Dealing with Anger (Part 3) – How to Overcome Anger

We have previously looked at the  “WHAT” (read Part 1 here) and “WHY” (read Part 2 here) aspects of ANGER. 

In Part 3, we will look at the “HOW”.  How do we control and deal with our anger?

What We Can Do

1) Identify the Fear

In Part 2 of Dealing with Anger, I mentioned that ANGER is the mask for FEAR.

Whenever we get angry, it’s because a fear is triggered. And instead of feeling paralysed by the fear, we put on our ANGRY mask so we can “fight” the threat.  In other words, instead of dealing with the fear, we attack whatever it is that exposes that fear.

What we see on the surface is ANGER (shouting, hitting etc).  But beneath that surface is a whole range of other emotions that is almost always backed by fear.  

For example, most of us instinctively get angry when someone points out our mistakes. But what do we actually feel?  Most probably it was embarrassment.  However, the underlying emotion is actually our fear of “losing face”.

Or if someone cuts us off in traffic, we feel indignant that the other driver is being rude and we honk angrily at him.  But our underlying emotion could be our fear of being late. It could even be due to our kiasuism (fear of losing) to other driver. 

Or if, instead of us, a colleague gets promoted. Some of us may feel jealous. We may complain about unfairness or even resign in anger. But actually what is triggered is our subconscious fear that our contribution is not being recognised by our bosses.

Of if our child throws a tantrum.  Out of frustration, we yell, shout or hit the child. But if we analyse it further, it could be our fear of not knowing how to help our child. I know some parents fear becoming the parent they vowed never to be. I was one of them. It took me a long time to overcome that fear. I’ll share how I overcome that in a moment. 

The point is whenever we get angry, there actually lies a host of emotions (frustration, jealousy, embarrassment etc) beneath that ANGER. And if we dig further, those emotions always stem from fear.

How does knowing that help us?  

Every time we feel angry, even if we have already exploded, we need to take the time to reflect and identify the emotion that triggered that anger.  More importantly, we must identify the fear that is triggered. After a while, we will discover certain fears keep surfacing.  

2) Identify the Fear Pattern

What are the fears that keep surfacing? Is it the fear of “losing face”? Why are we afraid of losing face? Is it because we are worried people will think/know we have FAILED to do it right? 

Or is it kiasuism, our fear of losing? Why are we afraid to lose? Is it because we don’t want to appear lousier than others? Because that would mean we have FAILED to win?

Or is it the fear of becoming someone whom we have vowed never to become? Why is it fearful to become that person? Is it because we know that person is flawed and if we are becoming like them, it means we too are flawed, that we have FAILED at being better?

Or is it fear of the unknown, fear of change? Why is change or the unknown so fearful? Is it because we don’t know how to respond or deal with it, that we will FAIL to adapt?

We need to keep asking questions and drill as deeply as possible to uncover our hidden fears.

Most of the time, we will realise our root fear is the fear of failure. And that comes from our fear of being NOT GOOD ENOUGH. 

3) Question the Validity of the Fear

The fear of failure is deeply entrenched in our psyche, especially in our culture.  We were brought up in a society where failure, or making mistakes, is frowned upon and not seen as an essential step towards learning.  Some of us were brought up where we were not given second chances, or were very harshly punished for our mistakes.  

I used to beat myself up badly every time I messed up. I would feel guilty, and with each loss in my temper, I would feel more inadequate then ever. Not only did I feel I wasn’t GOOD ENOUGH, I actually felt I was worse than the parent I did not want to become. Why? Because, compared to my parent, I had done so much reading and studying about becoming a good parent. Yet I had failed to do what I wanted to do.  I was convinced I was a lousy, terrible, unworthy parent to my children.

Until one day, I had an epiphany. 

I used to have a parent who would punish me when I messed up. Not only did I get a tongue lashing, I would get a physical lashing as well.  Even if I had scored 97 marks in my Math test, I would receive 3 lashings for not scoring 100.  And if I scored 99, then it would be 1 very hard lashing, because I was SO CLOSE yet not achieve 100.  I remember scoring 77 marks once.  Those were dark days…  I was brought up to fear failure, to fear mistakes.

