“I don’t know about you,” my friend Lily was saying, “But it’s so hard for me to feel love toward someone I’m angry with – and to be angry at someone I love.”
Lily had just slunk in for a cup of coffee after another tiff with her teenage daughter. She was struggling with the Love/Anger Acid Test. “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with,” goes the Crosby Stills Nash classic. But a tougher spin is: Love the one you’re mad at, honey.
“I’m willing to look at myself this time,” Lily said. “I’m willing to try to change the way I’m reacting.”
She admitted that she came to the argument with her old, worn back story: “my daughter is acting like a teenager. Again.” Savannah was mad and that made Lily mad, too.
We talked about Dr. Phil saying that past behavior predicts future behavior unless someone decides to change. And Lily wanted to change. She didn’t want another argument just like the one before, and the one before that. ESPECIALLY the day before Mother’s Day. This time, she thought of the words she paraphrased from the St. Francis prayer, asking for help to understand rather than to be understood. Lily prayed to understand her daughter who’s filled with roiling emotions. I’ve been through this, too, she said. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.
This idea helped her put a space between her knee-jerk reaction and her response. That tiniest of pauses – those deep breaths – helped her push aside her automatic anger. Lily was able to detach from her own feelings – and focus on understanding her daughter. She was able to reach out to her daughter with understanding . They talked and cried and worked things out. They’ll probably — no, definitely, have new tiffs down the road. But Lily said she able to open her heart enough to feel both the anger and the love.
What about you? Is it easy for you to express anger? And when you’re angry, is it easy for you to feel the love?
“Past behavior predicts future behavior unless someone decides to change.” Dr. Phil