Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guilt in Parenting

By Matt W Sandford, LMHC

Let’s face it; if you have been striving to be a good parent, then you’ve felt guilt. Then again, if you’ve not been striving too much, it may also be from guilt. Either way, guilt and parenting seem to go hand in hand. But parenting guilt can be particularly heavy, more so than other types of guilt. Why is this? Because the stakes are higher, we tell ourselves. The fear of messing up our kids, or the belief that one already has done so, can be devastating to one’s emotional health, as well as damaging to the relationship with our kids. Let’s look at this in more detail and then I’ll offer some suggestions for freedom from this kind of guilt.

The Two Guilts: False Guilt and True Guilt

We’ve done something to our kids that we believe is wrong, or hurtful, or neglectful. Maybe you feel it as soon as it happens – like the times you overreact to misbehavior and yell, belittle, lecture, use sarcasm, withdraw love, or shame in some other way. Maybe you feel it when you observe the effects of your misdeeds, such as the time your son repeated a curse word he had heard you utilize, or if your child repeats one of your behaviors in their play with another child. Or maybe it relates to the times that you weren’t able to provide the love, support, encouragement or help that you wished you could?

When we violate our own moral code, we naturally feel guilt. But here’s the thing; our moral code is not completely accurate and trustworthy. Oh, you’ve probably got the basics: don’t lie, cheat, steal, or derive pleasure from someone else’s suffering. But you’ve also got layers of this other stuff: cultural expectations, generational teachings or conditioning, lots of unspoken roles and expectations from your family of origin, your own experiences and the bent of your personality. And that means you have assimilated a ton of stuff and rolled it all into your own hierarchy of personal expectations you place on yourself. That’s where this all gets tricky. Out of that mush come notions about how bad it is to be late to pick up your kids from daycare, how you should have your kids dressed appropriately for the weather, how firm your discipline should be, how you should feel if you blow it and how you should fix it when you do. The point is that these notions we come up with realistically fall somewhere on a scale between highly accurate and mostly off base.


Way off base            somewhat off base                              somewhat accurate                   highly accurate

I know you believe your guilt is accurate, meaning that you should be feeling badly that your daughter still picks her nose and shows her discovery to others. 

 I think it is fair to say that if you have done something legitimately wrong, guilt is an appropriate normal human response.  Let me give some guidelines for how to sort out if your guilt is appropriate guilt or if it isn’t, what is referred to as false guilt, and how to handle each one.

1.       True or False: The guilt is coming primarily from a sense of what I believe other people would say I should do or should have done, or directly from someone saying this ‘should’ – False Guilt

2.       True or False: The guilt is primarily coming from a memory of the way my parents did something or the attitude and expectations they had about something, usually involving a level of performance  – False Guilt

3.       True or False: I have done something that would violate the standards of an emotionally healthy, mature and gracious person that I know – True Guilt

4.        True or False: I have violated a clear principle from the Bible (not only someone’s interpretation, but something I believe is a clear teaching) – True Guilt

5.       True or False: I know in my heart that when I did this thing, I was motivated selfishly – True, but this is the trickiest one. Some people are programmed to view themselves such that they interpret almost everything they do as being selfishly motivated and feel guilty and ashamed almost all the time.  If that would be you, then this doesn’t apply to you. That’s because you have an issue with internalized shame, and I refer you to other resources to learn about this.  

What to Do with False Guilt                    

                If you identify that your guilt is false guilt, it means that you are feeling guilt you don’t need to be feeling. Maybe you were taught that something is wrong, but the teaching was either inaccurate, overstated, or maybe your interpretation was in error. Sometimes, letting go of this type of guilt is as simple as realizing that your guilt is misplaced or exaggerated. You talk through with yourself what a more balanced and accurate perception would be and you chose to accept this alternative way of viewing the situation. For instance, “Yes, it is unfortunate that I got lost on the way to the appointment and arrived late, but the person I was meeting was understanding and everyone makes mistakes sometimes.”

When it comes to parenting, people can feel guilty about all kinds of things: my child doesn’t know their numbers or letters yet; my child has a bruise because they got hurt playing; my child’s hair is not brushed or their shirt is on backwards; my child bit another child at daycare; or my child has a tantrum in Walmart. It would help to sort out one’s emotions as well as beliefs. In some cases, it may really be that I feel embarrassed about something – but that does not mean I did something wrong. I may feel worried or scared about what someone may think about me, but that is different from doing something worthy of guilt. When I sort this out in myself I can let go of the guilt aspect.

