Anger journal entry, June 1 2001
A flash of irritation this afternoon: Nora Jade requests to pour the drink mix from the packet into the glass for my friend Maureen; I agree, and half of it spills onto the carpet. I’m thinking, “She’s done it WRONG and made a MESS which I now have to clean up, and she’s wasted some of the drink mix, and I wish I’d realised she’d need help.” What I said was “AGH! Nora Jade! You have to be CAREFUL when you’re pouring something!” Exasperated tone, like she’s an idiot. (As I chastise her I can see it was an honest mistake, she was so proud to pour the powder by herself for the first time, so of course she was trying to do it right.) “Okay,” she says, seriously, and I feel terrible for rubbing her face in it, when I realise I should have predicted it.
I feel guilty but still irritated. I wrestle with the temptation to chastise her again. My empathy is there but for some reason my irritation has a life of its own.
On a bad day I can’t cross the kitchen without tripping over these moments. But here’s the thing: I am The Mother. A young soul has entrusted herself to my keeping. If I could go back and change any moment that I have had with my daughter I would edit some of our conflicts. Take out the sting. Replace lecture with listening. Erase every time I yelled and hurt her feelings. Push pause on those times when I am struggling to keep my cool. I can’t change the past but I can always work for a better next day for my little one and myself. Sound familiar?
Inspiring us to venture passed our usual limitations, our children can be amazing personal growth task masters. What a gift they offer us, a gift of healing and spiritual growth. And what a gift we offer them in return, a mother who, though imperfect, opens her full self up to them, a mother earnestly working on her own growth edges, a mother doing her best to create a home in which love shines through every expression of anger. My anger journal is my sanctuary for forgiving and moving on, my laboratory for understanding my choices, my studio for creating new possibilities.
Self-assessment: Is an anger journal for you?
“Who me, journal? I can’t write!” If you can write a grocery list, you can fill an anger journal. Think “practical tool” not “literature.” Who needs sentences and proper grammar? No one else will read it.
“How would I find the time?” Keep the journal in a convenient spot with a pen right next to it, so you can grab it for a quick note on the fly. Promise yourself that your entries can be extremely short and to the point. When you need to really dive into it, the urge will be strong enough that you’ll make time.
“Do I need to explore how I handle anger?”
How do your children react when you get angry at them?
Have you promised yourself or your child that you will work on a certain aspect of your anger expression?
What do you want to teach your children about anger, and are you modeling it for them?
How effectively do your children express their own anger?
Why focus on anger for a whole journal?
Why focus? Focus gets results. As parents we often work incrementally on a myriad of different issues all at once; focusing on a top priority for a time provides the resources for leaps forward.
Why anger? Anger is a family resource. Like an emotional siren, anger grabs our attention to say: “Something here is not working for me!” When we take heed and get to the root of the problem, we seize the opportunity to improve our situations and relationships. Children deserve anger to be expressed in loving ways.
Why journaling? Because it works-efficiently. We don’t have to do more work, we just save what we do. The journal captures our incidents, observations and insights as they arise so they don’t get lost in the stream of our parenting. Think of an anger journal as a cistern in a drought: the occasional drops of rain, insufficient in themselves, collect in a cistern to provide a bounty of water for a glorious garden.
The anger journal in action
For a taste of the anger journal in action, let’s go back to the drink mix incident I shared at the beginning of this article.
I ordinarily would have forgotten by dinnertime about snapping at my daughter for spilling the drink mix. Yet as soon as I began to jot it down as part of my commitment to my anger journal, I realised that a lot of larger issues must have been feeding into the moment, making it hard to manage. I got a breeze of hope and new possibilities. Why cry over spilled milk, after all?
I let the incident sit in the back of my mind for a day or two, tossing a line into the journal whenever I got an insight. The word “WRONG” kept jumping out at me.
“Was there something about her doing something “wrong” which struck a chord from childhood? Is it possible that I felt dumb or slow when I made a mistake as a child? Is that buried fear coming back to haunt my relationship to Nora Jade?!”
I think of my daughter as quite bright. I was astonished to uncover any thought that she could be dumb or slow. And yet I was immediately able to connect this unsuspected fear with a similarly puzzling flash of anger several months back. Little things were starting to fall into place.
