“Every time you get angry, you poison your own system.”
– Alfred A. Montapert, author
“… HANNAH’S MOTHER,…REFUSED TO DEAL WITH HER ANGER OUTBURSTS.”
Hannah’s Dad, Angus, ask me to see her. Apparently, she had been acting out in school, and then, depressing herself when she was challenged to behave by with drawing and complaining. Hannah was just turning ten years of age and was in grade five. She told me she liked math and gym…everything else, she tolerated. But, surprisingly, she also said, she liked all her teachers, anyway.
Hannah had bright red hair and deep green eyes that sparkled, in a way only kids seem to be able to master. It was most noticeable when she was talking because she gestured a lot, and her face was full of life, mirroring the dynamics of her body. For Hannah, communicating was still a full body experience.
Hannah’s parents were divorced. It had happened soon after they emigrated to Canada, from Scotland, four years ago. Angus had initiated the divorce after Hannah’s mother, Alison, refused to deal with her anger outbursts. Angus said Alison was very devoted to their daughter, and indeed, Hannah loved her Mom, as well. But, according to Angus, Alison had unresolved issues with her father from her own childhood which erupted, repeatedly and unpredictably, into hostile and violent episodes, directed at him and Hannah. It got so bad, he ended their marriage two years previous.
“…HANNAH HAS STARTED REFUSING TO SEE HER MOM…”
Hannah now lived with Angus, but, saw her Mom regularly. Angus also said, Alison nagged and, he thought harassed him, by trying to get them back together, even though, Alison knew he had moved on, to another relationship.
The result for Hannah was she was continually interrogated by her Mom, about her Dad. Angus said, even though he tried to minimize it, he thought Hannah felt caught between her parents, with Alison expecting Hannah to take her side.
It has gotten so bad lately Hannah has started refusing to see her Mom. This usually resulted in Alison blaming Angus with a long, screaming, tirade by phone, or email.
When Angus said Hannah was willing to talk to me, we scheduled a consultation for 4 PM on the following Monday. When Hannah arrived with her father, I asked her if it was OK if her father waited outside in my reception area, while we talked.
Her self confidence was evident in her response, “Sure!” she said.
“Yeah! A few times with Ms. Chittick. But, that’s her fault! She doesn’t treat me right!”
Next, I asked her if she knew what my job was?
Hannah replied, “You help people, don’t ya?”
“That’s my goal!” I said.
“And, you figure out why people are upset, too, eh?” she said with a hint of curiosity in her high pitched voice.
“Yes, I do! Would that interest you…to figure how why you’re upset?” I asked her.
“Well!” she said, smiling, “I’m not upset most of the time…but sometimes I guess I do get a little upset!” she replied with the optimism typical of her age.
“Your Dad said it’s been happening at school…is that correct?”
“Yeah! A few times with Ms. Chittick. But, that’s her fault! She doesn’t treat me right! She’s always ordering us around, and getting all angry, when we don’t get stuff done fast enough for her. And, then she blames us for it, and we lose our recess time.” she said, her face starting to match her hair.
“Sounds like you feel you are being treated unfairly…is that true, Hannah?”
“I sure do! And, so do the other kids in my class!” she replied frustrated.
“Does that happen anywhere else in your life, besides school, Hannah?”
She paused, dropped her hands to her sides, and looked down for a second. Then she replied, “Yeah, sometimes with Mom!”
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
– Buddha, leader
“…SO I HEAR HER CURSING, SWEARING AND THROWING STUFF…”
“Would you tell me about the last time it happened?” I asked.
“It was just last weekend, when I was at her place. She was grilling me about Dad’s girlfriend, Laura. What was she like? Did I think, she was pretty? Do they have fights? Stuff like that!”
“What did you reply?” I asked.
“Ken, it doesn’t matter what I say. She takes whatever I tell her, and turns it on me, or Dad. Then, she starts screaming and yelling at me. Then, she sends me to my room, which, at her place, is just off the kitchen…so I hear her cursing, swearing and throwing stuff…one time, I’ve even heard glass stuff breaking.” she answered, the hurt and confusion filling her voice with pauses and hesitation, as if it wasn’t even OK, to say these things out loud.
“Hannah, would you like to be able to make sense of this stuff going on with your Mom?” I asked, to see if she was ready for another perspective, on these painful memories.
“I sure would because it really gets to me sometimes! I know she’s hurt and angry at Dad…but I can’t fix it for her…she’s gotta work it out with him herself…isn’t that true, Ken?” she asked, looking for an affirmation of her own youthful wisdom.
“Hannah, I think you’re exactly correct in that perception. You can’t fix their relationship, and you probably know, you also can’t choose one over the other…you love them both, eh?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” she responded with her hands flying everywhere.
Then she continued, “But Mom wants me to take her side against Dad…I just can’t do that!” she said, the hurt surfacing again on her face.
“As Dad was giving me his great big hug, Mom commented maybe next year I would be first.”
“What if, I offer you another way to look at what’s happening with you Mom right now, could that be useful to you?”
