You can feel it creep up, starting at your feet. Someone leaves his shoes in the hallway and you nearly trip over them as you carry a laundry basket to the washing machine. Another forgot to flush the toilet AGAIN. That feeling is at your knees now. You’re starting to stew. A bill you forgot to pay now has a late fee. Homework was left on the counter and the bus just pulled away. Your lips are pursed. Breathe, you tell yourself. Breathe.
Then, later in the evening, you’re cooking dinner, already angry, knowing they’ll gripe about what you’ve made, and you’re shot in the back with a nerf gun.
You explode. You throw your spatula in the sink, rip the nerf gun out of your son’s hands, and feel hot flames come out of your eyes.
Then, you see his sunken shoulders. He slinks away, wondering why Mom can’t just be fun sometimes.
I remember growing up and seeing my mom boil over. Huffing and puffing in frustration as it was never all done—she was never done. And then, finally, she’d snap. Over a pile of dirty laundry. Or a wasted dinner we refused to eat. What was the big deal?, I’d think. I didn’t understand why she cared so much whether the beds were made before we left the house or the kitchen was clean. But, holy shit, do I ever get it now.
Have you ever wondered why so many of us moms are angry? Why Dad can swoop in after a long day at work and be cheery and fun and toss them up in the air and all you can think is, don’t rile them up! It’s almost bedtime! Why does it bother us so damn much that, even though they are having a tickle fight or playing catch, making joyful childhood memories, that no one ever hangs up their freaking coat? Or puts their shoes on the shoe rack?
It’s tiny transgressions—small little moments throughout the day that seem like personal slights, insults even, and they build and build until the volcano explodes. I know why my mom lost it from time to time, because I do it now too. Why are we so enraged?
Well, here’s the truth: because that emotion comes from a place of hurt.
Did you know that about anger? That it’s actually a sign of something else? According to Psychology Today, anger is “almost never a primary emotion.” The article goes on to explain that this emotion often has different primary feelings underlying it, such as “feeling disregarded, unimportant, devalued, and powerless,” among others.
Doesn’t that make so much sense? It’s because we feel unappreciated, disregarded, and frankly, invisible sometimes, that we end up spitting fire at our loved ones.
I work hard every day to keep my house remotely presentable to the outside world, cook healthy meals to fuel our bodies, and wash, dry, and hang up everyone’s clothes so they can all get dressed in the morning. I scrub the toilets and fold the blankets and vacuum the rugs. I remind them to do their homework and wash their bodies (all of their bodies), and share with their siblings.
So when the people I love — the people I do all of this for — walk into the house and drop their shit right there in the doorway and put nothing away, or leave the kitchen a mess for me to clean up after griping about the meal I made that “tasted horrible,” or leave piles of dirty clothes and Twix wrappers all over their rooms, I’m angry. But the truth is, I’m feeling a whole string of other things.
And here’s the next part—an important part—I don’t want to explode on my family any more than they want me to explode on them. So, just as much as it’s on them to pitch in and do their part, it’s on me to communicate. To address what my needs are, so that I don’t feel devalued in my own home. To avoid being passive-aggressive and expect them to read my mind.
Because no one deserves to live in a house of anger—not them, and not me.
When I feel it creep up around my ankles, I need to address the cause. And if I don’t, and it makes its way up my body, even if it gets to my shoulders and I can feel my jaw start to clench, usually it is not too late.
It’s at this moment that I have a conversation with myself. At least one of my needs isn’t being met. And maybe there’s nothing anyone can do about it—there are certainly times in life when a spouse is overwhelmed at work, or the kids are sick and Mom needs to shoulder all of the burden. These are the “suck it up” moments when it’s just the lemons life is handing you at that time.
But more often that not, I can do something about my anger. I can take a walk, or go to a quiet room, take a few breaths, and figure out what the hell is going on. I have to dig under the anger and find the root cause—Am I exhausted? Am I overwhelmed? Is there too much on my plate? Are the kids slipping on their responsibilities? I need to figure out what is making me angry in that moment and then address how to handle it.
It’s not a foolproof method to preventing angry outbursts. We need to give ourselves some grace and accept that everyone has a bad day now and then, and we will be forgiven. But if you are finding yourself frequently frustrated—feeling that low, seething anger that makes you spit fire over finding a sock on the living room couch or when the kids didn’t load the dishwasher like you asked—it might help to step back and think about what is really going on. And if you can assess the initial emotion—that maybe you feel unappreciated or downright invisible, or maybe you desperately need some rest, or to cross an item or two off of your calendar—then you have words you can take to your family to communicate how you feel.
You know that if your kids or spouse felt invisible or taken for granted or exhausted or overwhelmed, you’d step in to care for them. You’d assure them that they are valued and important and appreciated. So what about you? Don’t you deserve the same?