If you find that you feel guilt often and that you are having trouble changing your perceptions and letting yourself off the hook, then I would suggest that you may be struggling with shame underneath your guilt and would refer you to look into resources on shame.

What to Do with True Guilt

What about when my guilt is appropriate? Like the times I do something wrong and feel bad about it. Well, it’s kind of strange isn’t it? We often hold on to false guilt when we should let go of it and we often try to shake off true guilt when we would be better served by not being so quick to dismiss it. I’m not suggesting that we should wallow in it, but I believe God designed emotions for our good, including the uncomfortable ones.

So, what’s the good that comes out of feeling guilty?

Let me begin by explaining that this process can be done poorly or it can be done in a healthy way. I think that because we are familiar with the poor way, we are prone to avoid the process altogether. The poor way is basically to just feel bad about ourselves and focus on our badness – which leads to shame. This is not the goal of guilt, and it prevents us from learning anything or growing. The healthy way is to allow our guilt to direct us to see how our choices and actions have affected other people and how they offend God, and lead us to confession, empathy and restitution.

1.       Confession – I agree that what I did was wrong and realize why it was wrong. I acknowledge to the person I offended the wrong committed and I invite their forgiveness.

2.       Empathy – I listen to the offended party and learn about how I affected them – without defense or excuses.

3.       Restitution – Is there a way to make things right? Sometimes there is, like paying for something I broke, and sometimes there isn’t, at least not directly.

The point is that our guilt can lead us to develop more authentic and emotionally healthy relationships.

 Applying the Process to Parenting

Parents I think are some of the most notorious users of the poor way of dealing with their true guilt. Sometimes I suppose it is because we feel that our children are too young to go through the steps and won’t understand them. Some parents I think fear being open with their kids about their flaws, believing they will lose respect or lose control. You won’t. The truth is that the process is good – good for the recipient and good for the guilty party. So even if your kids are too young to understand, do it anyway. You will be building a healthy pattern for yourself so that you’ll be ready for when they can understand. Even if you think your kids will lose respect for you, try it anyway, knowing that you’ll be modeling to them emotional and relational health. It is about cultivating a heart that is open to others, which helps a heart to let go of guilt.

What If I’m Still Feeling Guilty?

There are times when we feel so badly about something, or the effect of our error has changed things, and we just can’t get over it. Our guilt has become regret. The problem: we can’t forgive ourselves and so we end up punishing ourselves as a form of penance. The only solution I see for this type of struggle is to go to God, the Father of compassion and the King of mercy. We’ve all fallen short and messed up. But if you believe you have messed up worse or more than others, then you probably aren’t going to God. You probably believe you are beyond His reach also. Remember that Jesus decided that the man who was leading the crusade against His followers was the one He chose to be His greatest missionary and the writer of a lot of the New Testament (Paul). Remember how Jesus responded to Peter’s denials – by seeking him out to reinstate him as leader of the movement in John 21. Think about how, by not forgiving yourself, you are rejecting the forgiveness that God has offered through Christ.

Yes, there may be consequences of your error that are terribly difficult to accept. In that case, letting go of your guilt involves the process of grieving. I would encourage you to pursue learning about grieving and begin to work through it.

The Wrap Up

The prospect of parents being increasingly able to identify their guilt, and work through it effectively will be highly significant and impactful to their children. Imagine training your children to be able to free themselves from false guilt, learn how to resolve their true guilt and not wallow or drag themselves into despair and regret. Imagine all that you would have prepared them for in terms of emotional and relationship health by modeling this for them. I don’t know about you, but that’s motivation enough for me!



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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Three Truths About Stress & The Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Manage Stress

Laura Hull, LMFT

Coping Coach

Stress.  It’s that six letter word that we blame when we feel burned out, “under the gun,” like we’re racing the clock.  Life is demanding for most people.  The things in life that require our time, our focus, our patience, can usually be labeled and categorized under the heading of “stressors”.  Stress usually gets a bad rap.  Stress isn’t a bad word.  Stress isn’t necessarily even a bad thing. Here are some truths about stress:


·         Stress isn’t “all-bad”.  In fact, it could be argued that we need a little stress in our lives to give it structure.  Stay with me here – think about it.   Meeting deadlines for work or for paying bills, arriving at designated times to work or social events, taking on extra activities such as PTA, becoming a coach for our children’s t-ball team…. these commitments certainly add stress to our lives, but it also gives structure to our lives and our time. Sometimes we get ourselves in trouble, or “stressed out” by over-committing.  The difference between stresses that are good for us versus bad is often determined by our ability to maintain balance in our lives.


