Friday, August 29, 2014

Learning to Redirect Your Anger

The following is a guest post by a fellow traveler on the road of couples dealing with illness.  Helena Madsen is a wise woman who is the founder of Chronic Marriage whose mission is to help couples with chronic illness build extraordinary marriages.   Helena is a wife, mother, counselor, and writer who lives with Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy.  Get her free resource guide:  For Better or Worse: A Guide to Talking About Illness in Your Marriage.  

In this guest post, Helena offers perspective and advice about managing anger in your relationship.

If there’s one emotion that seems to surface repeatedly in marriages with chronic illness, it’s anger!

You’re angry at your illness and all that you’ve lost – strength, vitality, roles and routines and specific plans for the future. 
You’re angry at your spouse for not always understanding what you need.    
You’re angry that others view you as less dependable or competent because of your limitations. 
Your spouse is angry that his wife is no longer interested in sexual intimacy.
He’s angry that most of the household and parenting duties now fall on his shoulders.
He’s angry that he can’t alleviate your physical pain no matter how hard he tries. 
Both of you have plenty of reasons to be angry.

Anger is not bad.  It’s merely an emotion and a signal that something is uncomfortable, wrong, or undesirable. 

Unfortunately, many people do not process their anger well in the heat of the moment.  When you’re angry at the illness, you often rage at your spouse instead.  Misdirected anger causes you to wound the person you love the most – your mate. Repeatedly lashing out does two things – it weakens your relationship and makes you appear unsafe to your spouse. Both are tragedies. 

Is there a better way to handle anger over your illness?  Yes. 

The most effective way is to distance yourself from the illness.
By that I mean regard your illness as a distinct entity apart from yourself. View it as the third party in your marriage with its own needs and demands.

Marsha and Bob struggled with misdirected anger for years after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  Whenever Bob expressed any frustration with Marsha’s illness, Marsha interpreted it as a direct affront on her character.  The message she received was that she was somehow a failure or disappointment for having MS.  Feeling hurt, Marsha would unleash her anger on Bob who would then strike back. 

Neither Marsha nor Bob knew how to talk about the illness in a healthy way.  Most of the time, they chose not to talk about it until they got to the point where their pain was intense enough that it threatened to swallow them up. 

In counseling, they learned how to take a step back and view the MS as separate from themselves.  Their counselor suggested they view it as an uninvited yet permanent guest in their home.  This idea of a demanding houseguest who refuses to leave was so helpful to Marsha and Bob that they decided to give him a name - George.  Whenever one of them was angry or frustrated with the MS, they gave themselves (and each other) permission to express their true feelings about George.  It allowed them to remain true to themselves and yet not wound each other at the same time.    We may view naming an illness George as silly but for Marsha and Bob, it was effective.  They were at last able to separate their anger towards each other from the anger towards the MS.

What are some other helpful ways to avoid misdirected anger?

- Remember that anger is a secondary emotion

Anger isn’t the first feeling to come, although it’s generally the first one we express outwardly.  Wherever it surfaces, another emotion already existed.  Because emotions like rejection, loneliness and sadness are so strong and painful, we substitute anger because it makes us feel less vulnerable.   
We falsely believe that anger helps us feel in control when we’re feeling out-of-control and powerless.  The first question we need to ask ourselves when we feel ourselves getting angry is “What’s going on inside that’s making me angry?" To resolve your anger, you need to identify the root reason for it.    

Consider using the Anger ABCDs
The Anger ABCDs help you deal with your anger in a basic and easy-to-follow format:
1) Acknowledge that you're angry.  Don't deny it or stuff it; accept and acknowledge it.
2) Backtrack to the primary emotion.  Ask yourself: Why am I angry? What am I really feeling? What is the root reason for my anger?
3) Consider the cause.  Ask yourself: Who or what caused it to occur? Who or what frustrated me? Who hurt or wounded me?  What plans fell through?  What happened?
4) Determine how best to deal with it.  Ask yourself: How should I respond? What should I do? When? How?  

What role does anger play in your relationship and how do you handle it?


Julie said...

Thank you for sharing this. I love both of your blogs so much, I'm glad to see that you've found each other.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Thanks Julie. Glad I met Helena too