Anger: The Great Coverup
published in March 2005 issue
of QC Family Focus
Anthony D. Rodriguez, MSW, LISW, LCSW, BCSA
Due to recent events, parents are concerned about anger as it relates to their children's safety. Anger gets a lot of bad press. But in reality it is a vital emotion and is just as valid as frustration, joy, and fear. Hence anger is a natural feeling. It motivates us to take action. Without it, social injustice and hatred would be tolerated. Yet we normally perceive anger as a negative behavior (e.g., outburst, yelling, abuse, etc.).
Sometimes anger is a secondary emotion. It hides other emotions. I view anger as smoke. Smoke can be dark, foreboding, and immense. It can be seen for miles. Some people spend their energies reacting to the smoke, rather than what lies behind it. It is rare to address what is causing the smoke. The flame fanning the smoke can be feelings of rejection, abandonment, fear, or a variety of other emotions. Consequently, some people rely so long on anger that they are unable to recognize what is driving their behavior. They may use anger to distance others, not accept responsibility, or experience false strength from their weakness.
There are many misconceptions about anger. Anger does not necessarily lead to aggression/violence nor is it inherited. Anger is a normal emotion. But how people express anger is learned. Children learn to express anger by watching others. Most adults feel uncomfortable dealing with their own anger. Children learn from adults how to contain anger, which can lead to depression, eating disorders, or the use of alcohol or drugs. Children also learn to express anger inappropriately through sarcasm, verbal abuse, and violence.
Anger, like other emotions, is not stagnant. It doesn't go away. Anger goes somewhere. People either contain it or express it. Yet if people don't appropriately address why they are angry they either implode or explode. Unfortunately then others can become casualties.
If you are concerned about your child's (or anyone else's) expression of anger, examine his environment and be open to discussion. How your child reacts to feeling angry is learned. Ask yourself how you model healthy and unhealthy ways to express anger. Also censor violent TV programs, movies, and video games because they convey that violence is an acceptable response to anger. Children especially have difficulty in differentiating media make believe from reality. This is especially critical for children who have limited impulse control. Focus on helping your child identify the feelings associated with anger and find appropriate avenues of expression. Ask yourself what your child is trying to “emotionally” communicate. Identify if it is a true feeling (e.g., being belittled) or if it is a secondary emotion masking other feelings. Convey empathy and acknowledge how your child may feel. Help him week out his true feelings and find healthy alternatives that meet his emotional needs.
If you find that your child continues to have tantrums, be aggressive, upset people deliberately, isolate, and/or become violent to himself or others, there may be other significant issues at play (e.g., bullying, abuse, other mental health issues). You may need to have him evaluated by a trained therapist. The therapist will assess and recommend the appropriate level of care.
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