What led to my epiphany was I realised I hadn’t been scolded nor received lashings for more than 30 years.  Yet that blueprint of being whipped and lashed had been so ingrained in me that I had became my greatest punisher. I realised I was the one who had made my life extremely difficult especially when my journey was rough. I had become my harshest critic to prevent failing or making mistakes. But my harshness sunk me to greater depths of despair whenever I failed and each “sinking” was harder to climb out of.  How could I ever be the parent I want to be if I were so lousy?  

So I went on a quest to learn how to overcome the conditioning that failure needs to be “beaten” out of me, that I am never good enough, even if I am at 99%.

And this is what I learned on my quest.

We need to really question the validity of our fear of failure. Past failures do not mean future failures, otherwise none of us would have ever learned to walk, ride a bike, swim, or do almost anything. How many of us learned to do anything the very first time we did them?  Most of us had failed repeatedly before we succeeded in doing anything well.  Yet, because we had persevered, each failure helped us learn where we went wrong and we became better. 

So instead of saying we are not good enough, or that failure is bad, a strong mantra or affirmation we can use is this:

“I am doing the best I can given the circumstances I am in with the knowledge and skills I have.”

“Failure and learning from past mistakes are necessary for growth and success.”

That way, we don’t beat ourselves up when we have yet to reach success.  We will have the strength to pick ourselves up, learn, and have another go until we get it right.

These mantras have helped me so much in managing my “failures”, in helping me pick myself up and learn to be better.  They have empowered me to feel I CAN be better and they did not sink me into the depths of despair. 

It sounds simple, but actually takes a lot of courage and resilience to press on and not get buried by mistakes.  When the going got tough, and it frequently did and still does, I just thought about Thomas Edison. When asked how he felt failing  10,000 times before he invented the lightbulb, he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The key here is to know we can do it and keep working on finding a solution without beating ourselves up.

BUT some parents tell me, “I can’t control my explosions! Even before I can analyse my fear, my anger has already gripped me and I have exploded. So how?”

4)  BREATHE!

When we feel that familiar gush of anger flooding into our system, the very first step is to take a deep breath. It takes conscious effort and determination to not let the anger control us. The wonder of taking that ONE deep breath is that most people will find their brains less foggy and they can think better after that one deep breath . It is through this first step that anger can be controlled.

Unfortunately, that is one of the hardest thing to do. I have encountered so many parents who say that once they are gripped by anger, they would lash out instinctively. They only remember they need to take a deep breath after their anger is spent.  Why?  

Usually when an EVENT happens, we have a THOUGHT or interpretation about it. That THOUGHT triggers us feel a particular EMOTION which leads to a certain BEHAVIOUR. For example, the child hits his sibling. Automatically, our brain interprets that event with the thought that the child is being naughty which makes our blood boil (anger) and we yell at or hit the child

The thing is, whenever we allow a thought to be triggered by a particular set of events and we respond with a particular emotion which leads to certain behaviour, our brain triggers a connection from the event to the interpretation (thought) to the corresponding emotion and finally to the behaviour.  The more we react to the same event by pulling up the same thought followed by the same emotion and reinforcing it with the same behaviour, the thicker and stronger the synapse (or pathway) from the event to the final behaviour becomes.

It gets to the extent that the pathway becomes “instinctive”. In other words, the final behaviour becomes instinctive whenever the interpretation or thought appears as a result of certain events.  The link (arrow) from EVENT to BEHAVIOUR as well as from THOUGHT to BEHAVIOUR is now very strong and thick.

That is why some parents cannot even stop to breathe once the trigger is activated.  That is why for many parents who have “anger management” issues, they cannot even remember to breathe once they feel angry. 

So How?

Does that mean there is no cure once we have anger management issues?  Thank goodness that is not the case. There is a cure. Otherwise I would still be having anger management issues. 

I used to be an explosive mom. Despite knowing and doing my best to practice loving guidance, I had on many occasions yelled at my two older children when they were young. And even though it was rare, I have also been guilty of spanking them. 

That was years ago before I learned about anger and why I exploded. With that knowledge and a lot of hard work (and mistakes), I overcame that “instinct” to yell at them and was also able to stop myself from raising my hands to their bottoms.

