In Mindfulness for Teen Anger, Dr. Mark Purcell tells the following story:
One evening, an old Cherokee man told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
“One is Bad. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee man simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Feed the good “wolf!”
We all deal with anger once in a while. But, during the teenage years, anger is something that can take over both teenagers’ and parents’ lives. This anger can feed that “bad” wolf and make him grow out of proportion.
Dr. Les Parrott, in his book Helping Struggling The Adolescent, explains that anger is an important part of adolescence. In fact, anger is a part of the process of individuation that occurs in adolescence, when teenagers continue to separate from their parents and establish their own individual personas. So, if you are worrying that you are like Ruti, always frustrated and angry at your parents (and even your siblings or friends), then you should know that it is a completely normal part of growing up.
Anger becomes a problem if you do not know how to handle it. To that end, I have put together a “cheat sheet” in order to help you manage your anger before it gets the best of you:
- Mindful mediation: Research has shown that if you focus on your breath and on the present moment (and do not allow any outside thoughts to trickle in), that can help you deal with the anger once you stop your mindful mediation. In fact, you might not feel so angry once you are done focusing on your breathing for five minutes.
- Maintaining perspective: With so many new experiences coming your way while you are in high school, it can be hard to separate the genuine concerns from the slight annoyances. Things like physical harm or verbal bullying are undisputed concerns, whereas someone occasionally prying into your life or unintentionally stifling you are smaller issues.
One way that you can help control your anger is through recognizing the genuine reasons to get upset and ignoring the inconsequential things. Once you are able to distinguish the “big” and “small” stuff, it is a lot easier to maintain perspective and cool down.
- Redirecting anger: Sometimes you might get angry at a parent or sibling because of another issue that occurred earlier in the day with someone else. Taking a step back and asking yourself, “Why am I really angry?” can help you redirect your feelings at the appropriate source.
- Avoid triggers: There are probably situations that automatically make you angry (such as your parents not giving you enough space, even though you are always following their rules). Being aware of these triggers can help you take control of the situation. Before walking through the door, remind yourself that your parents – because they love you – will probably ask you a multitude of questions. Rehearse the answers you will give in order to satisfy both yourself and your parents. This way, you will be prepared for a potentially frustrating encounter.
- Time management: When you are stressed, you are more likely to express anger in a destructive manner. Likewise, if you are sleep-deprived, you are more likely to snap at those around you (even without real provocation). A great way to avoid these feelings is to manage your time effectively. Don’t leave big assignments and studying to the night before they are due. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. That way, you will be better equipped to handle anger when confronted with it.
- Talk it out: One of the best ways to control your anger is through calmly talking to others. When not in the heat of the moment, it might help to talk to your friends about what is making you upset. You can also think about whether anything would change if you spoke to your parents about the way you feel. If you think they would be receptive, ask your parents when a good time to sit down and talk would be. Setting aside time for your relationship will strengthen your ties with your parents and ultimately smooth out the kinks in your relationship.
Throughout these often trying teenage years, it is important to remember that anger is not bad. Actually, it is a really important part of growing up and becoming your own person. In fact, if you don’t ever get angry now and then, I would be a bit worried! After all, feeling angry every now and then is part of growing up and encountering new and challenging experiences.
Rather, it is how you handle your anger that determines your quality of life. Positive anger management can be constructive. When expressed positively, it can help improve your self-respect and even help others gain more respect for you. When you speak with others about your feelings and come up with resolutions together, you are building stronger foundations for relationships.
As you grow older, events will continue to occur that will make you angry – so practicing constructive anger management techniques will benefit you in the future as well. Just bear in mind, mad is not bad – it’s all about how you react to that anger. Will you feed the “bad” wolf? Or instead, will you feed the “good” wolf and allow him to win?