Children are like little mapmakers. They create meaning out of the events they witness (whether good or bad), and place them on their internal map of the world. This meaning often serves them in the short run —but it can hurt them in the end. Do You Know Why You’re Angry?
Here’s an example:
Dad checks little Jimmy’s homework after dinner, and he always finds something wrong. When he does, he shouts insults at the boy. He frequently gets out of his chair and swats Jimmy while calling him names, like stupid and lazy. Jimmy sees that his father is drinking a beer while he does this, but he’s not likely to understand that Dad is an alcoholic who is now on his fourth drink since arriving home. Instead of concluding that his dad is an unreasonable alcoholic, Jimmy is likely to believe that he deserves his father’s rebukes, and that all forms of criticism are meant to belittle him and expose him to physical danger. For this reason, as an adult Jimmy may have an exaggerated fear of being criticized.
Anger is a healthy emotion that serves as a signal something is wrong. Very often, what’s wrong is how we are viewing the situation. While some thoughts and beliefs may relate to a current event, most are the residue of past experiences — and the meaning we gave to them at that time.
Our childhood experience determines our anger and how we handle it in two main ways…