Putting Anger to Work for Good

Amy Challenger self

“I’m never coming to this place again,” said my son.

“What? Why?” I asked.

“A really mad mom said I pushed the swing wrong. And if I didn’t stop, she said she’d kick me off the playground — I don’t get it!” Minutes before, the girl on the swing he’d been pushing had been laughing hysterically, begging my son for higher pushes.

Now I was the mad one, annoyed with myself for missing the exchange. That mom didn’t know that I’d spent an hour convincing my son, who suffered with depression, to come play.  When we arrived, the girl on the swing had made his day with her words, “Hey! Come play with me!” He’d been so depressed for the past months that he’d been schooled by private teachers and was afraid to socialize. He had difficulty decoding social language, regulating his impulses and body and felt insecure in interactions with other children. “She’s got anger issues, doesn’t she mom?” My boy searched my reddening face for answers.

As I thought about ways to respond, I felt a familiar old “anger issue” gnawing beneath my skin. In the past, anger had arrived when my son had open-heart surgery. Why my child? It came when he didn’t fit at any schools. Why are these schools so hurtful? It came when his depression got so severe I feared I’d lose him. Why can’t anyone help? Anger rattled me when my younger son was bullied at school, when my 6-year-old daughter felt dumb for not mastering reading.

Anger urged me to shake my finger at the mom on the playground and to turn away from parents, teachers, and relatives who misunderstood or overlooked our struggles. Anger told me to hate myself.  My kids’ struggles are all my fault! And at night, when I tried to relax, anger replayed my wrongdoings, grinding teeth, shortening my breath. Sometimes in the morning it prevented me from tasting the sweetness of springtime and deafened me from hearing the twang of my daughter’s voice, “Mommy, look at my ladybug drawing!”

Sometimes anger prevented me from receiving anything good.

Anger said, Don’t you see those moms with the perfect kids? With the organized homes? With the better lives? It said, If that school, that friend, that doctor had been kinder, my son wouldn’t suffer so much. Anger tried to convince me that other people controlled my life.

Anger wanted to fester and throw a life-long party in my body. I learned that anger is greedy. It aims toward one thought, then one person and on to encircle families, groups of people, communities, and schools. Anger stomps about, pleading to aim its nastiness at nations and genders and races, and kids and moms with special needs too. Anger turns on everyone.

On the other hand, at its inception, I’ve found that anger can be transformed. When anger gallops toward me, hurling all its accusations and insults about, I can hold out my hand and greet its red-hot snout with an “I knew you were coming” smack. Here are a handful of “reformed angers” I’ve discovered:

Forgiving anger is powerful. It says, I’m mad at you but I’m a lot like you. I inadvertently misunderstand and hurt people too. I’m selfish too. I make mistakes every day too. Hey! Maybe we should be friends.

Proactive anger doesn’t like me to be a victim. It thinks I can change this maddening situation by advocating for change. Proactive anger pushes me to patiently share with the mom who frightened my kid. It insists that I empower my son by teaching him strategies for communicating and getting help when he’s misunderstood. Proactive anger uses its energy to talk to teachers and school administrators who don’t yet understanding how to support my child or others like him.

Hopeful anger believes in change. It says I can help my family, my child or the next by growing from my (infuriating) experiences. I can write with passion. I can share with honesty. I can find others with similar experiences and we can support one another. 

Faithful anger triumphs. It unfolds through blessings finally seen. Look at how my son was able to share his feelings! It praises goodness, promising that I can leave anger behind, accepting all that I don’t understand. Faithful anger doesn’t fix everything, but roots itself in the firm yet winding path of life. It glides onward through forgiveness, deep breaths and into a horizon promising another day of playgrounds and friendships and opportunities where children can indeed soar.