I have 3 children. My older two are 10 and 8 years older than my youngest child. They have often commented that their youngest sibling has a very different mom. Even though they have not been yelled at or hit for years, the trauma of how I had “disciplined” them with violence still remained.

That is why I strongly advocate for peaceful, loving discipline. Our children remember how we treat them, even if they may have forgiven us.

Visualise It Now

So how did I overcome my anger? It was through visualising what I would do when the “event” occurs.  

Let us do a few simple exercises now.

Take two deep breaths slowly (BEHAVIOUR 1). Now visualise yourself calming down and creating the THOUGHT that your child needs your help. Then bring up the feeling of compassion and imagine yourself talking gently and lovingly with your child. You can even think of the “script” you would say to the child when you are calm (BEHAVIOUR 2).  

Keep replaying that visualisation over and over again. 

Why would that help?  It helps because our brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary.  It will still form synapses. Hence, when we visualise or imagine something, our brains will still trigger the connections. In other words, we can actually “rewire” our brains just by thinking!

The more we visualise ourselves doing this, the stronger the pathway (arrow).

If you can, keep repeating this visualisation several times a day.  However, I shall be brutally honest here.  After doing the exercise now (assuming that you have done it), most parents will most likely repeat this visualisation only when they explode the next time and feel guilty.  They will remember they WERE SUPPOSED to take 2 deep breaths. 

Instead of feeling guilty that you did not take 2 deep breaths but had exploded, just do your visualisation. Imagine yourself taking 2 deep breaths, creating the thought that your child needs help and you feeling compassion for him.  

Then go through the script where you will speak gently and lovingly to him.  Keep doing this EVERY TIME you explode.  Do not give in to the guilt and replay how you have exploded. Otherwise you are reinforcing the synapse of you responding to events or behaviour of your child with anger.  Stop the video of your mistake.  Create a new video of you taking 2 deep breaths, calming down etc.   Trust me, it works.  It takes time and effort because we are rewiring our brain, but it works. 

How do you know you have mastered “Taking 2 Breaths”?

When you feel irritated or frustrated, but not angry yet, you will find yourself taking the 2 deep breaths, feeling calmer and being better able to speak gently and lovingly.  

You may also notice your explosions getting fewer in frequency and lesser in intensity. Your synapse below is ready.

When that happens, you are ready for Step 2.

What is Step 2?

Step 2 requires you to rewire events that make you feel your child is being naughty or intentionally making you upset.

Think about something your child does that typically causes you to explode. Imagine that she has done that. Now visualise yourself taking two deep breaths and calming down. 

Keep doing this visualisation while practicing you taking 2 deep breaths, thinking and believing that your child needs help and you speaking gently and lovingly to her. Keep doing this until it becomes your default behaviour.

Once you can get from whatever triggers you (big or small) to taking your 2 deep breaths, the rest of loving guidance will follow.  

Step 3

What? There is still Step 3?

Well, I never said changing our habitual instinctive behaviour is easy, did I?  It takes effort and we need to cover different scenarios because right now the more easily triggered we are by anger, the more “roads” we have in our brains that lead to “Rome”.  So we need to “destroy” those traditional paths and recreate new roads that lead to paradise. 

So what is Step 3?

It is catching ourselves having the thought that our children are naughty. Whenever we have that thought, catch it and visualise ourselves taking 2 deep breaths. We want to create a strong pathway for this negative thought and link it to us taking 2 deep breaths.

When we find ourselves successfully catching ourselves referring to or thinking that our children are naughty and following that thought with 2 deep breaths, we would have succeeded in creating and strengthening these new pathways in our brain and weakening our old paths.

I have a few parents who confessed they would still scold and spank after they take their 2 deep breaths. The reason that happens is because their visualisation practice laid out in first part of the exercise (visualising taking deep breaths followed by the thought that their child needs help, followed by the feeling of compassion which leads them to be able to speak gently and lovingly) was not strong enough. 

Good News!

This manner of rewiring our brain applies not only to anger management.  It applies to all aspects, including getting rid of procrastination, overcoming fear, etc. The more vivid we can visualise what we would like happen, the faster and thicker the connection will grow and the sooner we will be able to exhibit the desired behaviour.

