The following post is adapted from my new book STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.
Anger comes from loss. Whenever someone hurts you there is a primary loss and a secondary loss. Let me give you an example from my life.
When I lived on our farm we lived in a mobile home. We moved the mobile home to the farm thinking it would only be a year until we built a house. But that never happened because we couldn’t afford it. The farm didn’t generate as much money as we had hoped (surprise, surprise!). So I was feeling very stuck in our situation: very angry to be honest. I had a growing family in a 2 bedroom trailer.
I came home one night from milking the cows and I was tired. When I got home my kids had left a bunch of toys out in the yard so when I got inside I told them to get out there and pick up after themselves. The next night I came home and it was the same thing…toys all over the yard. So I walk in the house and the kids are watching TV and I’m like…what don’t you understand about picking up after yourself? I told you last night to put things away. Get out there and do it again.
The Anger Behind the Anger
I really don’t remember saying that much but I do remember being really mad. So I thought about where my anger came from. You see the primary loss was a messy yard. I wanted things picked up. But as I thought about it…there had to be more …something deeper…to make me so mad. And there was. I realized there were a couple of secondary losses. I wasn’t just mad at my kids. I was mad at myself. I was mad that I was still living in a mobile home.
Feeling Like “Trailer Trash”
Now, I don’t mean any disrespect to those of you who live in a mobile home. But I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities and the only mobile home park I knew about was full of run down trailers with toys all around the yard. And something deep inside of me was embarrassed to think that this was the best I could do. I felt like a loser. I realized I wasn’t mad at my kids as much as I was mad at myself for being a failure. I felt like, what people called, “Trailer Trash”.
The other loss I felt that day was respect. When my kids didn’t learn from my first scolding it made me feel like they didn’t listen because they didn’t respect my authority. Now, in reality, that’s not true. They were just being kids. But my shame was working against me and causing me to feel disconnected. And then at an even deeper level I probably feared that they didn’t listen to me because I was working too much so I felt like a failure as a father.
A Defining Moment
These thoughts were a major revelation to me. They caused a significant change in all my relationships and how I dealt with my anger. I realized that only about 20% of my anger had to do with my kids not putting their toys away. The other 80% had to do with my feeling trapped in poverty and disrespected and being absent as a father. Do you see that? So the primary loss was the messy yard. The secondary losses were respect and the sense of feeling trapped in poverty and being a poor father.
Unfortunately we often never think about the secondary losses and dealing with our issues. We just keep yelling louder at the kids or whomever we are mad at until they finally do what we want or walk away from us.
Take a minute and think about someone who has offended you recently. What did they do that made you mad? Now go deeper. What are the secondary losses that hurt so much? Before you spend any more time obsessing about how you were hurt pray about the deeper issues…the 80% that I talked about above.
Question: What are secondary losses that often make you angry? Leave your comment below.
Four Keys to Restoring Broken Relationships (readingremy.com)