Years ago, I worked for a company contracted to help injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Most had been injured on the job, even with all the safety precautions.
As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they attended a two-week all-day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact, some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a transformation of attitudes, mindset, and way of thinking.
It was always amazing to watch this metamorphous from hopelessness, despondency, and despair to one of possibility, expectation, and motivation.
A crowd gathered in the expansive home of a friend and colleague of my son. We were there to honor and celebrate his life.
After mingling and getting acquainted, we gathered in the spacious living room to share our stories about Don. One story I heard for the first time truly epitomized my son. Many people who gathered there that day used to meet regularly as a support group, where they encouraged each other as they endeavored to survive in a very tough industry, discussing potential and collaborative efforts on projects and their careers.
As I begin this Threads of Life series, I would like to give some background on why FOCUS is so important and why it is the name I chose for my company, my motto, and my website.
When my husband and I took early retirement from teaching in Oregon, we moved to northern Washington to build our dream home and spend time sailing in the San Juan Islands.
My husband joined a group of talented musicians who played in a local rehearsal band and I returned to teaching part time at Chapman University Extension Center. However, long evening class hours prompted me to leave the formal classroom for good and start giving workshops and classes in ADHD parenting, pain management, stress management and communication.
Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.
And the scene is set for more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by logic or reason can leave behind destroyed relationships and ruined lives. Left unrestrained, our lives can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.
Anger, like fear, is a great stressor when it becomes the norm for dealing with life’s problems.
As therapists, we see the effects of growing up in homes where anger is out of control. The wounds and scars run deep. Unless recognized, addressed, and changed, the patterns of behavior repeat themselves from one generation to another.
It’s okay to be angry. It is not okay to be aggressive.
You may have been led to believe that anger is never good and when you get angry you should quickly censure it. As I described in my earlier posts, anger has a purpose and we need to pay attention to what it is telling us.
Aggressive behavior often accompanies anger out of control, but anger and aggressive behavior are not necessarily synonymous. You can feel angry without being aggressive.
When we feel we have little control over our life and anger becomes our predominant way of resolving conflict or problems, it can lead to aggressive behavior.
Whether you are a man or a woman, understanding your feelings of anger and what triggers it is important. The inability to understand its origins can result in hostility, silent rage, or passive-aggressive behavior. Understanding and becoming accountable for our emotions allows us to assert ourselves responsibly.
Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It is neither bad nor good on its own. When managed and expressed appropriately, it can be an important ally and friend.
The energy that anger creates can help us make important changes. When used as a motivational force it gives us the motivation to change our lives for the better.
Left unchecked, however, it simmers beneath the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Anger then focuses on everything that is and has been going wrong in our lives. It keeps us from seeing anything good.
It is to our benefit to find out how we acquired an angry-aggressive habitual response before it becomes a wildfire that burns everything in its path.
Someone has wronged us or betrayed us. Anger rises. It simmers in our thoughts as we contemplate our revenge: “Just wait; I’ll get even with you.”
And we repeat to ourselves over and over the injustice of the situation, of how we were treated and why we didn’t deserve it.
What felt like a kick in the stomach the first time is repeatedly replayed as we continue to stoke the flames of anger, hurt, and betrayal until we have a raging furnace inside of us – our stomach churning into hard knots, chilling our bones.
Acceptance is a concept – a state of mind – a way of looking at life and problems. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance. It is a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.
Problems have a magnetic way of holding us in place. Like an insect caught on fly paper, we get stuck in the mess of it all and can’t see a way out.
Acceptance takes us out of the victim role and puts us in the administrator role.
It keeps us from playing the blame game where everything – from circumstances to people, parents, siblings, religion, God, whatever – are blamed for our inability to do anything.
Acceptance puts us in control of our responses regardless of what life throws at us.
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