That is why our thoughts have power. When we keep replying old “videos” in our heads, feeling the same shame and guilt for our angry explosions, we are actually strengthening those undesirable explosions! 

Instead of feeling shame, guilt and regret, play a different video, one where we do the right thing and say the right thing.  Just keep replaying that video.  It would be more productive in helping us change our behaviour.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed the 3-part series of Dealing with Anger.  We have looked at WHAT anger is, WHY we choose to react with anger, and HOW we can deal with anger.  In my next post, I will share a little more about why teaching and disciplining with love is more productive and effective than teaching and disciplining with fear.

If you have found this blog helpful to you, do share it with your friends!  Thank you.

Happy Parenting!!

Update: You can read the first two parts of the Dealing with Anger series here:
Part 1: What is Anger
Part 2: Why We Choose Anger

Dealing with Anger (Part 2) – Why We Choose Anger

In Part 1 of Dealing with Anger, we explored the  “WHAT” aspect of Dealing with ANGER. That is important because before we can deal with ANGER, or anything for that matter, we need to first understand what it is, so we can overcome it effectively. 

In Part 2, we will look at the “WHY” aspect.  Why do we get angry? Why do we choose ANGER over whatever it is covering up?

Why is there ANGER in the First Place?

In the previous part, we have seen that ANGER exists to protect us.  But how does our body or brain know we need protection? It is because ANGER is the response we have to things that fall outside our OB markers. And things fall outside our OB markers because we deem them bad, dangerous etc.  They are things that could threaten our well being.

Some people may say they get angry at things that are wrong, not when they are in danger.

Well, why would we consider anything wrong? It’s when those things, behaviour, etc break certain rules or decorum. And what happens when rules or social sensibilities are broken? If EVERYONE follows suit and decides to do the wrong thing, there will be disorder and suffering. All hell can break loose, and our well being will be threatened.

Hence, if we decode ANGER a little deeper, we will realise that ANGER is actually triggered by FEAR. ANGER is a mask for FEAR. 

The question is, why does FEAR need a mask in the first place?

What Happens When We Are Gripped By FEAR?  

When we are gripped by fear, most of us feel our hearts suddenly turning cold. We feel blood draining from our faces and our limbs, especially our legs turning to jelly or lead.  Our minds suddenly go blank and we don’t know what we do. Instinctively, most of us feel like crouching into a fetal position and staying there.

Why Does Our Body React That Way To FEAR?

Interestingly, like ANGER, FEAR also triggers a rush of adrenaline into our bodies. But unlike ANGER which leads to quickening of our breaths and gushing of blood to our face and head, FEAR leads to blood being drained from all our extremities back into our core (or trunk). That’s why we feel our hearts turn cold, our limbs feel heavy and we freeze up. Yet, instinctively, we know we need to survive if we were attacked. Hence, we feel the urge to curl up like a fetus so we can protect our core. 

Anger and Fear: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Both ANGER and FEAR trigger the release of adrenaline. 

Unlike ANGER which prepares us to act against the danger, FEAR makes us freeze so we appear invisible to the danger. Both emotions are necessary for our survival.

Unfortunately, our society sees inaction, or freezing, as cowardly.  So we, humans, begin to associate FEAR as “useless”.  As a result, we tend to convert FEAR to ANGER since the latter makes us appear stronger and gives the sense that we are doing something about the danger.  

Therefore, ANGER is the “proactive” twin of FEAR. FEAR makes us shut down.  ANGER makes us act against (be it run or fight) whatever it is that we fear. They are two sides of the same coin.  

How Does It Apply To Parenting?

Now, imagine our children have been constantly distracted by their electronic devices.  We know they can do well in school if they put in the effort but they just don’t seem to care. And their results show they have done badly.

In this case, most parents will explode in anger. Some may scold their kids and some may add caning or hitting to the punishment.  Why? 

The reason is simple.  We fear that our children will end up doing low-paying menial work instead of high-paying jobs.  In other words, we fear for their future.  But, as we know, FEAR is useless, non-productive.  Freezing and not doing anything is not an option. Hence, most parents will naturally and instinctively turn that FEAR into ANGER so they have an emotion that will help them DO something. That’s why parents will yell and hit their children. They think they are doing it out of love to help their children amend their ways.  But actually, they are releasing the FEAR that has gripped their heart by exhibiting ANGER.

