“Anger is a big fat lie that doesn’t need to dominate us, it’s not what it says on the box.”
Josephine, single mother of four children, shares her personal experience with anger, starting from her early childhood of physical and sexual abuse, and how she has brought herself to a place where she no longer feels angry today.
“I was born into an ‘angry family’, anger was a theme. My mother had a lot of suppressed anger, rage even, at herself and the world for not being how she thought it should be. She had a lot of pictures around how the world should be ‘nice’ and how children should behave, by being nice and never shouting or making any trouble. Every day my mother was confronted by three children not fitting her picture. I was the loudest, so could always be heard over others, I stood out and always copped the brunt end. I felt like I was being picked on and couldn’t understand why.
Dad had anger too, but his was different, he didn’t try to hide it, it was very in your face. He hit all of us over his knee with his hand or the back of a brush. He didn’t try to be anything other than angry, his anger was very visible and physical. My mother used to say, ‘wait until your father gets home’, she built him up to be an ogre. I was terrified of him, he would ask ‘how have the children been today Mother?’, she would relay all the ‘bad’ things we’d done. Not being ‘nice’ was bad. My siblings and I were so full of joy just being with each other, our mother felt left out. We loved having fun, while our mother just wanted us to be quiet and ‘behave’. Being joyful was our biggest crime. The punishments lasted until I was 10 and too big to go over Dad’s knee. I would scream, punch, kick and run away. I was punished for this too by losing my pocket money.”
When did you realise that your situation at home was not ‘normal’?
“When I had my own children, I realised how important it was to never say ‘wait until father gets home’ and to rely on another person to carry out a punishment.
I was angry that I’d been physically abused by my Dad and sexually abused by members of my extended family. My Dad told me that when I was three I told him about my sexual abuse, and I got a beating for that. So, I put up with everything and told no one, I couldn’t tell my siblings as they would tell my mother.
As a parent I yelled at my children and smacked them as I thought this was normal. When the eldest of my four children was around 10, I read a book by Alice Miller where she shared what the impact of smacking a child has on their body. I was so devastated, on two levels, she was describing me, I was the outcome of how smacking gives children low self-worth, anger and depression. All the symptoms she described I felt and was inflicting the same behaviour onto my own children.
I suddenly understood why I was the way I was, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I said I would never smack my children again.
I never did smack them again, but I was so angry that the world wasn’t how I felt it should be. I didn’t buy into ‘nice’ like my mother, I just wanted people to ‘do as I said’.
During a session with a psychologist, I was sharing how very angry I was with a particular man, I had a great story to justify it, the psychologist asked me …
‘what if you’re not mad at him? What if all your anger is at yourself?’
I knew she was talking the truth, it was a bit of a shocker being confronted with this.
I was stunned and mad at all the choices I’d made. I could feel how the ‘game was up’, there was a big shift in my body. I needed to know what I could do if I felt anger again because I couldn’t imagine life without anger.
I knew I’d cut the anger, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with the man I was angry at, I was simply using him as a scapegoat to avoid looking at the choices I was making.
Now that the anger was cut, I could start taking responsibility. I started to understand that the outside world can’t make us ‘be’ any way at all, it’s always our choice.
Because I’d been angry for so long, just like a train can’t stop dead in its tracks when it’s going full pelt, there was going to be a lot of momentum coming behind me from all of my choices. The psychologist explained that it may seem like I’m angry, but it’s not my choice to be so anymore, so it’s not real. When I feel I’m ‘mad’, for whatever reason, I can look at the situation and say ‘it’s not real but just momentum’. I did just that, and it worked.
Anger tried to come up a lot, but I would use the simple steps and say to myself, ‘I’m not mad, I’m not angry’, and the whole feeling left my body. I was like a freight train slowing down until it came to a halt and there was nothing to grab hold of to sustain the anger.
I got to see that the root cause of all anger is deep sadness, hurt and frustration at our own choices and when we heal these underlying hurts, there is nothing to feed the anger. Our hurts can sit in a layer inside our body, the more we suppress them and push them down, the more anger comes out, it’s a form of protection. It’s very painful for most people to look at how hurt we are by life.
Learning to appreciate ourselves to the core of our being is so important.
I have learnt that we can choose to recognise that not only are we ok, but also, there is nothing wrong with us, we are so enough, we’re out of the stratosphere in ‘enoughness’.
In parenting my own children, I didn’t have miraculous answers or solutions to all the things I was confronted by, but there was one thing I never gave in on and that was I was never going to smack my children again. I knew yelling wasn’t the answer either. In fact, there are many subtle and not so subtle ways in which anger is expressed. I knew, for me, I needed to take responsibility for my behaviour. That’s the truth for all of us, because the impact of our behaviour on our children can be so long-lasting, but it’s never too late to change.
We are so extraordinary as parents, we have this gold within us, focussing on sharing the gold within is far more beneficial than getting angry.