How do I talk to someone who loses their temper?

I get this question a lot: “I know someone who loses their temper (my wife / my husband / my mom). How can I talk to them about it?”

Here’s the easy answer: You start somewhere, anywhere.

Here’s the hard answer: If they’re a part of your life and you’ve never talked with them about their anger habit, you’ve kind of enabled them — you support the habit.

Perhaps you’ve been scared or sad, or maybe you didn’t know you could do anything about it. Or maybe you’ve been happy with how things have been (and maybe they’ve been that way for a long time).

But now, if you’re asking me this question, it isn’t working for you anymore. You’re ready for a change.

Here’s the challenge (and the opportunity!): You can’t change someone else. You can only change yourself.

So you can’t change the person who loses their temper.

But you can change your reaction to it. Talk to them. Tell them how it makes you feel when they lose their temper. Do something different than you’ve done in the past. Here are a few ideas:

> When everyone’s calm, talk about it, “Honey, when you yell, it scares me and the kids. I wonder if there’s a different way we can get the kids to listen?”

> When everyone’s calm, talk about how you’ve decided to get help, “Honey, I’m having some trouble and I need some extra support, so I’m going to see a counselor.” If you feel comfortable, you could tell them you’re having trouble coping with the times when they lose their temper. Or you could simply tell them you’re feeling sad and want to talk to a professional. If you grew up in a family where getting help was not normal, you might experience some resistance to the idea, but push through and do it anyway. It’ll be worth it.

> Yelling is ok when someone’s in danger. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If they’re yelling, try to stay calm and imagine they’re on an emotional train ride. You’re not on their train. Ask them to take a break, or take a break yourself.

> If they’re yelling, they’re stressed-out. A stressed-out person has difficulty with rational conversation. So if you decide to talk, try not to use too many words. Sometimes it helps to talk about feelings. Two simple phrases you could try are “I’m feeling _____ because ______.” (“I’m feeling scared because you’re yelling.”) Or, “You’re feeling _____ because ______.” (You’re feeling angry because the kids aren’t listening.”)

> It’s not your job to fix them or to fix the situation. If they’re yelling, it’s not your responsibility (or the kids’ responsibility) to make them feel better. Your responsibility is to keep yourself calm and make sure everyone’s safe.

> Have compassion. You’re all doing the best you can. And, hurtful behavior is not ok. Try to be loving through it all and set boundaries around hurtfulness.

Think about getting help from a life coach or counselor (I can coach you with practical strategies, and I have a list of referrals for counselors too). The person who loses their temper might not be interested in change, but if you’re ready for a change, getting help for yourself can make a difference.

You can make a difference because you’re close to that person. And when one person changes in a relationship, the other person can’t help but change over time.

Hot tempers tend to run in families. If you’ve got the habit too and you’re working on ending it, the work you’re doing will have ripple effects in your relationships.

I used to lose my temper with my family. My dear husband never said anything. It was part of our routine. Now when one of us loses it, we talk about it. We take breaks. We apologize. We know it’s hurtful and we choose to put boundaries around hurtfulness.

(If you have a child who loses their temper, click here.)

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The Redo

So you’re working on breaking the anger habit.

You’ve had a few successes. A few times when you would have lost it in the past, you haven’t lost it.

But one day you get to the end of your rope and you lose it. Again.

It happens. Breaking the habit takes time.

It takes time because it’s a habit (that may have been around for generations), and you’re learning new habits to take its place.

It takes time because it’s not just you who are making a change. Your whole family’s changing and learning new ways to be together — they can’t help it — when mom makes a change, it affects everyone.

During those times when you lose it again, here’s what you can do:

  1. Know that this is a normal part of breaking the habit.
  2. Tell yourself: “I’m doing the best I can.” Be gentle on yourself. Stressing out and beating yourself up over losing it can stress you out even more.
  3. Apologize: “I’m sorry I lost my temper. You know I’m working on not doing that anymore. I care about you.”
  4. Next is your opportunity for “the redo.”

Sometimes you can ask in the moment: “Can I have a redo?” It might feel silly, but (if your family’s willing) re-enact the conversation or the situation and this time respond to it in a healthy, helpful way. Practice being the patient mom you want to be. Fake it ‘till you make it!