When something happens, our mind interprets it and depending on our interpretation, an emotion arises which leads to a behaviour.But if the first emotion is deemed ineffective, gradually, our minds do not even register them (faded in the diagram below) and register only the resulting emotion. That’s when we feel as if we went straight from seeing our child distracted by his device to the thought her future is DOOMED to feeling ANGER and acting angry.

What other FEARS do we have that we have masked with ANGER?

Most of the anger we have against our children boils down to our fear for their future. Some of it could be due to our fear of losing our own sanity or our fear of “losing face”. And our greatest fear is actually not death, but the fear that we are NOT GOOD ENOUGH. That’s why people are very easily triggered when they feel they “lose face”.

Conclusion

Now we understand what ANGER is, what it masks and why we turn to ANGER when what we actually feel is FEAR.  In the third part of the Dealing with Anger, we shall look at what are some of the strategies we can use to control anger.

Till then, continue analysing why you get angry and get to the root fear that triggered the anger.  Awareness is the first step.  Once you can identify a pattern in the fear, it will be easier to address it.  But that’d be a separate post. ;P

If you have enjoyed the Dealing with Anger series so far and have found it helpful, please share it with your friends.  Thank you all for spreading the love and awareness!  And if you haven’t already liked Decoding Your Child, do click “LIKE”.  

Happy Parenting!!

Update: You can read the other parts of the series here:
Part 1: What is Anger?
Part 3: How to Overcome Anger


Dealing with Anger (Part 1) – What is Anger?

In my book, Decoding Your Child, I wrote about dealing with anger and tantrums in our children, including teens.  I shared that the exhibition of such behaviour was a result of their lack of maturity and their inability to control their emotions which could be exacerbated by stress, lack of sleep, hunger etc.  I also shared strategies on what we can do when our children throw tantrums.

However, I realised many parents also throw temper tantrums.  Despite knowing the strategies to overcome their explosive tempers, they have difficulty applying those strategies and overcoming their anger when it grips them.  And because they cannot control their anger, their children too have difficulty controlling theirs.  After all, the children are just modeling what they see their parents do when the latter get angry.

Hence, I would like to DECODE anger a little more so that we can help ourselves, and in turn, our children, manage anger.

Why decode anger?  It is the same reason why we decode our children. To deal with an emotion (ANGER), we must first understand WHAT the emotion is and WHY it happens before we can effectively work on HOW to overcome it.

Anger management is a very big topic and there is a lot to share.  Even in my most simplified version, it is too long to be published as one blog. Hence, it will be released as a 3-part series.

In Part 1 of Dealing with Anger, we will deal with the aspect of “WHAT” and decode ANGER. I will explain WHAT happens to our body when we get angry and why our body reacts to anger the way it does.

In Part 2, we will analyse the “WHY” aspect and understand WHY we choose ANGER instead of the emotion that it is hiding.

In Part 3 of the series, we will look at the “HOW” and practice a very simple strategy we can use to manage ANGER.

Angry Parents

Truth be told, many parents have anger management issues towards their children. Some are oblivious towards that anger and think it is normal to yell at, curse or hit their children.  However, most parents are often shocked, embarrassed and guilt-ridden by their exhibition of anger towards their children after they cooled down even if they don’t admit to anyone.

I have met many parents who told me that while they had felt angry before, they had never “exploded” in anger in their entire lives until they became parents. As a result, they never knew they had so much anger in them. And they cannot comprehend why the people they loved most, the ones they would willingly die to protect, became the people who faced their worst wrath.  

So what is the matter?  Why do we exhibit so much anger (and violence) towards our defenseless children? 

Decoding ANGER

To understand the “whys”, we need to understand the “whats”. To resolve anger issues, we need to first decode ANGER. WHAT exactly is ANGER and WHAT purpose does it serve?

What happens to our body when we are angry? 

When we “get angry”, most of us suddenly feel our hearts thumping against our chest. We will also feel a heat rising up from our necks to our face and head. Some people may find themselves clenching their fists.  Some feel their ears ringing and their minds going blank.  And most, if not all, will react instinctively.