·         Some people handle stress better than others.  This is a fact of life.  Some people thrive under the stress of deadlines, packed kids schedules, and the expectation of a hot meal being on the stove every night when the family finally piles around the kitchen table after a fully packed day of activities. Still, others start the day with debilitating anxiety when they consider the stress of the upcoming day and the daunting task of addressing everything that needs to be done.  Whether we are people who thrive under pressure or buckle under the weight does not necessarily mean we are strong or weak people.  It does not determine our worth or value to our jobs or our families.  But some people process the stresses of life better than others.  Acknowledging this fact does not mean that people who function like the energizer bunny are happier people or that people who feel the effects of stress more than others are doomed to be unhappy.  Not at all!  But understanding where we fall on the spectrum allows us to develop or obtain the skills and/or tools we need in order to manage the stresses in our lives, and perhaps adjust expectations concerning what we can and cannot handle.


·         The inability to manage stress will negatively impact us, potentially in physical, mental, emotional or spiritual ways.  Some people eat too much when under stress, causing unhealthy weight gain.   Some people internalize stress in ways that cause sleep problems, perhaps even high blood pressure and stress headaches.  Some people have mental issues that are exacerbated by stress, which causes anxiety and depression.  Some people cannot experience peace, joy and happiness because of the stressors in life.  Some people forget to turn to God when life becomes overly demanding, and they stumble in their faith, in their walk with God.


So, we can all acknowledge that we experience stress in our lives.  And if we were being totally honest, most of us would concede that managing stress is a challenge at times.  Now that we’ve acknowledged this, what can we do to make the stresses in our lives work to our advantage or at least be a more neutral factor in our lives?  Here are three things that are a must for managing stress:


  1. Take a hard and honest look at where time is being invested.  Jobs and extra activities can take much, if not most, of our physical and mental energy.  Is our commitment in this area negatively impacting our marriages or our family unit?  Time is our greatest asset in life.  Where we put our time is where our heart is, even if we protest differently.  I am not speaking to those of us who work two or three jobs just to put a roof over our heads or food on the table for our children.  I am speaking to the executive who works 70-80 hours a week, missing birthdays, soccer games, school plays, anniversaries, etc.  If we say that family is the priority but we give the family the “leftover time” after the demands of our jobs (or more honestly, our ambitions) are met, we are fooling ourselves if we think we are managing the demands and stresses of life well.   If we are working to pay for a Lexus because we don’t want to drive a Hyundai; if we are working insane hours to pay for that luxury cruise instead of working that much out of the need to put food on the table; if the desire to be an executive is more important than being there for our spouses and children, we are missing the mark.  We will not have the marriage we could have or the relationship with our children that we could have if we function this way.  In the same vein, parents who over-commit their families to activities that continuously drain from quality family time are missing the mark as well.  Strained marriages and distant relationships with our children or other family members are just as stressful as having money problems, if not more.  We must take an honest look at our lives and ourselves and make changes in areas where we are not managing our stresses well.


  1. Narrow our world and simplify our lives.  Some stresses in our lives are unavoidable, but some totally are.  It may be time to eliminate things in our lives that require time or money that we just don’t have.  Maybe tightening our belts and adjusting our monthly budget will allow for fewer hours spent on work and the stresses of bills.  We also must learn to say “no”.  Just because we are offered the opportunity to be a part of something does not mean it’s wise to always say yes, even if it seems like a good opportunity.  Maybe it is time to limit our children’s after school activities to one activity or sport per season instead of trying to expose our kids to many different experiences at once. Maybe we need to take a whole season off and “do nothing” for a short while. Our children experience stress in similar ways to adults.  When their time is over-committed, when they do not have “down time” built into their schedules, they experience many of the same physical and emotional ailments that adults do.  While we are trying to learn to live more balanced lives, we need to teach our children these lessons as well.  They will have their whole adult lives to work hard and experience stress.  Children certainly need to see and learn about the importance of a good work ethic, but they also need time to just be kids.  Life will teach them all about stress soon enough.  If they watch Mom and Dad struggling with the stresses of life in negative ways, they will be learning lessons that they will one-day mirror in their own lives.  This is probably not a good thing.