Sometimes an immediate redo isn’t appropriate, but you still can reflect on the moment:  Think about what happened. What button was pushed? What did that feel like in your body? What feelings were you having? And maybe: Why were you having those feelings? Try talking about it or journaling. (If you’re seeing a counselor, tell them the story.)

Develop awareness about that button that was pushed. Then next time, that’s your chance for “the redo.”

Life is messy. Nobody’s perfect. Redos are an acknowledgment of that and an opportunity for grace.

And what better lesson can we teach ourselves and our children? Let grace in with the redo. <3

Have you read my story about how I used to lose my temper? I made a flyer about it. If you know a community bulletin board or a parenting group that might like to see it, please print and share.

“I used to be a yeller,” A poem.

I’ve read this at a few places around town. It was featured in an article.

There was a time when I didn’t have a word for it.
I didn’t know I could get help for it.
I thought that everyone did it.
When I got upset, we never talked about it.

I used to be at the end of my rope. All. The. Time.
Everything used to get on my nerves.
Everything used to make me crazy.
It was normal and regular.

When my kids were small, I put a name to it:
I called it the “anger bug.”
I said I wanted to “squash” the anger bug.
I had gotten the bug from my dad, and he had gotten it from his dad,
And I didn’t want to live with the anger bug anymore.

When I grew up, anger was always scary.
I didn’t know how to feel it in a healthy way
Without hurting people.

I used to be rather numb, so feeling angry, well that was kind of a thrill too.
The unpredictability of it, it made me feel like I had to brace for the apocalypse,
The ceiling was always about to fall in.
I held up that ceiling for a long long time.
It made my arms and my back strong.
It also sealed my jaw, locking and grinding at night.

I thought everything had to be “just so,” to keep that ceiling up,
So I took to controlling everyone – thinking
“they should do that” and “they should do this” and
“I should do that” and “I should do this.”
My honey-do list had a few items on the fridge, and it was a mile long in my head.

The pressure of the “should” was maddening in itself –
the “should” came from all places,
from myself for myself,
from myself for my parents, my kids, my husband, my neighbors,
and also people on the news.

Even imaginary “shoulds” haunted me –
shoulds I imagined coming from God,
from my kids, from my work-out teacher,
from my parents and neighbors, from Pinterest…

My should-itis was part of my anger condition.
It caused me to live in an alternate reality,
Enraged by how I thought things should be,
Never really seeing who was right in front of me,
the people we all were with the lives we all had.

I did better than my parents, and they did better than theirs,
But still, there was the one thing I couldn’t shake.

I used to lose my temper with my family.
I used to think everyone lost their temper.

I used to think it was everyone else who had a problem.
I used to feel ignored and helpless, full of shame and blame,
Enough shame and blame to go around for everyone.

I used to read parenting books
And experiment with parenting advice
To get my children to change
So they would stop pushing my buttons.
(I thought it was them that made me angry.)

My dad, my husband, especially my kids –
they used to push my buttons.
It used to keep me up at night.
I used to tell myself “that’ll be the last time,” over and over. 

It used to be my dad who lost his temper when I was a kid.
It used to be my grandfather who lost his temper when my dad was a kid.

I used to be a yeller.
I used to be a mean texter and emailer and internet poster.
I used to lose my temper all the time.
One time, ok, maybe a few times, I threw something.
One time, I threw banana bread.

I don’t lose my temper anymore. 
I got help…. (But that’s a story for another day.)

I was upset about how I had been. I was angry about my anger.
I wrestled with myself, I worked so hard to stop the anger from bubbling up.
But the fighting didn’t help.
The anger kept winning. It kept coming back.
So I got an idea to write a love letter:

Dear Old Hurtful Controlling Anger,
You made me strong.
You were there for me when I needed you.
You got me through some really tough times. Seriously.
Thank you for being a friend.
I will never forget you.
And now, dear Anger, I’m ready to let you go.
It’s time to say goodbye.
I’m learning how to be strong in different ways.
I would not have gotten this far without you.
In some ways, you have been a blessing to me.
As you go (and when I see you again), here is what I want to say:
I love you. Thank you. You’re showing me how to heal.

Love and kisses,
Your biggest fan,
me

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Three parts to break the habit

People ask me: How do you help people who lose their temper?

