Anger and Family

The main difficulty about raising issues which cause you anger with relatives and very close friends is that the personal risks are always higher with these people than they are with strangers or with people at work. These are often the individuals who mean the most to you in your life. Once again, the tendency is to hold things inside and hope that time will somehow make the situation better. There are only two things that happen with time:

  • you become more aggravated and
  • the situation becomes worse.

Never do the problems just go away. You have to address the issues – with clarity, brevity and, above all, respect.

Most often we tell ourselves to grit our teeth and bear it.  In my book, I use the phrase suck it up.  All this does is creates more stress and anger (very unhealthy) for ourselves.  We become furious because:

●we recognize we are being taken advantage of;

●we know we should have set boundaries and have not done so;

●we feel helpless because the situation has gone on for some time;

●attempting to change the situation now might lose us their affection.

Because a person may not know what to do, they will turn their lives into a pretzel not realizing that confronting the issue head on will change the dynamics of the relationship into one of more respect and distance.  Affection and love will not be lost but the relationship will change.

It is always best to confront the issues.  If done appropriately, you will change the relationship such that the family member in question will discontinue their behavior that drives you into helpless hostility.

I think it is important to remember that family members thoughtlessly take advantage of you because they do not perceive there is a line they have crossed.  Maybe it is because we have failed to make that line clear.  Maybe it is because they recognize that line but, because of the close relationship, they cross it anyway.  Let’s look at a few examples.

 

Elise became a widow when her son Zack was nine years old.  She told him often that he was now the man of the house and gave him many responsibilities that would have been handled by her husband had he been there.  Elise even included Zack in many of the decisions she had to make regarding finances, insurance and major purchases.

Zack grew into a strong six foot, five inch 300 pound tough young man whom Elise could no longer control. Against her wishes, Zack dropped out of high school in his junior year and apprenticed himself to an electrician so he could make some real money.  He bought a fancy sports car and began to bring young women home. Often Zack would ask his mother to cook a meal for him and his girlfriend and then vacate the house so he and the girlfriend could use her bedroom. Elise always did as Zack asked.

When Elise’s friends found out what was going on, they advised her to throw her son out.  “I can’t do that,” Elise cried, “He’s all the family I’ve got.”  Then her friends told her she had to stand up to him. Tell Zack that this is no way to treat his mother.  “I can’t stand up to him” Elise explained.  “I’m really afraid of him.  Not only is he very big but, when crossed, he has quite a temper.”  Elise was feeling more and more angry and depressed about her situation by the day.  She knew she had to do something to turn things around.

One of Zack’s responsibilities was to mow the lawn. Whenever Elise asked Zack to take care of the lawn,  or any other household chore for that matter, he would either make some excuse or outright refuse to do it.  One day, Elise was outside mowing her lawn in the blazing hot sun.  Her anger was overwhelming.  Then she had an epiphany.

Zack’s favorite food was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  He would always have one with breakfast, take at least two of them with him to snack on at work. As soon as he came in the door at the end of the day, he would fix himself another.  If he spent the evening at home, he would fix himself yet another one before going off to bed. Being the dedicated mother that she was, Elise always made sure that her kitchen was well stocked with Zack’s favorite brand of peanut butter, his preferred flavor of jam and his favorite multigrain bread.

That evening when Zack walked through the door, Elise was ready with a prepared little speech.

Elise:  Although it is your responsibility to mow the lawn, you rarely do it.

That makes me very angry because I do everything you ask, even things that would be considered way out of line for a mother to do for her son.

I want you to mow the lawn tomorrow morning before breakfast.

If you continue to neglect your responsibilities, I will stop supplying the house with peanut butter and jelly.

The following morning, Elise awoke to the sound of Zack mowing the lawn. Although Zack remained the same big obnoxious person that he always had been, this little incident dramatically changed his relationship with his mother.  Zack recognized he had crossed a line he didn’t realize was there.   He no longer asked his mother to vacate the house when he planned to entertain a girlfriend. He rented a hotel room.  He was more responsible about the household chores as well.  Elise changed too.  She was no longer so afraid to confront her son.  An element of respect and social distance had entered their relationship.

Here is another example.

Ken and Marie were madly in love when they married and set up housekeeping in a small starter house.  Almost immediately, Ken’s mother, Doris, manipulated her way into their tiny household.  She missed her only child and convinced her son Ken that she would be an asset, helping with the cooking and cleaning.
From the very beginning, there were problems. If Ken and Marie were discussing the color scheme for the living room, Mama would get into the middle of the discussion and before long the couple would be arguing about the color of the drapes. If Ken and Marie were talking about establishing a savings program or an insurance limit on their home-owners policy, there was Mama, right in the thick of things, telling the couple what they should do. Inevitably, Ken and Marie would get into an argument over Mama’s ideas.

Dorisalso found fault with the way Marie organized things in the house and complained about it to Ken behind Marie’s back. Doristook every opportunity to lecture Marie about giving up her career.  She was insistent that Marie give up her well-paying job as a computer programmer and stay at home.

The couple realized that,  if they didn’t do something drastic, and do it soon, their once happy marriage was headed for the rocks. So, they put their little home up for sale. They explained to Mama Doris that they really could not afford a house at this time. In the process, they took a sizable loss on the house. Then they moved into a tiny apartment where there was absolutely no room for Mama Doris and barely enough room for them.

The couple lived happily in their tight quarters for two years. Then Marie discovered she was pregnant. The couple recognized there was no room in their tiny apartment for them and a baby. Once again, they went house-hunting. Now, of course, they were presented with the problem of Mama Doris wanting to move in to help with the baby.

At this point, Ken and Marie sought professional help. They explained to the psychologist that they both felt under tremendous pressure. He was contemplating moving his little family toAlaska   (Mama Doris hated cold weather).  Marie was threatening to abort the child if Mama was going to become a part of their little household.

Marie and Ken solved the problem by attending a workshop in Anger Management.  Together they developed a brief speech which Ken delivered to his mother over the telephone.

Ken:   Mother, although Marie and I appreciate your desire to live with us,

we have decided that it is not a wise decision at this time.  It makes us fee

l uncomfortable to deny your request because we both love you.

However, the stress of a new baby and all the changes that will bring plus

having another person visiting is just overwhelming right now.  We want

you to plan for a short five day visit in the future perhaps when the baby is

six months old.  How does that sound to you?

Mother Doris never realized the amount of stress she had caused Ken and Marie but she did get the message that she has crossed a line and was not going to be allowed to cross it again.  Although she argued fiercely with Ken, mother Doris finally gave up her battle to move in.  For the first time in his life, Ken finally stood up to his overbearing mother. Dorisdid not move in and agreed to wait for an invitation to visit at some time in the future.

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Comments

  • women health  On June 2, 2011 at 1:24 am

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    • deannerosenberg  On June 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your feedback. There’s a lot more information in my book – From Rage To Resolution – you might like to read it. It is available from AMAZON.COM. It’s hard to put lots of information in a blog. I do try, however.

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