I love this post, Joanna. Our boys need protection and concern too.

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Thank you!! Can't wait to get your book and to have you also leading the charge on this conversation.

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Chap 2 of my book is "Discuss & Demonstrate Healthy Relationships" b/c this is SO important

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Sounds awesome. A big part of Christopher's and my book, too!

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Apr 19, 2023Liked by Joanna Schroeder

Great piece!

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Thanks, doll!

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I'm still in search of "appropriate ways to express anger". I'll have to write a longer version of what I mean by that some time, but in short, I can't remember ever seeing or hearing examples that sound to me like actual expressions of anger. Rather, they are ways to diminish the anger until it passes (like breathing and counting), or otherwise behave as if you're not angry, because expressing anger directly is bad. Anger advice inevitably comes off (to me) as advice on how not to express anger, rather than that elusive wisdom about how to express actual anger...appropriately.

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Hmm well, if I were talking to my kids about it, I think I'd say these things:

1. It's always OK to say you're angry, when you're feeling angry. The words "I'm super angry right now" followed by what you want/think/feel/can do about it is totally appropriate. "I'm super angry right now, and I would appreciate if I could have some time alone so I can just be pissed and get past this level of anger so we can talk about it, like maybe tomorrow or something" Or like "I'm super angry right now and I really want to talk about what made me so angry. Can we talk about it?"

I remember former writing partner Jamie Reidy saying to me "I'm really angry right now. I'm not angry at you, I'm just angry at the situation. I'll call you in a little while." And I was like HOLY CRAP that was reasonable. I'd never heard anything like that! And he had a VERY angry voice. Not yelling or screaming but not trying to hide that he was angry.

2. I think physical outlets for anger that are private are also great. Punching pillows, chopping wood, going to the gym to punch the bag, IDK .... whatever is around and makes sense. My. mom installed a punching bag in the basement for my brother when he was a teenager and angry.

Screaming into a pillow, tearing up junk mail or other waste paper type thing in an angry way, stomping when you're in private (so it's not threatening or annoying lol), these all seem really reasonable to me.

3. Writing things out - it's hard to say "you can journal" to a guy bc that is such a feminized concept these days (which is weird, but whatever), but you could create a password-protected "vent page" in a google doc and just write "I hate everyone, I hate my mom I hate my dad my sister is the worst my brother gets every fucking thing he wants, I hate my whole entire debate team they all suck and I'm the only one who cares if we win anyway, my car sucks, I hate being broke, I don't have time to see my friends, girls don't like me anymore because I got braces, I'm worried my breath stinks, I hate my grandpa for making my mom so mad all the time he's such an asshole, sometimes I'm so angry I freak myself out" etc etc ... all the rough stuff that they couldn't say out loud.

If I were advising my kid to do this, I'd probably tell him to put at the top of it: THIS IS JUST A VENT PAGE, I CAN WRITE ANYTHING I WANT AND IT DOESN'T MEAN IT IS TRUE, IT IS JUST A BIG ANGRY VENT PAGE AND NOBODY CAN SEE IT EXCEPT ME. Just so they know even if someone DID see it, they'd know what it is.

4. Write angry emails/ texts on the vent page or in a google doc (bc I've sent them before by accident, oops) and say all the shit you wish you could say. Then go back the next day and read it and see if you want to send it /edit it / delete it.

So I would say those are healthy expressions of anger. And, yeah, I think the anger will pass - because that's what anger does. Sometimes it passes entirely, sometimes it just passes to a point where you can be functional.

What I would say to my kids they MAY NOT DO is this:

- unloading on someone who isn't responsible for your feelings w/o asking them first in a way that actually inquires

- blaming people who aren't to blame

- screaming at someone

- slamming doors or doing very loud things like stomping that can be seen as threatening to those around you

- damaging property

- mad-dogging or passive-aggressive behavior

Hopefully this makes sense and addresses it. I would obv give all this same advice to my daughter but she is much smaller so it's different at that age. Like 'Don't kick the dog" and "don't throw food" LOL

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Thank you for that very thoughtful (as usual) reply. I readily agree on your "MAY NOT DO" list, which I think is characteristic of ways to NOT express anger. (In our house, stomping and door slamming would be a welcome de-escalation from some meltdowns we've endured.) As damaging as all those "don'ts" can be, though, one thing they have in common is they at least *feel* like expressing anger.

Your suggestions of DO's are constructive, and I even do some, but in my experience, they often come up short. For example, telling someone I'm angry and need time to cool off is a thing I do, but that feels less like expressing anger and more like saying "I need to go away so I don't express this anger at you." I think that's more healthy than bad, but the intent is still about getting away from the anger rather than expressing it. In the case of my daughters on the spectrum, I also do it because they're not always adept at reading emotional cues, so I have to tell them.

Telling someone you're angry also works better for a situation like a family member that has upset you and you know you need to cool down, than to "appropriately express" a burst of anger like when someone cuts you off in traffic, or a ref blows a call in a game you're playing. I don't succumb to road rage or give the ref an earful because I don't believe either reaction is appropriate or proportional to the situation, but that's me coping with anger (in a healthy way, I think) by suppressing my anger, not expressing it. (Whether on the road or on the ice, many of my fellow humans exhibit less restraint.)

