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Dear Caregiver, You are not alone in this Circuit Breaker: Anger Management Tips

Dear Caregiver, You are not alone in this Circuit Breaker: Anger Management Tips

by Sharmini Winslow, Psychodramatist / Therapist

 

Anger is a response most of us have when we feel our territory is being threatened. This is a primitive reaction from our days as cavemen (and cavewomen) when a wild animal was nearby! This reaction has not quite been removed by modern civilisation.  When something threatens our security, the brain responds to it with a fight or flight reaction.  The body releases adrenaline which causes changes in the body.  The heart pumps faster, breathing gets faster, blood gets diverted to the legs and arms so we can run or fight back. The blood flow to the reasoning part of the brain is lessened so that thinking becomes difficult. Nowadays there are no saber tooth tigers coming out to attack us which require us to fight or flee.  However the body’s response to a threat remains the same and, unless we find ways to discharge the energy or change our perceptions, the fight response will persist. 

 

Powerless!! That’s the situation most people find themselves in at the moment during this Covid-19 Pandemic Circuit Breaker.  From the home maker, who has to see her family all day long to the child who wants to have his friends over; teenagers who are restricted in their activities with peers to husbands who have to adjust to being at home with no break! Cabin fever is setting in and many are not coping well.  Add to that mix an addiction that is running rampant in the household and you have a powder keg ready to blow!!! 

 

What can family members do at this time to stay sane and not get embroiled in another power struggle or argument with the addict in the house.  Anger that luxury during normal times is just magnified as all of us are forced to Stay Home. A simple request turns into a huge event; an innocent comment gets misinterpreted; and even demonstrations of concern become fuel for accusations of being manipulative or controlling. What to do??

 

Most family members of addicts or dysfunctional families (most of us can attest to being in this category),  have resorted for a while now to manage, manoeuvre, save or guilt trip.  This comes from a place of love and fear. However having time apart has always been a great diffuser of tension.  Now faced with a Stay Home situation things can get stressful. Once free to go out, meet friends, go to the gym and pursue our life goals, we find ourselves having to don a mask and stay six feet away from each other, with frequent temperature checks thrown in!  Yes we know it’s for our own good but just how do we go about removing that sense of irritation or frustration?? What’s wrong with me?  I never used to get SO upset?? Being stuck at home we ‘step on the toes’ of others or they inadvertently step on ours. 

 

So here are some possible ways to cope…..

 

1. Walk away and discharge the energy

Going for a walk, or a run and getting away from the source or trigger for our anger is one option.  Moving away and giving vent to the energy is what we need to do.  Digging in the garden, washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom tiles or polishing the furniture is a great outlet for this energy. Shredding newspaper is another excellent technique.  After which you could turn the strips into Papier Mache pulp and create an art project.  One woman wrote that she would pull out weeds and imagine she was pulling out her husband’s hair! This is called Detaching.

 

2. Practice Deep Breathing and Self soothing

This taking in of deep breaths, helps bring more oxygen into the body and to the brain.  Especially important is the frontal cortex where our reasoning happens. Improved brain function helps restore some calmer thinking. Follow this up with doing something good for yourself such as listening to some music you like, dancing, playing a game on your phone, doing a craft or even having a nap. Seld care is important when you have to deal with a loved one suffering from an addiction.  We often say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you attend to others.”

 

3. How Important Is It? 

Ask yourself this question.  After walking away and breathing for a bit, consider how the event figures in the larger scheme of things. Does this event require action right now or can it wait? Do I need to say what’s on my mind right now or can I pause and say it later.  Often I ask myself these questions- Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me now?? By the time ive asked myself these questions, my good sense would have returned and I can leave it for another time.

 

4. Respond not react

After calming down, consider a way to communicate which is kind and thoughtful. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. I’ve heard this said by someone- “Try to say it in ten words or less!”  Haha! Most of us have communication patterns that escalate tension! So, try this for a change.

 

Another great tool is the acronym – T.H.I.N.K.  Before I speak I need to THINK. 

Is what I’m saying Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary or Kind. If not take a piece of Masking tape and place it nearby.  This helps as a reminder to keep my mouth shut.  

