How to be Mad
If you're looking for clarity, inspiration, belly laughs and stress-free fun, a group of second graders is what you need. (Not in a creepy way, of course.)
As my girls groups usually do, tonight's discussion with my 7 year old friends got me motivated to write. Turns out, discussing complex things on a second grade level really makes you think about what you're saying and how you're saying it. It also turns out, that, being 23 isn't that much different than being 7 or 8, emotionally speaking. I'm guessing being angry at 23 is much like being angry at 36 or 53 or 75, don't you think?
I mean, doesn't it make sense that no matter how old or young we are, we all still feel hurt or confused, overjoyed or overwhelmed from time to time? The only difference with age is that when you're 23 (like me) you've probably been angry more times than a 7 year old. You've had more opportunities to be let down, more experiences that mix you up, more chances to swing and miss than a 7 year old. Nevertheless, age aside, we all sill have feelings, and as a former teacher turned mentor, anger is the number one emotion I've seen do the most damage, and it's because we don't know what to do with it. It's because when we are angry, we are not thinking straight.
In anger, we say things we don't mean, get physical beyond our true nature, make choices we wouldn't make otherwise. In the elementary school world, this looked like throwing a kickball at your friend at recess because she cheated in tag (like always), and in the "adult" world, it looks like passive aggressive snarky email responses or heavy words spoken at higher volumes than normal.
Still-- old, young, experienced or inexperienced, anger still seems to look, feel, and sound pretty much the same universally: tense, clenched, hot, painful, loud, sharp.
I asked my girls to raise their hands if they'd ever done something mean because they were angry. Literally zero think-time. They all raised their hands.
So it's fair to say that anger makes us do things we wouldn't normally do, right? They agreed with this, so I asked, "Well what should you do when you're angry? Is it okay to yell?" I kid you not, I can't make this stuff up, a girl answered, "Only if you're yelling throw me something mister!" (You might be from NOLA if...)
It's a fair question though: how do you be angry? What's the right way? What's the wrong way? It's perfectly fine to be angry. We're allowed. I think it's healthy, but if it causes us to do unhealthy things, we need to talk about how to be angry in a healthy way. And second grade is a great time to have that talk if you ask me. Take a look at "How To Be Angry," a short booklet I made for each girl to color and take home and, with highest hopes, use or remember the next time she gets angry.
1. Breathe. Just, freaking relax for a second. Don't even think, just inhale and exhale and let some time pass between incident and response.
2. Say how you feel and why. It seemed obvious to me that one would need to express how they felt in a given situation, especially if/when that situation involved a potential misunderstanding. No one can read your mind. It might seem obvious that what someone did was hurtful and therefore, you feel hurt, but the best place to start is with the basics. Say how you feel and why. It doesn't say "Blame someone" or "Tell the person what they did wrong." Just say, "I feel ______ because _____." And you can say, "I feel sad because you didn't ask me to play with you," or whatever. It's not like you aren't allowed to ever tell someone what they did. It's not your responsibility to always hold the blame on your shoulders. "I feel sad because I was wrong to expect you to ask me to play with you," might be true, but that's not why you feel sad in second grade. You feel sad because, damn, no one wants to play with you at recess!
This was legitimately one girl's example, and I asked her if she had ever told the other girls at recess how she felt, and she said no she hadn't. I said, "What if they think you just want to be alone?" She said, "Maybe they do!"
Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. Maybe our feelings have been misunderstood entirely. We will never know until we express them. Say how you feel and why.
3. Take a break and make a choice. Again, put some time between incidence and response. After you've spoken your feelings, step back and decide what you're going to do. Are you going to stay mad? Are you going to keep fighting? Are you going to bite your tongue and look at the bigger picture? Take a break and make a choice.
Of course, I think the anger process looks different for everyone, but across the board, we all struggle with our reactions when we're angry. Whether you're in 7 years old on the playground or 40 years old on hold with the cable company for the 15th time, anger is a thing, a normal thing, and it's a thing that's hard to deal with. Perhaps we could all use a little "How to be Angry" booklet to keep in our pockets.