Forty-four year old Martha was a single mother of a thirteen year old girl (Reva) toward whom she was always feeling angry. They seemed to fight about everything, producing huge amounts of negativity in their home.Things finally got to the point that therapy was required by Family Services who had received a complaint from a neighbor.
Their therapist determined that what Martha and Reva fought about were common mother-adolescent issues such as cleaning her room, doing homework, talking to boys, and what Martha saw as Reva’s constant defiance. Neither Martha nor Reva had deep emotional, personality or other problems such as substance abuse. They just couldn’t get along with each other, although each professed to love the other.
Reva, of course, had a completely different view of things from her mother. She saw her stressed-out mother as always depressed, dour, negative and angry. She could not remember the last time she had heard her mother laugh.
Martha’s lack of joy in life dampened her ability to see positives in a situation, especially when it came to her daughter and Reva’s activities. Martha had let life beat her down. in the course of trying to survive as a single parent. She had few joys left in her daily survival grind. She would dutifully arise each morning with almost nothing to look forward to.
When first seen, her therapist asked her, “what brings you joy? What fells bright and light? What adds color to your world? What puts in a spring in your step?”
At first perplexed, Martha had to admit that she had not even thought of that issue for a long time. The therapist then explored with her sources of joy earlier in her life. Turns out that Martha loves to read, to walk along the beach, to be with friends, and to dance. Unfortunately, she had done none of these things a many years.
In our anger management courses, we encourage people to do whatever they can to elevate their mood before they try to deal with conflicts because the level of our mood greatly influences our perception – how we see – the conflict.This certainly worked with Martha who began doing ONE THING each day she could look forward to that would bring her joy. Amazingly, her mood gradually improved and her relationship with Reva also improved, as Reva started responding to the change in her mother. When we change, it sometimes “pulls” new and different behavior from people around us.
Life can’t be all positive, but it doesn’t have to be all negative either. Happiness and the ability to deal with conflicts is about the RATIO of positive to negative, the balance that we have in our life.
As Martha discovered, often we can change big things in our lives by first changing small things which tips the balance toward positivity. There are many sources of joy in the world; family can give you a surprise birthday party;you could open a letter to find an unexpected bonus; you could sit in your backyard and watch the beautiful birds congregate around your new bird feeder. Joy brings bright and light.
Look for joy your life, and watch the anger start to melt away.