Writing is a fantastic suggestion for processing anger if you're a writer. It has helped me from time to time, for example. For my kids who we still can't get to compose a paragraph in 8th grade because they are so averse to writing, that option is not in my parenting arsenal. I'm glad it's worked for some.

Anger is probably my least comfortable emotion, but I'm not completely mystified by what to do with it. I have a ton of practice at containing and suppressing it, rather than acting on it, but I'm also convinced that's the best way to deal with it most of the time. Now I'm trying to convince my kids of the same, so they don't keep doing things like breaking a laptop screen because someone in Discord made them mad so she punched it.

It's worth noting that "feeling angry" covers a vast range of emotion, so ways to express some anger (like writing) might work great for some varieties, but be unhelpful or unrealistic for others. If I'm angry over a gov't policy, sublimating that anger into letters to my representatives or getting into activism are viable options. Where I tend to find "appropriate expressions of anger" least attainable is the intense bodily kind – heartbeat elevated, fight/flight response, adrenaline flowing, etc. That kind is usually fleeting, which is why the coping strategies are usually about waiting it out or resisting, rather than any affirmative suggestions about a way to express it. The goal is to not express it, which makes sense, because if you feel like yelling, smashing, hurting, and so on, those are usually damaging options, no matter how strong the urge. Hulk wants to smash, but smashing bad.

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Yeah, it's important to note that I said "for my kids" because we know that each kid is going to need a different upper/lower limit. I've been reading a lot about PACE parenting for traumatized children as part of my book research and it's just another way in which I have opened my mind about parenting and "the right way" to do it (a myth in the first place). Some people would freak out about my acceptance of one of my kids getting Cs on their report card - and I was just like ... you don't know my kid. Similar with door-slamming for a child that tends to need a lot of stimulation or any other sort of learning/coping difference.

For my kids, they're both over 6 feet and look like men now, and this is something they need to understand about intimidation - for boys, they often go from a squeaky-voiced kid to what looks/seems like a man in less than a year, and it's a jarring change. Suddenly a somewhat laughable shout and door-slam feels like a threatening behavior, even though it's the same kid with the same intention. I just can't let them do some of these things around me, particularly with my own trauma triggers. If they were in need of something different, I'd adapt.

As far as the anger thing ... This seems semantic on the surface, but it's actually quite meaningful. Instinctually we do want to scream and yell and stomp and be destructive, but we also have a ton of unhealthy and unkind urges that we quell every day and this is one of them. I think my core message would be: The urge to scream and yell at someone and make them feel shitty and scared is NATURAL, the decision of what to do with those urges is what makes us able to function in society.

Sometimes I do succumb to road rage, by the way, but I try to do it with the windows shut lol. I did used to have a problem yelling at men who seemed aggressive and I realized I was dissociative when doing it. So I'm not doing that anymore :| lol thank you trauma therapy.

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I hope you don't mind me commenting. Growing up on the reservation, fistfights were very common. And the rule was "The first one to cry loses." Reading this post has me looking at that rule in a new way. That violence was expected, even codified, but there was also an expected emotional response by both combatants. Somebody was going to cry. Maybe both fighters would cry. But the second one to cry didn't lose because he cried. I'm just now pondering the meaning of this. We certainly didn't have the words for it in our childhoods but we Indian boys understood that violence has emotional repercussions and that those emotions would be publicly expressed.

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Love all comments!

It's interesting that your childhood allowed the crying to happen. I do think mainstream white boys would see themselves crying as the failure in a similar situation, regardless of who cried first. There's a lot of nuance to this example, though, isn't there? Everything you're saying, of course, plus now I'm thinking also about how these informal childhood traditions prepare kids for life and shape society.

My mother says children's media before the age of widespread antibiotics and seatbelts was designed to prepare children for trauma. Not just the very early fairy tales, which were brutal, but also into the era when children's books started being accessible to most families and the early family films: The child having to burn the beloved stuffed bunny in The Velveteen Rabbit or the little boy having to put down his own dog in Old Yeller. Even the queen in Snow White - she is presumably Snow White's mother or aunt, and yet she wants to murder Snow White for being young and beautiful - and we, as children, just accepted that.

My mother felt these stories served an important purpose in helping children understand trauma and helped them be prepared for it. Having a foundation to look back on to understand that they will survive that trauma and grief. Now, children don't watch Bambi because their Generation X parents (including me) were traumatized by it and it felt unnecessary. My older children and I watched Disney's Brave when they were around 8 and 10 and we all cried so hard when the mother (as a bear) was being chased through the woods that we had to turn it off!

Have we changed or has society changed? Would my mother have forced me to finish Brave, had it been a 1983 movie instead of a 21st century movie?

And how different would mainstream white culture be if we had a similar playground game kids engaged in? I could go on and on. Now I'm thinking about what chicken-and-egg questions arise around playground games. A great comment, it's really got me thinking.

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