  1. Acceptance.  We can never be totally free of stress in our lives.  We must accept this fact or we will be continuously banging our heads against the wall in frustration.  Some things in life we cannot change.  For example, some health issues are outside of our control and bring considerable amounts of stress into our lives.  Is it fair that a 40-year-old mother of two young children is diagnosed with breast cancer?  No.  But the fairness of it is not worth pondering.  It is a major stressor in life for her and her family, and dealing with what must be done to address her health and the well-being of the family is the priority.  Unforeseen things such as debilitating illnesses or accidents or perhaps a sudden job loss, introduce stresses into life in ways that are unavoidable much of the time.  Sometimes situations with our extended families, close friends, or even our children, brings headache, heartache or buckets-full of stress into our lives that we have little control over and little hope of changing.   If we are fortunate enough not to contend with these types of things in our own lives, then praise God!  But even if we do end up dealing with these types of situations, still, praise God.  We always need Him, but it seems like we remember it more in times of trouble, perhaps more than in times of prosperity.  It shouldn’t be this way, but often is. 


With God’s help, we can learn to apply the serenity prayer to our lives, in this case pertaining to the stresses in life that challenge our ability to live the lives God wants for us.  Through Him we have the courage to change the things we can, the serenity to accept the things that can’t be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.



How to Break Down S.T.R.E.S.S.

Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

Stress! The mere sound of the word can conjure up feelings of uneasiness, just knowing there is something tied to it that is unpleasant. So let’s take a minute to examine the word and find a way to fight stress with S.T.R.E.S.S. Stress is often unavoidable in life, so like many other things, it cannot be fully eliminated but it can be managed effectively if appropriate steps are taken.

Stress is a natural reaction to a perceived threat, fear and excessive worry. If it goes on too long and turns into chronic stress, it can begin to impact our overall health both physically and mentally. Below is acronym for S.T.R.E.S.S. on how to help manage it and make life a little bit easier. While it may be impossible to eliminate stress altogether, getting a handle on it can be a good start.

S. - Slow Down. Don’t try to do too much too fast. A great stress producer is trying to do too much in too little time. Take smaller steps and just do one thing at a time to slow down the pace. The idea is not to bite off more than you can chew. If your life seems overwhelming, it might be time to throw some things out, delegate responsibilities and not be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues to lighten the load.  

T. - Task Management. A technique for managing tasks is to sit down the night before and write out a list of 10 items to get done the following day. Don’t fret if all of the tasks are not finished. Additional stress can often be created by trying to meet unrealistic self-induced demands. Have a stop time, let it go and let the remaining items roll over to the next day. Add them to your list of next 10 items.

R. - Relax. Find a way to relax by creating a distraction. After the task list has been put down for the day, find something else to do. For example, read a book, journal, call a friend, go for a walk, go fishing, spend time with a pet, or meditate on God’s word. Creating a distraction from what is racing through our minds removes the burden of those things. Christ gave us a great example about worry and over-thinking things in life in Matthew 6:25-34. Basically, the idea is to let yesterday go - tomorrow has enough problems of its own - and just focus on today.

E. - Exercise. We don’t all like to do it, but exercise can be a great way to get away from everything and it releases healthy feel-good chemicals such as endorphins. Get creative as sometimes going to a gym can get monotonous. Walk, ride a bike, rent or borrow a kayak and spend part of the weekend out on the water. Exercise doesn’t have to be about getting on a machine and hammering out a routine, it can also be fun and relaxing.

S. - Source it. Find out where the stress is coming from and deal with it at the root source. Ask probing questions about the validity of the stress, such as what purpose is it serving and what can realistically be done about it? What is going to be achieved as a result of stressing? If it can be realistically changed, think of ways to change it (think management) in order to reduce the stress.

S. - Serenity Prayer. Sometimes the serenity prayer can be a real sanity saver in the long run. To be able to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Lift those things in your life that cannot be changed up to God. Christ says His burden is light. Offer up the stressful things to God and let go.

The idea of managing stress is to control it rather than have it control us. When we become subjected to things in life that create stress, we take on unnecessary worry, doubt, fear and the feelings of loss of control in our lives. Take a look at the big picture, slow down and think about ways to reframe how your life is being lived out.

How to Eliminate Stress From Your Life Without Taking a Yoga Class or Changing Your Schedule in 10 Steps

By Chris Hammond

Have you ever Googled “eliminate stress” only to find a long list of impossible tasks from people who obviously don’t have a job and aren’t married with kids?  My personal favorite ideas were to quit work (really? because last time I checked you work to earn money to care for your family and quitting work would add considerable stress to your life), have an open schedule (this is laughable as my schedule is almost entirely dictated by my kids’ activities), and avoid difficult people (yes, that is really possible when you work with difficult people all day long).  You already know that you need to reduce the stress in your life but having ridiculous suggestions about how to go about it only increases stress and gives you the impression that reducing stress in your very busy life is impossible.  It’s not.

Here are a few suggestions that have been tested and proven to be effective by very busy people like you.

