Sonya Thomas lcsw

Relational Heroism – Part 2

Welcome to post #2 in our series on Relational Heroism.  Please keep reading for insights into the destruction wrought by anger and rage as well as the benefits of timing oneself out.

2) Recognize the destructive and long lasting impact of your anger and rage: In her recorded 3 CD set on anger entitled Don’t Bite the Hook, the renowned Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron gives a Dharma talk based on an 8th century  lecture which  states, “Good works gathered in a thousand ages, such as deeds of generosity or offerings to the blissful ones—a single flash of anger shatters them.”

Chodron goes on to say, “It causes so much damage to us. Your temper erupts violently and you are either verbally or physically abusive. It shocks our system so deeply—it shatters a lot of good will—it can take a long time to get back to where you were. A single blast of anger shatters the good you have done.” It’s not going too far to say that a single episode of acting out in anger may destroy a lifetime of good will and permanently damage a relationship.  For some, the ability to rebound from outbursts of anger or rage takes a very long time, and the imprint of the outburst remains, eroding trust and safety, which are foundational for long term relational health.  Those that rebound quicker fail to grasp the damage they do to partner’s who do not share in their ability for speedy recovery.  Note that Chodron is not suggesting that one does not FEEL angry.  She admonishes us to not ACT OUT our anger on others.

     3) Utilize Time-Outs to stem the escalation of anger: I work with many couples who have repeatedly allowed their conflicts to escalate to a destructive degree, with massive hurt feelings and often long periods of icy coldness and stonewalling as a result. I teach all of the couples with whom I work about the importance of taking time-outs. In his most recent book, The New Rules of Marriage, Terry Real states, “The best defense against verbal abuse is a formal time-out.” He writes:

“While you have probably heard of this technique and possibly used it with your children, time-outs work equally well with ‘unruly’ adults. When either partner calls a time-out—by saying the word ‘time-out,’ by using the ‘T’ hand signal, or by using any agreed-upon sign—the interaction must come to an immediate stop. The signal is understood by both partners to be an abbreviation of the following words:

‘Dear partner, for whatever reason, right or wrong, I am about to lose it. If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I’m going to regret. Therefore, I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down. I will check back in with you responsibly.’

Real continues: “Notice that the time-out is always taken from an ‘I’ position, never from a ‘you’ position. It’s a singularly bad idea to tell your partner that he is being a brat or she needs to take a time-out. You take it.  Telling your partner that he or she needs a break virtually guarantees an argument.  Once the contract has been agreed to in advance, either partner has the right to leave the interaction whenever he or she chooses, and should be allowed to do so without interference.  When reconnecting after a time-out, it is a good idea to take a 24-hour moratorium on the subject that triggered the initial fight. After the time-out is over, whether it’s 20 minutes or an entire day, when you move back into contact with each other, do not discuss the topic that started you off.   Let a little reconnection take place, otherwise, you run a great risk of just getting wound up again.  Pick up the topic that prompted the fight with intention to do so in a healthy and respectful way, at a time when both parties have had ample opportunity to calm down and reflect on how they want to show up differently when discussing the topic going forward.

Until next time, peace.