An Adolescent's Irrational Anger Needs Your Compassion
Have you ever said "I'm worried about you" to your child only to have them respond with seemingly irrational anger? It hurts. After all, we worry about our kids from the moment we anticipate their arrival. We start saying "be careful" the moment they take breath. But can we expect our worry to help them feel cared for instead of insulted, belittled, and flawed? Probably not.
An Adolescent's Irrational Anger Comes From Feeling Invulnerable
Adolescents are known for feeling invulnerable, and when you question that invulnerability (by being worried), the child may take it as an insult. "Why would I get hurt when everyone my age is invulnerable?! Are you saying I'm weak or stupid or something?"
Adolescents with an eating disorder feel this even more. They often, quite literally, don't feel ill and don't understand our concern. Worse still, adolescents with anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders have trouble reading the emotions of others or assessing their own; making their world confusing and frightening (Eating Disorder Symptoms).
Mothers and fathers don't like making their kids angry. It is difficult and frustrating. We know our motives are good and it is frightening to have one's love and concern rejected and misinterpreted.
Adolescent's Irrational Anger Requires Compassion
I found it useful to:
- See the adolescent's side. They are stuck in a pattern that isn't their fault. They aren't being unappreciative or willful. They really don't feel or see what you do.
- Realize the anger is not about you. It's not personal.
- Translate irrational anger. I learned to see anger as fear, irritability as anxiety, and independence-seeking as isolation.
- Recognize irrational anger as temporary. With treatment and skills-building an adolescent can move through this stage and onto true independence and insight.
- Do your job anyway. I'm the parent. My job is not to be liked or understood, it is to protect and nurture and if necessary to be disliked and resented. Even hated.
- Follow your own advice. When people around me started saying "I'm worried about you," I took it as criticism of my handling of the situation. But I still needed to manage my anxiety better than I was.
- Learn to tolerate distress. My skills at managing stress were average before my daughter was ill. They needed to be extraordinary to manage the crisis. I had to learn a lot about distress tolerance to do my job, and those skills have served me well since then.
Collins, L. (2010, July 7). An Adolescent's Irrational Anger Needs Your Compassion, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/eatingdisorderrecovery/2010/07/when-im-worried-about-you-makes-eating-disorder-patients-angry
Author: Laura Collins
I couldn't agree with you more, Laura. How wonderful it is that your words are available to parents of children with eating disorders. How I wish they had been available to me in 1999.