Let us imagine for a moment.  You are walking on a sidewalk towards a blind corner.  Suddenly, a cyclist rounds the corner and comes charging towards you at high speed.  Before you can react, he swerves and narrowly misses you.  By this time, your heart is thumping like crazy and your brain is buzzing. What will you do? Will you curse or yell at the cyclist? Or will you shake your head and continue walking calmly?

For most people, the immediate reaction will be to explode in anger, either cursing or yelling at the cyclist who is now long gone. Some may even chase the cyclist and attack him to “teach him a lesson”.

Why does our body react that way to ANGER?

Anger triggers a rush of adrenaline into our bodies.  That makes our heart beat faster which leads to quickening of our breaths and gushing of blood to our face and head.  That serves to prepare our body for fight or flight for the purpose of self preservation.  

All of us have a set of “out-of-bound” (OB) markers whether we are aware of it or not. Anything that is good and is of no danger to us is within the OB markers. Anything that we deem bad, dangerous, offending etc  is considered to have “crossed the line” and will be labeled “out-of-bounds”.  Hence, our OB markers exist to protect us, to ensure we are safe and happy. 

When something crosses outside our OB markers, it means we are experiencing something is labelled “bad” or “dangerous”. It then triggers ANGER to prepare our body to fight to get rid that offending thing out OR to run away from it. With all that extra energy gathered, we have to expel it.  The most efficient way is to let it out, through cursing, yelling, etc. So we “explode”. 

ANGER, therefore, is a form of self-preservation.  ANGER is there to protect us from harm.

Conclusion

So far we have looked at what anger is and why we react to anger the way we do. But ANGER is not the root emotion. It is actually a result of another emotion.

In the next part of this series, we will look at what anger actually masks and why we choose it over whatever triggered it.

In the meantime, should you burst into a temper tantrum against your child or whoever the poor soul might be, know that it is because your body had geared up for fight or run.  Then after you calm down, think about whether you really had to fight or run.

Till Part 2 of Dealing with Anger, 

Happy Parenting!

Update: You can read the next 2 parts of the series here:
Part 2: Why We Choose Anger
Part 3: How to Overcome Anger

Addictions and What To Do

Device addiction or internet addiction is rather rampant nowadays. I have lost count of the number of parents who have approached me to help their children overcome this problem.

To overcome any problem, the first thing we need to understand is why it is happening and how it is happening. Then and only then can we effectively solve the problem.

So let us look at addiction itself. What is it? What is its root cause? And more importantly, what can we do to help our children (and ourselves) overcome addictions?

What is Addiction?

There are different types of addiction. There is addiction to substances like drugs, alcohol, nicotine etc. And there is behavioural addiction like gambling, sex, gaming, and internet addiction.

While they differ in type, the end result is the same. Indulging in the addiction triggers pleasure. It helps the addicts forget about their troubles and woes. Even if it kills them, they would rather indulge in the pleasure than face their pain.

Introducing Rat Cages With Drugs

In the early days of research into addiction, researchers placed individual rats into an empty cage with nothing except 2 sources of drinks. One was plain water and the other was water infused with heroin.

Over time, the rats would all get addicted to the heroin infused water and die of overdose. The researchers concluded that the presence of drugs caused addiction.

The research does lend itself to that conclusion. But is that really the case?  There are drugs around.  But not EVERYONE is an addict. Cigarettes and alcohol are easily accessible, yet not everyone is an addict. There are casinos around too, but not everyone gambles or is addicted to it. So what is the missing piece?

Introducing the Rat Park

In the later 1970s and early 1980s, a Canadian researcher, Bruce Alexander, ran a different experiment. He created a “Rat Park”. The Rat Park differed from the original Rat Cage in three ways.

Firstly, it was 200 times bigger than the individual rat cages in previous experiments.

Secondly, the Rat Park had 20 rats of both genders in it, unlike the old rat cages that contained one solitary rat each.

Thirdly, instead of an empty cage except for the two bottles of water, the Rat Park was filled with Hamster wheels and multi-colored balls for the rats to play with. It was also stocked with plenty of tasty food to eat, and spaces for mating and raising litters.