“I’m desperate, Ken! That’s why I agreed to talk with you when Dad suggested it.”
“OK! Would you tell me your best moment or best memory you have in your ten years of life?” I asked.
“Do you mean the absolute best moment in my life, so far?”
“Yep, I do!”
“That would be last year, when I finished grade four, and came second in my class. Dad gave me this big hug at our ‘celebration dinner’ at this fancy restaurant. I was so proud of myself.” she said her hands gesturing dramatically, and her green eyes beaming.
“Hannah, there is a law of nature you may find interesting, and useful. It’s called the 50/50 law. It means everything in life has a good part and a bad part…even stuff we think is only good or only bad. Nature is designed this way to help us learn important stuff for our future.” I said, letting the idea sink in slowly.
Hannah, like most kids, was a quick study, and she displayed that openness to new ideas many of us adults seem to lose, as we get older, and more fearful.
She replied, “You mean, my special moment had to have some pain in it as well, eh? Well, I can tell you right away what is was. As Dad was giving me his great, big, hug, Mom commented maybe next year I would be first. It was like she forgot how hard I worked to get second place, and it wasn’t enough for her…I was devastated, and felt really hurt!”
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”
– Stephen Hawking, physicist
“I GUESS I AVOIDED BEING YELLED AT AGAIN!”
“That it exactly, Hannah! Nice going! So, you know about this law already. So let’s use it for what is going on now with your Mom’s anger episodes. Last weekend, when your Mom got angry, how did you cope with it? What, specifically, did you do at the moment when you realized she was getting herself upset?”
“Ken, I can usually tell by her voice, it gets louder, and her face, it gets redder. Last weekend, when I saw her getting herself upset, I told her I had some homework to finish for Monday, and went to my room, and closed the door.”
“So, using the 50/50 law, what was the good part of what you did by going to your room, Hannah?”
“I guess I avoided being yelled at again!” she replied, smiling briefly.
“Can you see you were learning to protect yourself from someone who was getting out of control?”
“I never thought of it like that before…but it is true, isn’t it…because that was where she was heading, for sure!”
“Can you see you were also using your creativity by developing, and using a strategy, that would appeal to her value of you being a successful student?”
“I never thought of that either. But, it worked really well, and now, I see why.”
“Can you also see how these strategies, and skills, will be useful in your future in dealing with other people in other relationships?”
“…I THINK, I’M ALREADY USING SOME OF THE STUFF I LEARNED, WITH HIM…”
“It’s funny you should say that because at school, I have this teacher, Mr. Breen, who reminds me of my Mom. He gets angry fast and suddenly with our class. I think, I’m already using some of the stuff I learned from dealing with Mom, with him, in my class.”
“Would some of what are learning from your Mom be useful with Ms. Chittack, as well?” I asked her, wondering if she was making the links yet, in her own mind.
She paused before answering. Then, she replied, “With Mr. Breen, being a guy, it just seems easier to deal with him. But, with Ms Chittick, I kinda react without much thinking at all. It’s like I need to get my anger out.”
“Hannah, what subject does Ms. Chittick teach you?”
“Social Studies.” she replied.
“Is it important to you to get a good grade in that subject?” I asked.
“Yes it is. I need to get a good grade in every subject to do well this year…and I want to do we’ll again so I get another hug from Dad.” she said with a broad smile.
“So, you can see, if you take what you are learning from dealing with your Mom and Mr. Breen, and use it with Ms. Chittick, it could help you get those grades you want, eh?” I offered.
“I never thought about it that way before. That’s a great idea!” she said, making the link in her learning, and smiling again broadly with the accompanying flailing of her hands and sparkling of her eyes.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain, author
“…NOW, I KNOW WHEN, AND HOW, TO USE MY ‘FLIGHT” INSTINCT AS WELL.”
And, so began Hannah’s learning journey of uncovering, from her relationship with her Mom and teachers, the vital skills she needed for her future relationships with a lot of other people.
As we discussed this more, and brainstormed strategies for various situations, Hannah became quite skilled at protecting herself in hostile situations. As her skills grew, she was able to deal with her Mom’s challenges more effectively and also her teachers. She was able to realize and practice, separating herself, from her Mom’s problems. This enabled her to meet the demands of her life in a manner which protected her self worth and self confidence.
One day, Hannah summed up what she had learned with this comment,”Ken, I learned in my Life Sciences class that we have a ‘fight or flight’ instinct we use to deal with people who scare us. I use to use, only, my ‘fight’ instinct…but, now, I know when, and how, to use my ‘flight” instinct as well.”
“I am a danger to myself if I get angry. – Oriana Fallaci, author
UNTIL NEXT TIME…
Now you know, angering if often a mask for depressing. It is taking an offensive strategy to actually be defensive, and protect oneself. Where do you use fight instead of flight? Where do you need to use the other approach? Who, in your life, uses them on you? With this understanding, now you can deal with them more effectively, and when you do, you won’t regret it!
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