1.       Know where you are going.  As silly as it sounds, having goals for each area of your life actually reduces stress.  For instance, if your goal with your teenage son is to help him be a self-sufficient adult who is not stuck playing video games on your sofa at age 25 then you have a goal.  With that goal in mind, he should be making his own meals, taking care of his own laundry, and working at a part-time job.  Doing this process for each area of your life makes decisions easier and less stressful.

2.       Stick to your plan.  Using the teenage son example, you will undoubtedly be met with stiff resistance on his part as you enforce the new direction.  This is good.  As a parent, your responsibility is to teach your child to become a functional adult; it is not to be their friend (hopefully that will come much later).  By remembering your goal, sticking to it and serving out consequences for not following the plan, you will reduce more stress in the long run but not the short run.

3.       Set realistic expectations.  Just because you spent all day cleaning the floors of your house does not mean that anyone will even notice.  If you clean the floors expecting gratitude or praise then you are likely to be disappointed.  Instead, decide that you like the floors clean and you are really cleaning them for yourself.

4.       Monitor your thoughts.  This is a biggie for most women as thoughts tend to run rampant and one strange phone call can leave you replaying it for hours, if not days.  Give yourself the two times rule.  You are allowed to replay a conversation two times; any more than that, you need to distract yourself and move on.  Think about it for a second: when was it ever productive to waste a bunch of time obsessing over something that you can’t change?

5.       Be your own best friend.  Your inner dialogue should be as kind to yourself as you are to your best friend.  Would you ever look at your best friend and call her “stupid” for making a mistake at work or call her “fat” for eating a piece of chocolate cake or call her “loser” for missing an appointment? Of course not!  So stop doing this to yourself. 

6.       It’s ok to say “no”.  Mommy guilt runs strong and powerful especially when you are working and you know that your kids don’t have your undivided attention.  This means that some activities will conflict with work, forcing you to say the dreaded “no” word.  It’s ok, you are not in this alone and it is good to teach your kids that they can’t get everything they want when they want it.  Remember the bigger picture.

7.       Don’t lie.  It is very tempting to play God and believe that you know what someone else is thinking and can make someone feel better by telling a little lie.  But lies have a strange way of catching up to you and creating much bigger problems and stress in the end.  So make a habit of being truthful even if it might hurt someone’s feelings.

8.       Set boundaries in your life.  Boundaries are like walls which are very useful; after all, who wants to watch you in the bathroom at work (ok, I admit that visualization was a bit over the top but highly effective)?  Here are some practical stress-reducing boundaries: don’t answer your phone when it rings, check email only three times a day, non-emergency communication gets an automatic 24 hour wait before responding, and limit social media stuff to once a day.

9.       Choose OCD behaviors wisely.  Some OCD tendencies are rather useful such as always putting your keys or purse in the exact same place every day.  This eliminates the mad dash to find things.  But other OCD behaviors are not useful, such as needing to wash your hands 50 times a day or cleaning obsessively with bleach.  Get help for the behaviors that you need to change and embrace new habits that are time savers.

10.   Work on you, not everyone else.  In the end, you are only responsible for yourself. (Yes, there are those kids of yours but they are already responsible for some of their behaviors and most likely need more, not less, responsibility.)  When you take time to work on your own issues instead of pretending they don’t exist, you will find more energy.  After all, you can’t give what you don’t already have.

Reducing stress in your life does not have to be about taking a yoga class, changing your schedule, exercising more and eating healthy.  These are all external things, not internal things. And while these things certainly have their place, the best place to start is in your mind. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Strategic Coaching Questions to Create Success

By: Dwight Bain
Questions - they change our lives. Jesus the Master teacher continually asked questions. Here are strategic questions covering the key areas of life to keep you sharp as a coach, or to use in challenging the thinking of your coaching clients.
Faith–No matter your current spiritual state, growing your faith is an essential part of a successful life. What goals do you need to set to develop your spiritual core?

Family– Is your family on course? Are you communicating, spending quality time together, and working as a team? No family is perfect. Talk to each other about what needs improvement in your family life.
Finances–When is the last time you evaluated your finances? Do you have a budget? Is your budget for this year in line with your obligations? Most people ignore this area, or just fight about it. Take time now to review your spending, create additional saving, speed up debt service and don't neglect the importance of charitable giving. God has blessed you; remember to bless others.
Friends–Frank Minirth, MD says if you have even one good friend you will never need a psychiatrist. What are you doing to deepen your friendships? Are you waiting on them to call you, or following the teaching of scripture that if you want a friend, reach out and be a friend. Don't wait, someone needs you to call them today.

