Monday, February 4, 2013

When You Want to Punch a Wall

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
~Ephesians 4:26-27, NLT~

Frustration and anger are normal human emotions that play a part of every life without exception.  However, the dominance of these strong emotions vary from person to person.  Given the obstacles facing us, we parents of children with special needs seem to wrestle with these feelings more frequently than we would like.  
In our role as parents of these unique and precious children, we have many, many adversaries, and those adversaries can change over time.  First and foremost, we are doing battle with our child's diagnosis.  Learning to tame that beast, whether it be physical, cognitive or emotional is a lifetime pursuit.  The disease, disorder or injury angers us on so many levels, because it causes pain or limitations to a child we love, it derails life as we thought it would be, it causes financial trials, and it alters how others treat us.  Additional adversaries are usually people or systems that create stumbling blocks for us and those we love.  They may be relatives who don't understand or who aren't supportive, friends who let us down or make a thoughtless comment, educators who don't want to work with us as a team, doctors who belittle us or disregard our input on treatment, insurance companies that deny or delay claims, government programs that fall short; and the list could go on, and on, and on.

With all of this coming against us, it is so easy to be angry.  And much of our anger is righteous indignation or a valid frustration.  But if we are not careful, that anger can literally eat us alive as parents.  The amount of stress we can experience physically and emotionally when we are going to bat for our kids can not only cause us poor health, but it can also lessen  our credibility with those adversaries or persons we need to win over.

This is why we must learn to channel our anger in positive, beneficial ways, lest it control us.  Our health, our children's well-being and our personal reputation are all on the line. Here are some thoughts:
  • Find a physical outlet to express your anger.  Our family has a punching bag in the basement for our proprioceptive sensory seeker.  I picked up some ladies punching gloves to use this tool as an outlet for my times of extreme frustration.  It makes a good workout as well!  Other outlets I have heard recommended from doctors and other parents include things like running, twisting a towel, screaming into a pillow or throwing a ball.  Whatever you choose, know that physical exertion of some sort is a healthy release to the fight-or-flight hormones coursing through your veins in those frustrating times.
  • Write things down.  Yes, you can write the hate letters you want to send to people, and then burn them instead of sending them.  That is helpful, but it's not what I'm talking about.  As our Bible verse for the day conveys to us, Satan gets a foothold by clouding our thinking, which then causes us to act rashly.  Instead, ask yourself, What would make this situation better?  Write those things down in detail.  If your trouble is with the school, write down some creative solutions to work into your child's plan.  If it is with your doctor, detail what you want to see changed in treatment.  After all, you are the one paying the bill.  If your trouble is with relatives, perhaps write down a strategy for that person or person(s) that states, "We feel (blank) in this situation.  Would you please be so kind as to let us explain what we need from you?"  Try to provide a solution rather than just getting angry.  Keeping your cool is imperative.
  • Take some quiet time to calm yourself.  Even if it means setting an alarm to get up in the middle of the night or waking 30-60 minutes early in the morning, try sitting quietly to regain perspective.  When things are running red hot with emotion, it's easy to suddenly have a distorted view.  Sitting quietly for a time with our own thoughts, when we are not in the thick of the situation, can help us ask better questions of ourselves.  What are my options?  What's the worst thing that can happen in this situation?  Would it be the end of the world if I spent less time with this person?  What does my child and my family really need?  These are all helpful questions to mull over when we have less noise and rush.  The result can be helpful solutions along with a regained sense of control.
  • Humble yourself.  Remembering that you are an imperfect person just like everyone else is critical.  You make mistakes, so do others.  While we may not always feel like it, educating others and being lovingly patient with them is what Christ calls us to do.  In fact, it is our unique role as the parent of a child with special needs.  I have not perfected this myself.  However, I try to always be the first one to apologize and to banish the attitude that the world owes me something.  Another tact I have taken, especially when dealing with some poor customer service representative at an insurance company, is to open our conversation with the statement, "I just want you to know that you're dealing with a really angry customer right now.  I know it is not your fault.  I want to apologize in advance if I lose my cool with you during this conversation."  This seems to immediately deflate the tension and helps us to begin working on a solution.  And all of  these methods of humbling ourselves go a long way towards coming together for the benefit of our children and our families.
The journey of learning to tame our anger will more than likely last a lifetime.  With all that is required of us as special parents, we do ourselves and everyone around us a favor when we seek to continually improve.  When you want to punch a wall because you're so upset, what keeps you from doing it?  Of course, your hand will be hurt.  You may even put a hole in the wall.  The same is true of the emotions and the words that thrust out of us at these times.  Changing what spills out of us in these frustrating times will keep us from hurting ourselves and others.  God expects us to be angry, but He offers us more positive outlets that allow us to move through that emotion in a way that brings great pleasure and glory to Him.

PRAY:  Lord, there are so many times where I am just at the end of my rope.  Calm my anxious and irritated heart.  Help me to treat others the way I want to be treated.  And help me to put into action at least one of these ideas I read about today, so I can begin improving life for my family and I.

Footnotes:

  1. Ephesians 4:26 Ps 4:4.
Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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