Staying Patient by Eliminating Any Propensity for Anger

Patience. It’s the #1 thing parents say they struggle with. Most books, including my own, focus on helping people stay patient in the moment. This is a valuable skill and something parents need, because parents need to stay in the moment. But what is even more powerful than this is eliminating any propensity towards anger.

The following formula for anger is from Surviving a Borderline Parent. It has a brilliant analysis of how anger works.

How Anger Works

Although anger seems like a volatile, unpredictable emotion, its generation actually has a predictable cause-and-effect dynamic, as you can see from this formula we created, using concepts from When Anger Hurts (McKay, Rogers, and McKay 1989).

Antecedent Stress + Current Stress + Indirect Stressors + Trigger Thoughts = Anger

Antecedent stresses include your childhood experiences with your parent or other experiences you’ve stored away that influence your interpretation of current events.

Current stresses are painful emotions, unmet needs, or threats that you’re experiencing in the present.

Think of indirect stressors as aggravating factors not directly related to the stimulus or current stress, but still influencing your reaction to it: extreme heat or cold, hunger or low-blood sugar, lack of sleep, hormonal fluctuations, pain, lack of physical activity, frustration, or overstimulation (too much noise, too large a crowd, and so on).

Add trigger thoughts, that is, cognitive sparks that act as a catalyst, to the mix and your stressors combine into a hostile affect (McKay, Rogers, and McKay 1989).

This formula is brilliant and worth repeating:

Antecedent Stress + Current Stress + Indirect Stressors + Trigger Thoughts = Anger

Most professional books about anger focus on the trigger thoughts and, moving backwards, sometimes the indirect stressors. A trigger might be a child screaming; an indirect stressor might be you didn’t get enough sleep. If you ask advice from anyone about anger, they are likely to talk to you about one of these two things. They might tell you, wisely, to take a deep breath to relieve a trigger. They might tell you, also wisely, to get better sleep. But if you keep going deeper than that, you can get to an even deeper level for staying patient.

If a person say had a traumatic childhood, to any degree (an antecedent stress), it creates an internal static in a person. Fight or flight gets turned on and doesn’t ever really get turned off. They are in an angered state at all times (and it may be slight or great). If you can resolve this stressor and move from an angered state to an inner peace, you will be a master at containing anger.

It will in fact and without doubt help with in the moment anger enormously. When something triggers a constantly angry person, it feels simply like everything is spinning out of control. It just feels extra bad. And the anger ends up being unproductive, because the person does not then use that energy for any useful thing (like they should). They live day in and day out with anger and so it’s now rendered useless as a signal about harm. Extra anger only results in extra blind reactivity.

For a person with inner peace, when something triggers anger, it is a much different feeling. The feeling is both one of hurt (say you stepped on a sharp toy) but also one of exhilaration as a person instantly moves, happily, quickly, and even a little madly, into action. And in that action, a person might let out a nice healthy exasperation due to the situation, but they are quickly returned to that inner peace–perhaps even with a laugh at what happened after the flurry is over. This inner peace is your greatest ally and protector.

So how can you do this? Well it’s a process. My best recommendation is to download samples from books that may describe any trauma you went through and see which one speaks to you the best. Read that book. I have found two fundamental approaches both which have value.

1. Cognitive Approach

With this approach, a problem you had is fully described so you can identify it. Knowing what it was and what happened give clarity and feels liberating. Typical problems and negative thought patterns are identified. You can then be on the lookout for such negative thought patterns and rewire your thinking. This can lead to a feeling of acceptance and personhood.

2. Visceral Approach

In a visceral approach, you feel something as a way to change. For instance, a traumatic experience such as dealing with a difficult or negligent parent is reenacted first how it happened. After this, it is reenacted again but this time going in a way that is healthy. Another example of visceral therapy is getting a massage to help a person frightened of touch become agreeable to it. Another example is dance or yoga to put a person back in touch with their body.

I hate to say “everyone deals with some low level anger.” This cannot possibly be true and I hate when people project problems onto the world at large. However, over and over and over again I hear about how much people struggle with staying patient. Over and over I hear about most parenting styles, especially older ones, are in some ways abusive or negligent to the child. The odds and evidence are there that this a really big problem. So … just know that you are not alone! If you are someone with inner peace, and there are certainly lots of people like this, perhaps join the effort by sharing knowledge and understanding with others. Trauma is real and the quicker and better we are at identifying it, the more it will get resolved, in what I think may be a snowball effect.

The process of healing may be much quicker than you think! Go one level deeper; the inner peace is worth it.

See my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years

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