for the way they are. I am letting go of any negative attachments.
By forgiving, I am taking control of my life by saying that this act no longer defines me, it no longer controls me.
By forgiving, I can finally find peace and move on with my life.
Learning How to Own My Anger
I have seen first-hand how my anger affects my family. It doesn’t serve them at all. Out of love and necessity, I will do whatever I can to be a better person for them.
Hence, every day in every way, I am making a conscious effort to control my anger before it controls me.
There will be days when I still mess up. We are all human and we will never be perfect.
I recognize my mistakes and acknowledge what needs to be done to improve.
Slowly but surely, I am getting there. I am, and will always be, a constant work in progress.
Is your anger controlling your life? What strategies have helped you work through and let go of your anger?
Stephanie Weiderstrand helps parents raising children on the autism spectrum how to awaken their children’s gifts. She has a daughter with autism and ADHD and two other children with other learning challenges. She believes that the right connection and environment will bring out the best out of our special-needs children. If you have a loved one on the autism spectrum, sign up for Stephane’s FREE 7-day email course AWAKEN THE GIFTS OF YOUR CHILD.
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