Feeling – Are you managing your moods, or are your emotional moods managing you? Remember that the greatest form of control, is self-control. If anger, anxiety or stress are stealing your energy seek out a skilled counselor to help you break out of the cycle of feelings blocking your growth. After you stabilize emotionally you will be stronger are better equipped to work on your coaching goals.
Career–How is your career? Do you believe you are on track with your career goals at this stage of life? What new skills do you need to develop? Are you on track? If not, who can coach you to get back on track?
Physical - Do you take care of everyone else and neglect your own health? Have you been keeping up with your own medical care, having regular medical and dental check-ups? Do you get enough rest? How about diet and exercise? Remember, if you don't take care of yourself, no one else will. The Bible teaches your body is a temple. Take better care of it.
Environment– You live in a home, is it a safe and peaceful place? Home should be the safest place, so before you seek to protect the environment on the other side of the world, start with your own house. Closets, garage, backyard. Make your personal environment better and you will feel better. Try it.
Recreation–Taking time out for personal leisure will keep your creative energy high. Finding time to hike, ski, kayak, bike or swim will keep your brain, and your body sharp. What can you do this week to re-create some positive energy from nature? .
Projects– Want to move your career and life forward? Get a notebook and map out your personal and professional projects, and then get a coach to keep you accountable toward continued growth.
Travel–How long has it been since you had a change in scenery? Across the street or across the globe making plans to travel a bit will broaden your perspective. Learning from new cultures and creating new experiences will give you a greater world-view. Where can you visit this month? What about conferences or mission trips? There are many ways to get out and see the world… get started.
Volunteer – Are you connected to your community? Do you volunteer with organizations or charities you believe in? When you are invested in your community, or causes that matter your sense of personal worth will increase, and you may make some wonderful friends while making a positive difference in your community.
Finally consider -
· What areas will you devote more time and energy to for greater results?
· What areas would be best to ignore since they are distractions or time wasters?
· What three things could you cut out of your week to find time to accomplish the goals that will make you more successful?
About the author-Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He serves as the executive director of the International Christian Coaching Association. ICCA posts continually to add greater value to you as a coach; follow our updates at http://www.Twitter.com/CoachAlliance

Thursday, March 07, 2013

What Are You SO Angry About? 3 Steps to Identifying the Roots of Anger

By Matt W Sandford

Do you ever have trouble figuring out why you’re angry or where it came from? You thought you were doing fine just minutes ago and then something provokes you and you maybe lash out, attack back, get snide or sarcastic, lecture somebody, insult them, grumble and gossip, plot revenge, or even fume or pout quietly. Anger has many looks and shades to it. How are you at even identifying when you are angry?  It is quite difficult to sort out the causes and meanings of our anger if we aren’t able to be aware of when we are experiencing it.

Step one: Identifying Anger

Maybe you have trouble identifying anger because you don’t want to believe you are getting angry, or you really don’t want to see how often you do. Maybe you believe that anger is bad or wrong? Some people do. Maybe you deny your anger because you are afraid of it or what you may do, or what people will think of you? This is also common. Maybe you see it as embarrassing or losing self control? Maybe you had experienced being on the receiving end of anger and told yourself that you would never be angry like that? So what do you do when you find yourself doing the exact same thing? You either justify it or re-label it. In other words, you either focus on the external cause and blame your poor reaction on that, or you find a way to make it something else; something more acceptable. You may convert your anger into passive aggression, grudge holding and revenge, or with women in particular, maybe convert anger into tears. Another way to convert anger is to somaticize the emotions, which means converting them into physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, digestive problems, high blood pressure, or fatigue.

Re-labeling or converting anger into something else - hereby avoiding it- only exacerbates the problem and doesn’t help to learn about the source of the anger, how to address it and manage emotions in healthy ways. Identifying anger simply means sifting through all methods of avoidance and being willing to say – “I am angry.” Becoming a less angry person sometimes actually involves a process in which you first appear to get angrier. You’re not really getting angrier, but it will seem that way as you become more aware of the anger you already have. The idea is to be able to do this without recriminations. You may feel guilty about how you reacted, especially if you unfairly threw someone under the bus. In that case, the guilt would be appropriate. However, the reality of feeling anger and owning it is the goal here.

Step Two: Getting Underneath The Anger

Anger is considered a secondary emotion. What that means is that anger usually is representative of another emotion behind or underneath it. Now that you have identified that you are angry, rather than squash this unwanted emotion, play detective and follow the trail back to the source or the root. Remind yourself that the anger is telling you something about what is going on inside of you emotionally. To the degree that you don’t understand the root or meaning of your anger is the degree to which you will be unhappy and disgruntled throughout your life.