The constant between the old Rat Cage experiments and the Rat Park was they both offered one bottle of drinking water and one bottle of heroin infused water.

Bruce found that the rats in his Rat Park ignored the heroin. They were much more interested in typical communal rat activities such as playing, fighting, eating, and mating. Even rats which had become addicted to the heroin water when they were in the Rat Cage experiment left the tainted water alone once they were introduced to the Rat Park. Essentially, with a little bit of social stimulation and connection, addiction disappeared.

So what can we learn from this famous “Rat Park” experiment?

What IS the Root Cause of Addiction?

When someone has an addiction to something, be it substance addiction, or internet addiction, or behavioural addiction, the problem is not with whatever they are addicted to. The problem lies with the “cage” that these people are in. Is their cage stimulating enough, fun enough, with sufficient opportunities for meaningful relationships and connection?

Addiction is triggered by the craving for pleasure. Indulging in it helps the addicts forget about their troubles and woes. Understanding that is the first step to helping addicts overcome their addiction.

Many people think that when the addict recovers, he becomes sober. But being sober does not help him forget about his troubles and woes. If anything, it makes him more keenly aware of the challenges he faces. He will very quickly suffer a relapse and go back to the addiction.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is CONNECTION. Why connection?

Well, the answer is simple. If we look at the residents of Rat Park, they have fun. They have activities to do. They have a social life. Life is exciting and interesting. They are connected to being alive. They are connected to living.

But the residents of Rat Cage? They are isolated with nothing to do. Life is boring, a drudgery.  Hence, they need something, anything, to spruce up their lives.

Hence, addiction is the LACK OF CONNECTION.

What Can We Do As Parents?

Instead of simply confiscating the source of addiction which essentially does nothing to fill the void of the addicts, it will be more productive and effective if we spruce up their “cages”, the lives that they live.

I mean if we look at our children nowadays, how are their lives like? How big are their cages? How much freedom do they have? Do they have time for socialisation, for play?

Is It As Simple As That?

Yes and no.

Why yes? Sprucing up the cages is but the first step. When our children feel they have some control of their lives, that there is meaning in their lives, their likelihood of being addicted to anything will reduce drastically.

BUT it is MORE than just that. We will need to understand the development of children, especially our teens, as well as understand how to establish connection and trust with them so we are better able to guide them.  Let us face it.  How many of our children “really” listen to us? To get them to hear us out and do as we say, we really need to strengthen our connection with them.

Want to Know More?

I hope you have found this article useful.

If cyber/device addiction is something your children are struggling with, or if you are concerned about keeping your children safe from cyber dangers, you will want to check out this 2-hour Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety Seminar. I will sharing more about addiction and how to keep our children safe on the internet.

TOPIC:          Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety
SPEAKER :    Vivian Kwek
VENUE :       2 Venture Drive VISION EXCHANGE #21-01 S608526
DATE :         Saturday Nov 3, 2018
TIME :         11AM-1PM 

After the 2-hour workshop, you will

  • Understand why children are addicted to the internet/their devices;
  • Know what you can do to address that addiction;
  • Learn how to keep children safe from dangers online, eg: bullying, grooming, objectionable content etc;
  • Learn how to encourage children to share what happens in their cyberworld with you so that they can have a safer cyber experience;
  • Have your questions on keeping your children safe on the internet addressed; and
  • Create a Cyber Safety Plan for your family.

 

Here’s what other parents have said about Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety Seminar:

“I have attended several seminars and workshops on cyber safety previously. But this is the first one that explains why my child behaves the way she does. Now that I understand why she is addicted to her device and the challenges she faces, I know how to help her overcome it. Thank you so much for the insight.”

“This is a really beneficial session and should be shared with more parents.”

“Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety opened up a lot of questions on our previous assumptions.”

 

To register, click on this link: Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety

See you on 3 Nov 2018!

 

Happy Parenting!

 

 

To Be Or Not To Be?

My 5-year-old left her gym class with tears in her eyes.  “I cried two times today,” she said.  When I asked her why, she said it was because her friends decided they did not want to be her friends anymore. One of them started calling her names and singing mean songs about her.  Even though she told the person the song wasn’t nice and asked her to stop, that person kept singing it.