Here’s how I answer the question. There are three main parts:

> Treat it like a habit that can be broken, similar to smoking cigarettes. Like a habit, most people lose their temper during certain times of the day or certain days of the week. And when you get angry and upset, chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol run through your body. Your body gets used to the habit.

Your family gets used to the anger habit too. So it’s helpful to talk to your family while you’re breaking the habit. Sometimes after you give up the habit, someone else picks it up, like a child or a husband will start to lose their temper. So the family continues to work on breaking the habit as a whole as they find new ways to interact.

> Practice emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is awareness about your own feelings and how to handle your feelings in a healthy way. This blog post gives you the first steps in teaching emotional intelligence to your children (and it will help you too). Emotional intelligence is a life-long skill that will benefit you and your kids. And once you have it, you’ll be able to handle anger in a healthy way.

> Work with professionals who don’t (or very rarely) lose their temper. When you’re from a family where folks lose their temper, you’re often connected with people who have a difficult time dealing with stress in healthy ways. It’s kind of like being in a bubble. To break out of the bubble, it’s good to work with people who aren’t in the bubble. So when you consider hiring a professional, it’s something to talk about (some professionals are still in the stressed-out bubble).

You can work with me. Also, I have a list of counselors you can call who are familiar with my program, and they want to work with you too. Through this process, it’s likely that you’ll work with several people who have different specialties that address your specific needs.

Professionals who you may find helpful are coaches, counselors, physical therapists, massage therapists, neurofeedback specialists, doctors, and spiritual directors (like a pastor or priest). Some counselors have special training in something called biofeedback which can be helpful too (like EMDR or EFT). Physical therapy and biofeedback are part of the puzzle because they can help the body relieve stress.

I have to admit, I was stubborn about getting help. I thought if I read enough books or websites, that would do it. And I was raised in a family that didn’t get that kind of help. But the key piece that finally changed my life was working with people outside my bubble.

On the other hand, if you’re the spouse of someone who loses their temper, have hope. They don’t have to get help. If you get help, it can make a difference.

There are other pieces too, like fear. Once a mom asked me, “But what will my relationship with my husband look like if I stop screaming at him?” She was right. Unknown territory is scary.

But I can tell you from the other side of the bridge, life is good over here. And there are people who want to help you cross the bridge when you’re ready.

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What to do when your kid is losing it

(This post includes a printable fridge sheet.)

Before I got help for losing my temper, I used to lose my temper whenever my kid would lose it. (Hot tempers tend to run in families.)

My kid would get upset about something and I would either argue with them or try to fix it. Usually, my efforts to stop their upset didn’t work, and it ended with me yelling at them.

Yelling sometimes scared them into their room or quieted them, but that’s not how I wanted to raise my kids, controlled by fear. A child who is raised controlled by fear learns to be controlled by fear in general as an adult. They also become an adult who controls others through fear.

I was raised by my dad who controlled the house through fear. It made me a fearful adult with irrational beliefs that I would “get in trouble” for some things. It also made me into a wife and parent who thought it was my job to control others through fear.

I was ready to end the cycle. I didn’t want to pass this down to my kids and grandkids.

So I got help and figured out healthy things to do when my kids lose it. I’m going to share those things with you:

> Make sure your child is safe and that they aren’t hurting themselves or others.

> Imagine your child is on a train. Their little train is all over the place, up and down, side to side, fast and slow. Your goal is to stay off their train. You’re on your own large, steady train. You can observe their train ride from a distance, but you stay off their train. You are on a calm adult train ride. And you can’t really stop their train. You can be supportive during their ride, but they’ll get off when they’re ready.

> When a child is losing it, they’re stressed out. A stressed-out person has a hard time with rational conversation, so don’t say too many words. Here are some things you can say that might help:

  1. Notice what their body is doing. Say it out loud: “Your legs are stiff. Your jaw is tight. You’re stomping your feet. Your hands are in a tight ball. Is your chest tight? Is your heart beating fast?” etc.
  2. Make a guess at their feelings. Chose at least three feelings words. Say, “You’re feeling ________ because ________.” Like, “You’re feeling angry, sad and disappointed because we aren’t going to the store.”

NOTE: Avoid giving consequences for losing it. Instead, reassure your child: “I love you always, no matter what.” While losing it (and afterward), everyone can use some love.