This can be hard work, but it really will be worth it in the end.

How does one get underneath the anger?

1.       Ask yourself good questions about the meaning of your anger. What is it about what that person said or did? Seek descriptive words or metaphors to parse out your feelings.

2.       Think back through your thoughts or perceptions concerning the event. How did you interpret the situation? Did you perceive an attack, or a slight? Did you feel rejected or misunderstood? Did you begin to go through worst case scenarios in your mind?

3.       Try to recall times when you felt similarly to help you identify the meaning.

4.       If you get stuck or come up blank, seek out a safe, trusted friend to help you talk it out and ask you probing questions.

Two common links to anger are hurt and disappointment. But since these are perceived as vulnerable or weak feelings, we are conditioned in our society to hide such feelings. One way in which we hide them is to convert them into anger.

Step Three: Live Authentically

In Brene Brown’s Book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she refers to courage and she explains that the word originally meant to “speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” 1 The author goes on to describe elements that are so important to becoming more authentic and emotionally healthy, and this notion of courageously being vulnerable leads the way. The thought process goes something like this:

Now that I have delved in and found out that there is something underneath my anger, something that’s often more vulnerable – like disappointment, loss or hurt – I don’t like that much. Now, I’m rather mad at that guy who wrote that article about anger! However, now I understand why I gravitate to anger.

Anger feels safer and less painful than feeling one’s vulnerability. But the cat is now officially out of the bag. You can either move forward and address the “underneath stuff”, or you could go back and keep utilizing anger to cover up those things. One way leads to reduced anger and irritability and resentment and a better you. You already know which one is which.

Strangely enough, just acknowledging your “underneath stuff” actually helps. Being honest with yourself about your hurts is the first step to healing them. Honesty matters. It means you are evaluating your heart. Next, dare to evaluate your heart with input from others. Yes, it is risky. Not everyone will respect your vulnerability but there are indeed some people who will. Be wise in identifying the latter. Living authentically with those who respect us brings healing to our hurts and losses.

The Wrap Up

None of the steps above are easy. If they were, we wouldn’t be such an angry, disgruntled culture. We are constantly challenged to swim upstream against the tide of our culture. Many people don’t like being vulnerable because of the misconception that vulnerable people are weak and looked down upon and are at risk of being trampled by the strong. In reality, vulnerability is strength and those who lack it are intimidated by it because it exposes them and shows who they truly are. So it is mocked and regarded as weakness. This is like a dictator fearing that the people will figure out that if they rise up, they will have more power than him. Personal maturity, emotion health and spiritual maturity are not celebrated by the world in general. God tells us not to be surprised by this in the Biblical book of I Peter. Jesus himself was not respected by the masses. But those who choose to get to know you will appreciate you better and you will be freer, more patient and more at peace. In the end you may discover that becoming less angry may make you less popular with some people, yet happier and more content with yourself.


1. Brown, Brene’, The Gifts of Imperfection (Center City, MN. Hazelden, 2010), 12.



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Feeling Angry? Try Being More Assertive!


Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH


It may sound contradictory for an angry person to be more assertive, however being more assertive can help release built up anger. Anger is a normal emotion and we all experience it at one time or another. However there are times when we have a tendency to hold things in regarding issues in life such as a perceived injustice or the lack of boundaries. When anger goes unexpressed for too long it can turn inward, manifesting in resentment and compulsive behaviors. It is not uncommon for anger held on to for long periods of time to turn into depression. Other symptoms of mismanaged anger can be strong use of sarcasm, isolation, substance abuse, relationship problems and a general sense of the loss of self. Anger manifested outwardly is much more obvious. It appears as rage directed at inanimate objects, e.g. road rage and yelling or becoming abusive toward others.

Since anger is a common emotion, the idea of dealing with it is not to eliminate it, but to learn how to manage it. One common way is to learn how to be more assertive which is different than being aggressive. Being assertive is about expressing thoughts and feelings toward someone else in an open manner that fosters dialogue. Being aggressive is about dominance and trying to control someone or a situation in a more hostile way, usually as a monologue directed at someone. When anger becomes such a problem that it has a strong negative effect on others, or leads into self-destructive behaviors, then it may be time to get help.

