If your young adult is having difficulties, chances are she’s also causing difficulties—especially for those who love her the most. Parents of emotionally troubled young adults often suffer just as much or even more than their struggling child.
It’s the instinct of all good parents to put the needs of their children first. In a crisis, it’s normal (if heroic) parental behavior to abandon their own well being in order to protect, assist or rescue their child.
In their natural tendency to put their child’s needs first, however, many parents fail to recognize the anger that’s somehow mixed into seemingly more noble and acceptable parental emotions such as grief, sadness and a deep desire to help. But ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away. In fact, unaddressed anger can lead to depression, anxiety and other issues that make a parent less effective.
Many experts agree that the negative effects of anger can be minimized by addressing the emotion honestly. While ranting and raging tend to actually exacerbate, rather than relieve, anger (according to some studies), the healthy expression of anger can actually alleviate it. In fact, the healthy communication of your full range of emotions—including anger—can be a critical part of your difficult young adult’s healing process.
But for parents who habitually smother, ignore or redirect feelings of anger, even detecting feelings of anger can be difficult. For these parents (as well as those prone to fits of rage, sarcasm or other unhealthy expressions of anger), it can be immensely helpful to engage in an ongoing exploration of feelings with a trusted and experienced family therapist. When it’s neither minimized nor over emphasized, anger has an important place in effective parenting. Anger is designed as a protective emotion that can mobilize caregivers to take effective action in a crisis. Expressing anger honestly and non-reactively can also help your young adult understand the impact her actions have on others—a critical dimension of her therapeutic process.
To help you address your own anger and other challenging emotions related to your child’s struggles, consider the following tips:
- Individual Therapy can complement the family therapy that is the bedrock of most treatment programs; having your own time to explore and express feelings can equip you to more effectively, honestly engage in family therapy
- Cultivating Curiosity can help you remain open to emotional surprises; many emotions–especially ones that make us uncomfortable because they don’t seem to match what we think we should feel–hide under a cloak of numbness or deflecting emotions. Anger is sometimes cloaked in depression; grief sometimes masquerades as anger. We tend to experience especially uncomfortable emotions indirectly, a coping mechanism that can slow down the therapeutic process. Remaining open and curious is often the best way to allow these hidden feelings to eventually express themselves.
- Parenting Groups can provide a safe, normalizing context for exploring your true feelings. Knowing that you’re not the only parent who harbors some anger and resentment toward your challenging young adult can help free you up to address those feelings in a healthy, non-reactive way.