Acknowledging your kid’s feelings does not mean you agree with them. Whatever is going on is important to them — that’s the train they are on. And by noticing their train, by talking about their body actions and their feelings, you are teaching them something called “emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence is the ability to give names to the feelings we are having. Paying attention to how our body feels give us clues to our feelings. Doing these two simple things helps us to feel our feelings (instead of stuff them down) and it gets us back into rational thinking.

Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) said his goal was to make feelings “mentionable and manageable.” That’s what emotional intelligence does. So when we have intense feelings like anger, fear and sadness we can feel them without hurting ourselves or others.

One of the joys of emotional intelligence is that you also can learn to recognize good feelings. When your child’s happy or proud, notice what their body’s doing and name their feelings too: “You’re smiling and jumping around. You feel happy, excited and proud.”

These simple techniques also work for adults. A friend of mine encountered an angry, upset adult the other day. She didn’t get on their train and argue with them. She said, “You’re feeling angry,” and the adult calmed down.

I’ve noticed that practicing emotional intelligence around the house has expanded my kids’ vocabulary around feelings. It’s fun to hear them use the words. If you’d like to give it a try, I created this Fridge Sheet for you. Print it and stick it on the fridge.

When you put the Fridge Sheet up, talk about your goals with the kids. When they’re calm, you all can brainstorm about how the body feels when different feelings are happening. It’s normal to have feelings (all humans have them), and your family is working on noticing them and feeling them in healthy ways.

The Fridge Sheet has awesome tips, like if you feel overwhelmed, it gives you a clue that “overwhelm” means you have a combination of feelings. (Hint: it’s helpful for moms who lose their temper too.) <3

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The Button

Everyone has a “button” that’s pressed when something is getting on our nerves or when we’re at the end of our rope.

If you’re a yeller and you’re trying to stop yelling, sometimes you can catch yourself before you yell. When that happens, it’s a good time to notice your button. It’s something you can stop and think about for a moment. It helps you calm down.

Here’s what that moment can look like.

I’m about to yell. My button’s being pushed. Where do I feel the button? What does it feel like?

Simply taking that moment to feel what’s going on in your body can help you get on another path, to make a choice that does not involve yelling.

People feel the button differently, but there are some patterns I’ve noticed. Here are some examples:

Some people feel like they have been punched in the stomach, so their back is hunched. They feel tense in their neck, jaw and chest, like it’s hard to breathe. Sometimes they feel tense in their butt too. Some people also feel heat, like steam is coming out of their ears.

The important thing to remember in the moment is that you’re responsible for your own button. It’s not someone else’s job to un-press your button. And whoever is pushing your button isn’t doing it on purpose — you’ve probably had that button for a long time.

So now you’re standing there noticing your button. What’s next? You could say it out loud:

“My chest feels heavy like it’s hard to breathe, and my jaw is tense.”

Then take a break, stand up straight, take some deep breaths and loosen your jaw. Hopefully, this time, you don’t yell.

Congratulations. You’re one step closer to noticing and owning your buttons and being the person you want to be.

What does it feel like when someone pushes your buttons?

I’m available to speak with your group. Contact me.

“Daddy do.”

There’s a lot of pressure in a family when you have kids.

There’s so much to do. All. The. Time.

I have my own to-do lists in my head.

And I used to have to-do lists for the kids and my husband too.

Some of us have a “honey-do” list hanging on the fridge. It’s a list of chores a wife makes for her husband. The minute one chore is crossed off, there’s usually three more to take its place.

And then there’s the way Daddy does things.

Daddy does things differently than Mommy.

Daddy doesn’t do the dishes the same way. Or put the kids to bed with the same routine, or talk to the kids the same way Mommy does.

Moms and kids take on the task of teaching Daddy how to do things the “right way,” the way Mommy does it.

But what is the “right way?” …

Think about your husband for a moment. The Dear One, the hubby, the hubs, Pookie.

Is he a good man?

If he is a good man, why are we putting so much pressure on him to be different?

Does he really have to do things the way Mommy does?

Instead of seeing all the things he “should” be doing, what if we see the things he is actually doing?

And what would happen if we learned to appreciate him, just the way he is?