 

When all else fails, go talk to someone you trust and let it out. A friend in need is a friend indeed.  Or seek one of many support groups or counsellors to help you cope. Whatever the case, we are all in this together! So don’t suffer alone. There are many helplines and people available to support you such as the ones listed below. 

 

    

Auteurs, thespians, and emotions. Except it’s all truly heartfelt. Psychodrama!

Auteurs, thespians, and emotions. Except it’s all truly heartfelt. Psychodrama!

Written by an anonymous contributor

I am a self-confessed introvert. And I’m also an addict.

I was recently cajoled into attending a Psychodrama session. I’d heard things about it – years earlier, my then significant other lauded the raw emotional exploration her sessions afforded her. I encouraged her, it was good for her. Personally though, I found the idea of a group session’s ability to evoke genuine emotion alien. It was the antithesis of who I was.

I had never enjoyed group sessions. I hated them. The introvert in me screamed (silently) in indignation at being forced into a room with my peers, lorded over by therapists who would extol the heaven-sent power of vulnerability, hanging it over the heads of us sullen detainees. They would espouse connectedness with others, openness. To me, these were just unattainable states of being that I could never actualise. The years wore on, and I plodded along, entwined with my precious, thorny, addictions. Prison, pricey rehabs abroad. I took care to never bring my real self along to the banal group therapies – I merely presented them with an alter-ego. Faking it to get along. Or “faking it to make it”, in the parlance of addicts like myself who would say or do anything to achieve a discharge.

I was living an entirely unremarkable life, losing friends and embarrassing myself.

Then, I experienced a seismic shift in circumstances. To represent it as merely ‘mandated’ would be to deny gravity to what had happened. I had run afoul of the law again, and paid my penance with a 9 month long “drug rehab”. I got out, and three months later I was a year clean. Still, I wasn’t happy. I had done no soul searching, nor had I even begun to scratch the surface of my addiction, always lurking in the shadows. Of course, a large part of my reticence towards accepting sincere nudges in the direction of help could be attributed to personal and moral failings. But why was I the person that I was? That’s when I decided to attend a psychodrama workshop at the urgings of my boss, a sweet girl whose genuine concern had initially confounded me. Why did I acquiesce? To understand myself, I guess. So, I went in with an open mind.

Psychodrama is about exploring internal conflicts, by acting out emotions and interpersonal interactions. I wasn’t inclined to be the center of attention just yet, so I left other enthusiastic participants to play the protagonists. The director, a bubbly personality whose sharp wit was tempered by insightful, genuine empathy, herded a roomful of clueless attendees with a deft hand, schooling us in psychodrama’s basic concepts. I made myself small in the corner and watched as our director doubled volunteers, acting out scenes from their lives, giving voice to their unconscious. Revelatory perspicacity was the order of these moments. I watched as they were mirrored, experiencing themselves from the outside, drawing from a nonjudgmental pool of collective consciousness. I watched as roles reversed – mothers became their daughters, and wives their husbands. All of them seemed edified, comforted, even. Misty eyes and rivulet strewn faces, sighing into closures when none previously seemed possible. There was a woman pained by a frightful trauma, her repressed malefaction she seemed so sure she had committed driving her to seek expiation from whom had ceased to be able to give her any. From the outside looking in, I was sure her wound was self-inflicted – we all knew this, but one’s own guilt is deeply personal, often insidious. As her situation percolated in my mind, so did my own guilt. I hadn’t wept when I learned of my father’s and sister’s departures, I hadn’t wept at their funerals, I hadn’t wept at their memorials. I hadn’t needed to, because I had my addiction. Now, without the pernicious warmth of substances, these losses became some therapeutic cynosure of a starting point. I had begun to understand myself, through others. The cynic in me finally realised why, across addiction recovery literature, syllabuses are almost invariably characterised by the motif of benefits accrued by group therapy. I think it owes something to the collective experience of humanity, that no matter your guilt or your shame, there are people out there who have lived congruent experiences. It may seem cloying and mawkish for me to say that no-one is truly alone, but it’s true.

You just have to look in the right places.