Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Controlling One’s Anger: Avoiding the Meltdown – Part One
This article discusses the personality profile of someone who lacks a healthy self esteem. I’ve written in the past about other aspects of self esteem and will send that information to anyone who requests it.
I recently spoke to several children regarding self control. Their lack of self control causes extreme behaviors. When they become frustrated, they let loose. They’ll scream and possibly throw things. They may even bang themselves on their heads. When their behavior is so extreme, it becomes difficult for them to work on improving themselves. The improvement is very slow. Every incident is so traumatic that it feels as if they’re not getting anywhere, causing them to lack confidence in the process. Although those were young children (not even in their teenage years) such behavior (without the head banging), is something I’ve also experienced with teenagers and adults.
There are two points worth mentioning about the dynamics of extreme behaviors in people. The first is that extreme behavior is generally the result of extreme faults. This may be obvious, but is worth mentioning. Such people are not “crazy”. They’re just experiencing emotions, and reacting to them more intensely than most of us would. Keeping this in mind makes it easier to approach them. We’re not dealing with monsters. We’re dealing with an exaggerated form of people who’re otherwise just like you and me.
The second is that for people to manifest extreme behaviors their natural life skills must be circumvented from their thought processes. People have many defense mechanisms to help them not only to survive, but to cope with life. These defense mechanisms tell them when it’s worth getting upset and to what extent. When people go beyond these, it’s generally due to one of two things. Either they have fewer life skills than most people have, or they’re subconsciously shutting down their life skills by telling themselves that they’re supposed to get upset. In the next few articles I’ll discuss many of these life skills.
Before I begin offering solutions on how to train children to react more rationally and calmly, it’s important to understand the four types of thoughts that go through the minds of children that overreact.
1) Children may become upset about an incident when they believe that others don’t appreciate the hurt that they feel. Sometimes they’re correct, but other times they’re incorrect. What they may not understand is that despite the fact that their parents, Rabbeim, and friends did not respond as they would have liked them to, these people do appreciate their pain. However, at that moment, there was nothing constructive that they could have done.
For instance, suppose classmates started fighting with them for no reason. It’s terrible to be “picked on” for no reason. Their parents may feel their pain more than the children can imagine. The parents may have even gone through the same experiences when they were children, making their understanding an emotional one. However, what should they have done? They could have spoken to the other children’s parents or their Rebbi. They can’t hit the other children, their parents or anyone else involved in the incident. These children often feel that revenge against the ones who hurt them is a sign of love on the part of the parent’s and, unless a disproportionate response is implemented against the perpetrators, they won’t believe that their parents understand or care.
The children feel that they must do something to let everyone know how much they suffered. They do this by not “letting go” of the incident. They complain, scream, and “go hysterical”. The parent’s see this as bad, or uncontrollable, behavior, and begin considering medication and other logical approaches. The parents and children, are not communicating and the result is a spiraling, worsening, situation.
When the anger continues unabated, a large concern is that what began as a lack of self control may end up as a dysfunction. The typical parental reaction is to become angry, or, at the least, to lose patience too quickly. However, they should be aware that the price they may have to pay for their inability to calmly handle this very difficult situation may be high.
The children must be made aware that the parents understand their pain, and that an unwillingness on their part to let go of the incident will sabotage any hope for improvement. They must also be made to realize, that by not allowing themselves to “let go” of the incident, they’re subconsciously reliving it over and over again. In the coming articles I intend to also explain how parents should go about making these children aware of their actions and effects.
2) Children may resent the parents request to improve their own character instead of punishing the real culprits. In their minds this is a distraction from the real issue and a gross violation of fairness. They believe that any attempt to divert efforts to the victims (themselves), is more “proof” that the parents don’t feel their pain and, what’s even worse, they believe that the parents feel that it was their children’s fault.
This places the parents in a catch-22 situation. They can demonstrate that they care, but then they can’t solve the problem, since caring (in the children’s minds), means that change is the responsibility of the perpetrators, and not theirs. Or they can ask the children to implement practical solutions. The problem with this is that it’ll cause the children to get angry at them, sabotaging an otherwise effective approach. The most difficult part of this catch 22 is that it frustrates the parents to such an extent, that they become contributing factors in their children’s anger, and they lose their calming, mentoring, role.
3) People (including children) react to situations based on their emotional interpretation of events and their logical interpretation. How much these will affect their conclusions depends on the individuals and the situations.
For instance, if a stranger publicly insults you, your logic may immediately conclude that the stranger must be a sick individual. At the same time, your emotions may be drawing the conclusion that maybe the stranger was right about what s/he said. In such cases, logic will usually have the final word.
However, this may not be the case if the insulting person was your friend. The hurt may be too much to bear and logic may be “thrown out the window”. The reaction may be all emotional; the person must be right. People who are highly emotional, sensitive, or just in a fragile moment, usually let their emotions draw the conclusion on which they act, even when the insulting person is a stranger.
Children who’re hurt will not be thinking logically. In their minds, thinking logically will “prove” that the pain isn’t very severe, lessening their need to have it felt by others.
To be continued…
© 2009 Rabbi Shmuel Gluck, all rights reserved
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