“At first I tried to ignore her.  But she kept singing it over and over until I couldn’t take it anymore.  I got so angry.  So I cried,” my little one elaborated.

I did my best to comfort her. Little ones changing their minds about who they want to be friends with is common. One day you are BFFs, the next, they turn their backs on you.  And a few days later, you are BFFs again.  And the cycle repeats itself ever so often.

Sometimes it happens more often with certain people who use their friendship as emotional blackmail.  It happens to adults too.  I reminded her to not do that to any of her friends because they would be hurt, as she was hurt now.

I asked if she had done anything that might have hurt her friends, like laughed at them when they made a mistake, or speak rudely to them.

“No, mom. Today is lesson three and they just suddenly say they don’t want to be my friends.  But in lesson one and lesson two, they were my friends. I don’t know why,” she replied.

To divert her attention, I asked her what she had done at gym class that day and she said she got to lead in the warm up exercise.  Lead?  She was only recently promoted to the higher level class.  Yet her instructor had asked her to lead the entire class at the start of her third session when there were others who had been there for at least three months or more?

Hmmm… A different reason for her friends turning on her began to surface.

Jealousy At Play?

I might have over-read the situation. Maybe it’s just childishness, but I felt the urge to say something about it to my girl.

So I explained that there was a possibility that her friends who turned their backs on her might have been jealous that she was selected to lead the class.  That sometimes, people do not like to be friends with people who are better than them because it makes them feel inferior.

“But why?” asked my little one.  She continued, “We can learn from 3 different kinds of people.  We can learn from our teachers. We can learn from our parents. And we can learn from our friends. If I am good, and they are my friends, they will become good too,” she reasoned.

“Indeed we can,” I assured her.  “I love hanging out with people smarter and more capable than I am,” I told her.

“Me too!” she replied.

To Be Or Not To Be?

I brought her back to the predicament that she was in.  I told her I was not sure if jealousy was why her friends decided not to be her friends anymore.  But what would she do if indeed her friends rejected her because they were jealous of her being more capable? Would she purposely make more mistakes so she appeared less capable?  Would she become weaker so they would be her friends again?

“Would you stop being your awesome self to keep your friends?” I asked. She looked confused.

So I asked her instead, “Do you want to be loved for who you are?”  She nodded.

“Great! Then continue being your awesome self.  And you will find friends who like the awesome you, who love you for who you are, and who will feel proud to see you do well.  As for people who stop being your friends because you are stronger than them, it is their loss that they decide to stop being friends with you.”

My little one’s eyes lit up.  “That makes a lot of sense, mom. Thanks!” And she gave me a hug.

Why Did I Do This?

Some people may say I over-interpreted the situation with her gym mates.  Maybe I did.  Maybe it’s just childish frivolity and there’s no jealousy whatsoever.

Regardless, I saw this gym event as a good teaching opportunity for my little one (and her older siblings when I shared the conversation with them).

I feel our children need to have the inner fortitude to learn they do not need to “dumb down” to earn the love of anyone.  I want my children to know that they are awesome and feel confident about themselves.  I want them to find friends who love them for who they are.

No, I am not asking my little one to be careless about keeping friends. Of course if now she had lost friends because she was mean or hurtful, the lesson would have been totally different.  It would have been about her being kinder, gentler and more loving because we can always be better versions of ourselves even though our family may continue loving us with our warts and all.

But if she is being rejected for her strengths, I would ask her to be bold in shining and continue being who she is.  I want her to learn that if she is shunned for her strengths, it is not her loss but the loss of those who shunned her. I want her to know she will find people who will love her strengths and flock to her. Because, indeed, birds of a feather flock together. I would much prefer she “flocks” with those who are open to learning,

Why? Because this is not simply about her being authentic and true to herself.  The more important lesson here lies in the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.  AND do not do unto others as you would not want others to do unto you.”

In other words, I want her to also learn not to feel jealous or bitter about those who are stronger and better than she, but to be inspired, to want to learn, and to befriend such people.

For that, to me, is a growth mindset. And that is the key to success.

 

Happy Parenting!