As I wrote I also started noticing what I call “risk factors:” ways in which I was set up for impatience even before the spill took place. I knew I was already feeling overwhelmed (another mess for me to clean up?!), and the presence of my friend made me feel self conscious about having a conflict with my daughter.
I have never seen the “cycle of anger” so clearly at play in my own parenting: being mad at myself (for not having anticipated the problem) palpably fed into my mounting irritation at her, which in turn made me more aggravated with myself.
These discoveries gave me new eyes when challenging situations arose.
I still haven’t figured out why I have that trigger about a child doing something “wrong” and being “dumb.” Yet when the same feeling arose again, weeks later, I found that I already had fresh options.
It happened one afternoon in the car when I was retelling the three pigs story (while we were both hot, tired, and hungry, a triple risk factor situation!). No matter how many times I explained, she couldn’t grasp why the brick laying pig took longer than the other two pigs. As I found myself getting aggravated and more adamant that she “get it” (what is wrong with her?), I suddenly “got it” myself—“Wait a minute, this is that fear of having a dumb kid! Well that’s got nothing to do with my daughter. Time to get on with the story.” Although it was hard to steer away from my exasperation, I was so glad to let my precious daughter off the hook from having to prove herself to me. I just took that red herring and threw it out the window.
Do you have puzzles and challenges around anger? Consider that each incident you record in your own anger journal offers a new growth opportunity for you. Keeping an anger journal is a gift of love to your child and yourself.
Reflecting on the Pattern
When you record new incidents and look back on past entries, your patterns of anger will emerge. As you go along, look for opportunities to sit down with your journal and explore:
What are my triggers? Are there any ways in which I can address them on my own?
What are my risk factors? How can I be proactive with my risk factors, so that I set us up for success?
What strategies help me handle my anger in loving ways?
Work with Anger is a Life-Long Process.
Commit to assessing where you are after a month with the anger journal. What have you learned about anger in your parenting? Have you made any new choices? What is still unresolved for you? You may feel ready to take a break from focused work on anger, perhaps returning later for another period of focus. Or the anger journal may become part of your parenting method for the indefinite future.
As you grow in your relationship to anger throughout your life, I wish you great courage and kindness.
May your home be a place where anger is expressed with love.
May our children grow up to create a world in which anger can take its true role as a passionate and safe instrument for alerting people to opportunities for healing, for making needed changes, and for increasing understanding between people.
Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner
Everyday Blessings/ Mindful Parenting by Jon and Myla Kabot-Zinn
Giving the Love that Heals, by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt
How to Start an Anger Journal
A spirit of self-care is essential. The anger journal technique is one of loving attention. Listening to ourselves. Noticing our choices. Holding our vision of loving options so that the door is open for us to walk through as we become ready.
Select a gentle journal. The book which we hold in our hands to do this work must remind us to be gentle with ourselves. I love the very sight, smell and feel of my lavender nu-buck leather journal. It invites me to trade my guilt, despair, and self-reproach for a more loving way. Also make sure the journal is a handy size to grab!
Record each incident. Commit to record a quick sketch of each time you get angry with your child for one month. Consider including conflicts with your partner if you want to explore what you are modeling for your child. For each incident briefly jot down:
What was happening?
What were you thinking?
What were you feeling?
If you expressed it, how? And how did the other person respond?
Save insights. As new ideas about an incident or the bigger picture occur to you jot them down. What did you make of the last incident? Can you identify a root cause?
Support the anger journal with other strategies.Share your growth edges around anger with friends and ask about theirs. When do they get angry at their children, and how do they respond?
Meditate. Make an anger collage. Make a visual reminder for self-forgiveness.
Inject the wisdom of your mentors into your daily learning. If you find parenting or self help books helpful, copy provocative or wise quotes into your journal. Post quotes on the fridge or bathroom mirror. My journal is filled with helpful passages from my favorite books. A quote on my fridge from Mothering editor Peggy O’Mara in Natural Family Living, “Discipline is about control: parental self-control.”
And my journal opens with a poem which I found in Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s book Every Day Blessings. Reading this poem as I begin melts any tension I may be carrying about my anger, letting me know that I can forgive myself while working hard to finding a loving way for my anger.
Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget the perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
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