How Assertiveness Releases Anger

In a metaphorical sense, anger directed at us is like a balloon being filled with air. Destructive anger is like the balloon that has been filled to its breaking point and then it explodes. With constructive anger, the balloon takes in some of the air, and then some of the air is let back out releasing the tension and preventing a blow up. This is the idea of being assertive; we do not take and take until we explode, we breathe in and breathe out. This is the boundaries part where some assertiveness training could come in handy on learning how to be more expressive with others. This often takes a little practice and getting used to, if being assertive and expressing yourself is something you are not used to. It follows the old cliché along the lines of “it’s not necessarily what we say, but how we say it” that matters. What will happen over time is this constructive outward flow back toward others provides a sense of empowerment and well-being that relieves stress, anxiety and, most importantly, anger.

If you find yourself struggling with trying to manage the more destructive anger and wanting to react in a negative way, there are a few techniques that you can use to help. The first is to ask yourself what you are reacting to and what exactly it is that is pressing your buttons. Once this is identified, begin to challenge it by asking how important it is to react this way, or are the feelings appropriate to the perceived threat? This can be a lead-in to the next thought challenge by asking “am I over-reacting to something? “ Other thought challenges include looking at how a situation is perceived, assuming the worst or thinking that someone meant harm when they really didn’t mean any harm at all. Think realistically: what outcome will my anger have on the situation?

When all fails and the anger still cannot be resolved, get away from the source of the anger. Think about the color blue to calm yourself and breathe in and out slowly while counting to 10 or 100 if necessary. Even better, if you are able to get outdoors to a place such as a park or lake to take a slow walk, do so. Remember, this is about managing anger. Being assertive with others and expressing our thoughts and feelings can go a long way in preventing tension and anger from building up inside.

How Fear Fuels Obsession

By Chris Hammond

Have you ever felt as though you were doing everything you could, yet no matter how hard you tried, things got worse and worse?  Are you caught in a trap that leaves you feeling helpless, frustrated and discouraged?  Do you find that your behavior, which you believe is careful and cautious, is perceived by others as obsessive and often repels instead of drawing them closer?  Certain emotions such as fear can add fuel to an obsessive cycle that leaves you feeling trapped and out of control.

It all starts with a painful event such as abuse by a relative, abandonment by a friend or rejection from a job.  Each of these events can spark fear directed at another person for their part in the event or directed at you for failure in handling the event properly.  This feeling of fear is uncomfortable so you counteract it with a desire to over-control yourself, others or your environment.  So you turn to the obsession of your choice: cleaning, checking, washing, excessive order, repeating the same conversation, repetitive thoughts, hoarding, perfectionism, reassurance seeking, rituals or counting.  Other people in your life don’t like your obsession so they in turn withdraw from you.  You are now confused by their response as you were just trying to avoid the fearful or anxious feelings.  This in turn results in another painful event such as a fight, more distance in relationships or further loss.

Acknowledge.  The first step to stopping the crazy cycle is acknowledging that you are repeating the same behavior over and over.  You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge.  So admit it.  You are doing the crazy cycle.  This is not the time to blame others for the reason you are doing the crazy cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for your own crazy behavior.  Everyone is responsible for their own behavior.  This may be a new concept to you as our culture is quick to blame others, parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations for bad behavior.  But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking.  You are responsible for your own behavior.

Stop at Fear.  There is nothing wrong with feeling fearful.  The Bible acknowledges that you will be fearful but you don’t have to control the fear by becoming controlling.  Whether you are acting scared, anxious or fearful or avoiding those feelings by being controlling, fear is still controlling your behavior.  It is OK to be fearful when you are hurt, when someone hurts you, or when someone hurts someone else.  Just don’t take it to the next step and become controlling; rather deal with the fear by confronting how you feel and taking responsibility for the actions that follow.  Just saying the words, “I am fearful or anxious but I’m going to act responsibly” can transform that out-of-control feeling to one of control.

Know Your Obsession.  What is your obsession of choice?  More than likely you have more than one obsessive behavior.  Not all of the obsessive behaviors are listed so taking an inventory of your go-to obsessions is extremely helpful.  Many times you will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the fearful emotion to the obsessive behavior because you have developed a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs.  In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell.  Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate.  You have done the same thing with your obsession.  You no longer need to feel fear to justify the obsessive behavior; rather you go straight from the painful event to the obsession.  If you know your obsessive behaviors, you can trace backwards to the fear anytime you feel the desire to become controlling and stop it from going any further.

You can take responsibility for your own behavior and stop the crazy cycle from destroying your life.  You do not have to be a victim of your obsessions or continue to allow painful events determine how you will respond.  Remember, if you make a mistake along the way and slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around, no matter what others around you say.  Who you are is NOT defined by your mistakes.  Who you are is defined by your character which can be shaped by your mistakes only if you let it.