I’ll never forget when my therapist told me anger is a second emotion. It changed my life. And freed me from debilitating pain and anxiety.
I had reached out to her a couple months prior because of the heavy burden I was feeling from my son's disability.
At that point, we had multiple diagnoses and I had been through far too many traumatizing experiences with my son. That particular week we had just gotten home from spending a huge chunk of the holidays in the hospital. I was feeling beat down. I knew I needed to talk this out or I would drown in it. So, I called and made my very first appointment with a therapist.
For the first few weeks, I didn't cry in her office. I simply told her all the things. I told her everything about my son and our experience. I even laughed a little. She kept asking me if I felt sad or depressed, and I kept telling her no. I just felt gnawing anxiety and frustration. I felt restless and physically sick, but I insisted I didn't feel sad.
She never said too much at our sessions. She let me vent and share my fears and frustrations. She would always give me great compassion. I so appreciated that. I felt heard and cared about, but I didnt feel better.
Then, it happened. The conversation that was the breakthrough I needed. I remember it so clearly. It changed my life.
I had been telling her how angry I was at everyone and the situation with my son. I felt so alone and that made me angry. I was mad that the world didn't seem to know or care about special needs families, and that the majority of people couldn't relate to most of my fears. I was angry that I didn't know how my son would develop. I was mad that the doctors and therapists had no sure answers for me. I was angry that I had to watch my son experience more pain and hardship as a toddler than some people experience in their lifetime. And, the list went on. I was endlessly angry.
As I talked I realized that my anger had penetrated every area of my life.
After my long rant, She took out a piece of paper and set it on the table in front of me. She proceeded to draw a tree. With roots and a trunk and branches and leaves. She wrote anger on the trunk.
"Imagine the tree as a manifestation of your emotions," she said. "Anger is a second emotion."
" It is the trunk of the tree. There is a root beneath the tree that is causing you to feel so much anger. "
She then started writing in the roots. Sadness, loss, hurt, grief, loneliness. "These are some examples of root emotions. Do you feel any of these? "
Then I started really crying. I did. I felt all of those things.
Somehow seeing it laid out like that after realizing how deep seeded my anger had become made so much sense. I was angry but, really, I was sad. I was hurt by the people in my life that didn't show up for me. I was grieving the loss of a life we were never going to have. I was sad for my son and the experiences he had been through. I was sad for myself and the experiences I walked him through. I was so lonely. I felt like nobody could ever truly understand.
I could see clearly that those root emotions were my true feelings, finally, stripped down and exposed.
When I realized my anger stemmed from my grief, I felt freed from the bondage of my anger.
Over the next few weeks, I let myself feel sad, and sadness felt way better than anger. After I was sad for quite awhile I started to feel like a human being again.
The reason I went to see my therapist in the first place was this gnawing anxiety and anger. I directed it at the world around me and I couldn’t shake it. Suddenly, when I let myself be sad, all those things were gone. I was left with the grief of loss and the pain of loneliness. I felt the sadness over the trauma we experienced, fear for our future and all the realities of special needs parenting come crashing down.
I saw a quote today posted in a local parent support group that said, "I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief"
I felt the emphatic, yes!, rise up in my soul the second I read it.
So often, I see so much anger in the special needs community.
We are angry at the schools, we are angry at the doctors, and we are angry at the therapists for not having the answers. We are angry at the friends and family who say the wrong thing or say nothing at all. We are angry at each other for disagreeing and at social media for the stereotypes we feel. We are angry at strangers who look our way and don’t know what to say, and we are angry at ourselves for not being enough. It seems our community's anger is everywhere.
But, what if we aren't really so angry at all these people around us and we are mainly sad about our situations.
You, like me, probably feel robbed of an experience we aren't having, of a childhood our kids aren't getting. You probably feel isolated and when people say nothing or say the wrong thing, it just makes the sting of loneliness worse. You may feel hopeless and depressed because of the strain and hardship of raising children with special needs.
I know that pain. I feel your grief too.
I think subconsciously we can be resistant to embrace our grief. Because it seems painful. For me, the anger was more painful. The sadness demanded to be felt. And, in a strange way, it gave me peace. Peace with myself, peace with my friends and family and peace with the world around me.
I challenge you to look deeper at your anger surrounding your special needs experience. To try to see the underlying pain and sadness you are feeling for what it is. To deal with that root emotion and not its secondary manifestation.
If we could take all that anger we feel towards the world and really experience our sorrow, I believe we would be able to function better for our family and our friends. We could be more level headed and focused advocates for our children and we could be freed from the isolation and bitterness that shrouds angry souls.