My suggestion for your primary new year’s resolution is to get angry, really angry. Your feelings of anger are there for protection and direction. In this blog, I will explain how to use it to affect needed change in a few areas that dramatically affect our children.
Up to 75% of children and teens are exposed to at least one adverse experience growing up. About 40% of kids go through a divorce, 25% live with an alcoholic, at least a third of children are bullied, primarily at school but also at home by siblings. Over 15% experience domestic violence, and one out of nine kids lose a parent to death by age 20. Between 15-25% of kids experience verbal or physical abuse with 85% of child abuse cases unreported. By age 18, 25% of girls will experience some form of sexual abuse, and three million kids have an incarcerated parent. Two thirds of suicide attempts are a result of these childhood adversities. We’ve got our work cut out for us. These statistics came from Meg Jay’s excellent book, Supernormal.
That’s where anger can come into play. When angry feelings arise, it’s a signal that something has gone wrong or that we’ve been wronged. These feelings arise in our amygdala, but then brain activity shifts to our left prefrontal cortex (PFC) to help us to act firmly. The left PFC is the area of the brain that allows us to solve problems, plan for and pursue what we want, and where we feel assertive and self-directed. When we use our words to describe what’s making us mad or anxious, it helps to shift brain activity from the amygdala to the PFC so that reason can supersede emotion. This switch also shifts us out of feeling powerless to feeling in control.
I’m not a proponent of expressing anger at people, but I teach girls at my retreats and camps to switch their belief that anger is a bad feeling. I encourage them to channel it to inspire action, resist oppression, and gain the courage to right a wrong or set firm boundaries. Girls can use anger to shift out of a victim mentality to more of a “What am I going to do about this” attitude. William Arthur Ward’s quote says it well:“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems, not people; to focus your energies on answers, not excuses.”
A study of 2000 adults by Mark Seery found that those who had experienced at least some adversity growing up were both more successful and more satisfied with their lives compared to those who had experienced extreme hardship or low levels of adversity. That’s the good news. What we should focus on though is prevention, especially when it comes to challenges like divorce, abuse in all its forms, bullying, domestic violence, parental addictions, and female sexual abuse. These are all preventable problems, but only if we make the issues important. That’s why we need more anger this year to inspire more courage, focus, and action.