(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Leanne, you’re dealing with your own anger? Is that true?
Leanne: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve got a history of some crazy things. My dad and my brother are bipolar. He was an alcoholic.
Dr. Kenner: How is the he? Your father was an alcoholic?
Leanne: Yeah. Both of them were bipolar and my dad was an alcoholic. Growing up with my dad being very critical, it gave me a very low self worth. I had a very skewed self image. Wound up with avoidant personality disorder.
Dr. Kenner: Avoidant, meaning that you pretty much wanted to go in a corner and not deal with the world?
Leanne: Pretty much. I took everything that was a problem to me and just stuffed it down deep inside. The problem with that is that it redirected all my anger and all the things toward myself and gave me a very, very skewed self image from there. Since then, about a year ago, I found myself and worked on a lot of issues and been able to get away from a lot of things, but I’m having particular trouble with my anger. Some of it might have to do, I might have some bipolar because my dad obviously had it and my brother got it. I get irritable easy and things like that. Here’s my main issue – I don’t know where to put all of that anger, all of that emotion that I’ve got inside. I recognize when it happens and I recognize what’s making me angry, but I don’t know what to do after that. I don’t know where to put all of that emotion. I don’t know where to put all of that intensity without hurting everybody around me. Without being condescending and things like that.
Dr. Kenner: To the rescue. What you want to give yourself are a body of skills called assertiveness skills. And you have a choice in life. You can either go through life passive, where you stuff everything – mom swears at you, dad puts you down, your brother beats on you or something – and you stuff down everything that you’re feeling. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong.” You stuff it, you stuff it, you stuff it, but you feel like you’re exploding inside. And you have all of these different negative feelings and you don’t know how to get them out. So, being passive is one way that people manage their anger. It is not a healthy way to manage your anger, as you can see. Because you just feel like you’re all bottled up. Another way is to just let the anger out. “I’m a direct person. I am not going to sweet talk you. I’m not going to tiptoe around and say I’m okay when I’m not okay. I’m going to tell you how I feel. I think you’re an idiot. I think you’re a jerk. I think you hurt me. You did this.” What is the first word I’m using in every one of those sentences?
Leanne: You, you, you.
Dr. Kenner: You, you, you. If you could see me now, my face is leaning forward. If you were in front of me, I’d be in your face with my finger pointing at you. Sometimes it’s called finger-pointing language. It is aggressive language because when you start saying “you,” like, “You did this. You didn’t do this. You should have done this. You idiot,” with the name calling. What it does is it shifts the other person’s focus. They don’t hear what your compliant is. I hate doing this, but can you bear with one role-play?
Dr. Kenner: “Leanne, you’re such a jerk. You put the car in the wrong place again.” What are you focused on right now?
Leanne: Well, the fact that you called me a jerk.
Dr. Kenner: And did you even hear that you put the car in the wrong place?
Leanne: I did, but …
Dr. Kenner: You can hear it, but your focus shifts over to, “Don’t call me a jerk. Don’t call me an idiot. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll park where I damn well please.” You get into this rebellious, don’t tell me what to do, don’t put me down. When you start a sentence with a “you” and then throw in your evaluation, “You did this, you did that,” you’re actually attacking the person’s personality. And you were at the receiving end of that if you are saying that your brother and your father was very critical and I don’t know if your brother was, but your father was very critical of you. You were on the receiving end of that and didn’t know assertive skills as a kid. Are you with me so far?
Dr. Kenner: What you need to do, to be able to express your anger, you need to be able to switch the “you” to “I.” I am feeling really frustrated. I remembered I told you that that’s an emergency entrance that we need to leave open and this is the fifth time I’ve seen your car parked there. If I cut, what are you now thinking?
Leanne: Well, that I parked my car in a place that is an emergency lane.
Dr. Kenner: Yeah, I didn’t attack your character. But could you hear the frustration in my voice? I could still vent my anger.
Dr. Kenner: It’s fascinating. One of the examples – I love this parenting book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk – there’s an example of the mom saying, “There’s a wet towel on my bed and I’m seeing red!” She just gets real angry. You can express angry, but she didn’t attack the person’s character. She talked about how she was feeling. So, I’m only giving you just a little window into assertiveness skills. There are multiple, multiple assertiveness skills, rather than just I and you, knowing the difference between “I language” or “you language” or assertive and aggressive language. But if you get a book on assertiveness skills, there’s a book Asserting Yourself, a book Messages by McKay and some other authors. There are multiple good books on the market that can teach you how to express yourself. Even that parenting book I mentioned – not all of them are on my website but the parenting book is on my website, DrKenner.com – that teaches assertiveness skills for pint sized kids or there’s one for teenagers too. But if you’ve got a lot of pent-up anger, you want those skills. Then you can even go back to the people that hurt you in your past, if you want, it may not be worth it, and say, “I feel really angry. I felt attacked a lot as a child and I’m hurting now for it. I’m repairing myself. I want to let you know that I’m hurting a lot, that it did a lot of damage.” You can express it. Now I’m abbreviating much more well thought out note to dad or to your brother or whoever it would involve. But if you’re angry with yourself too because you’ve kept stuff in, that you’ve betrayed yourself, then instead of getting angry with yourself, learn the skills and grow. Use that anger to motivate you to love your life. So thank you so much for your call Leanne.
Male: I just moved in with my son and it ain’t working. It’s a lot of tension between us. I guess I didn’t see that he had a whole new life planned for himself and I kind of got in the way.
Dr. Kenner: And what happens if you have your parent move in with you? You’ve got caretaker responsibilities and what is it like for you? It’s hard to come and go and not pay attention to your parent, and yet you still want some of the freedom you used to have and yet you love your parent and from the parent’s point of view, they may think, “Oh, great, I’m moving in with my son or daughter.” Or they may think, “Oh my God, I have to live with them? I thought finally once I launched them, they were out of the house, I no longer had to live with them.” But there are all of these family dynamics. The dynamics you’ve had over your whole lifetime that come back when dad or mom comes back in to live with you. The dynamics are ripe for you and ripe for mom or dad, and if you guys don’t talk about it, it makes life more difficult. If you can find tactful ways to bring up some of the concerns you have, you can come up with maybe a solution that works for everyone.