Would the dishes get done? How would the kids behave? If Daddy just does what he does, would everything fall apart?

Maybe?…

As a mom, I kept it all together for a long time. I did it by running everyone’s to-do lists, but it got to the point where that didn’t work anymore — it wasn’t good for me. It was too much pressure.

I needed a change. So I experimented with a simple technique I call “Daddy do.”

If you’d like to give it a try, here’s how:

Put the words “Daddy do” on a post-it note on your fridge as a reminder.

Every time you see Daddy doing something different and you get the urge to say, “Honey you should —,” try to catch yourself. Stop, and tell yourself, “Daddy do.”

As in, “Daddy does what he does.” And that’s ok. He’s a good man. You married a good man.

“Daddy do” has become a permanent part of our family’s life. Today sometimes it’s “Mommy do,” or “Brother do,” or “Grandma do.”

As in, we all have our own ways of doing things. And that’s ok.

Now, if whatever we’re doing is hurtful, that’s not ok, but this is for alllllll the other times.

So here’s your challenge (it may make your heart skip a beat): if there’s a “honey-do” list on the fridge, go to the list and toss it. This is your leap of faith. See what happens.

One step at a time, let some pressure off your honey and let him do things his way.

You might re-discover that amazing man you married, and you and the kids can learn to love and appreciate him for his ways.

And… when you’re no longer running the hubby’s “to-do,” you can take one more “to-do” off your list. <3

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Angry does not have to mean upset.

My clients usually say they are angry when they are upset. Being angry and upset usually includes yelling, and maybe spanking a child or throwing something. Sometimes they drive away or lock themselves in a room for awhile.

But angry does not have to mean upset.

The feeling of anger has a TON of energy behind it: you can use it to be hurtful.

Or, you can use that energy to be helpful.

I used to be angry and upset that I was raised in a family where anger was always hurtful. I didn’t even know there was a different way to express it.

I’m still angry about that, but I’m not upset anymore.

I use all of that energy to be helpful.

It’s fuel for me in my business…

Anger doesn’t go away, but how you experience it can change.

I’ve seen it in my clients. One day, one step at a time, they learn how to feel their anger and use it to help. First, they help themselves, and then they help others.

Wanna know how to do that? By reading this post, you have begun.

 

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A love letter to anger

There are some people I coach who are upset about how they’ve been. They might feel sad or ashamed of their anger and the times they’ve been hurtful towards others.

And there is also a part of them that is angry about their anger. They wrestle and fight with themselves, working so hard to stop the anger from bubbling up.

But the fighting isn’t helping. The anger keeps winning. It keeps coming back.

So I got this idea: Let’s try something different. Let’s try writing a love letter to anger. Here goes.

Dear Anger,
You made me strong.
You were there for me when I needed you.
You got me through some really tough times. Seriously.
Thank you for being a friend.
I will never forget you.
And now, dear Anger, I’m ready to let you go.
It’s time to say goodbye.
I’m learning how to be strong in different ways.
I would not have gotten this far without you.
In some ways, you have been a blessing to me.
As you go (and when I see you again), here is what I want to say:
I love you. Thank you. You’re showing me how to heal.

Love and kisses,
Your biggest fan,
me

What would your love letter to anger say?

(Note: This is about hurtful anger. There are helpful kinds of anger, but that is a story for another day…)

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How to stop losing your temper: A story

I introduced myself to a group of entrepreneurs this week. I said, “Hi. I’m a life coach. I help moms who lose their temper. I used to lose my temper and I got help. Now I help others.”

One woman in the meeting blushed and bit her lips. She sat up straighter and cleared her throat.

This is common. I’ve learned to look for it.

I talked to her later. She said, “I felt exposed because I do that too.”

She had never thought about getting help for it.

In fact, she had not put a word to it yet.

This is common too.

The families I work with rarely (or never) talk about those times when mom gets upset. They don’t even have a word for it.

If you want to stop losing your temper, here is the first step: put a name to it. Talk about it.

Tell a friend, tell your family: “Sometimes I get upset and yell and I want to learn how to stop doing that.”

In my house, we called it “the anger bug,” and we said we wanted to work on squishing it (my kids were young). We talked about how I got the bug from my dad, and he got it from his dad.

And we didn’t want to live with the anger bug anymore.

What will you call yours? …

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