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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Monster Is Me

I only remember my dad getting really angry with me a couple of times.

Once when I was little, probably five or six, he picked me up and put my back to the ceiling and chewed me out. I wasn't hurt but it was pretty scary being eight feet off the ground with the only thing between me and safety being my angry dad.

Another time I was in my later teens. I had realized by that point in my life that if I wanted to verbally hurt dad I had to attack mom. It was the fastest and most effective way to make him angry. I said something about her or to her that must have been extremely out of line and next thing I knew I was bent over the back of a recliner in the living room with my dad reading me my rights.

I had never seen him move so fast in my life. I was too shocked to be angry for the first few seconds.

As a child I could never understand how my dad managed to keep calm and exercise so much patience with us children and with everything else going on all of the time. Now that I am a father and providing for a family with similar demands that he faced I am even more amazed at his self restraint.

There are times as a parent, and every parent will understand this, when you just feel like you are going to explode. It could have been a rough day, the kids (usually just one in particular) have been nuts, disobedience and disrespect have been rampant, and some little thing pops up and you just go supernova.

This happened with me about a week ago. I am not saying that it was right or even that it was okay for me to lose my temper. I am an adult, a man, and a father and I should be better than that. I should be able to maintain my composure. But this day I had had enough.

I had put in a long day at work dealing with auditors, new and returning students (who hadn't done what we had asked them to 100 times and were upset that we charged them a late fee), problems that other employees brought to me to solve, and worrying about some family financial issues.

After collapsing on the living room floor to play with my boys and unwind I am laying there resting. One of my sons begins to play with me, I play back, and, as usual, it becomes pretty rough and tumble. Just the way we like to play.

I announce I am too tired to go on and he backs off and sits down on the coach nearby. Cami comes into the room with the other children tagging along behind her and we all start telling stories about our day. Then suddenly the son with whom I had been rough-housing comes over to me, swings his arm, and scratches me in the eye.

In less than time than I took me to realize what I was doing he was pinned to the ground and I was yelling at him for scratching my eye. It really hurt my eye, I didn't physically harm him in any way, and Cami came to his rescue. All of this in less than a millisecond.

Instantly I regretted my actions. I got up and excused myself from the family fearing that I might snap again. After several minutes went by I had calmed down enough and the pain had sufficiently subsided that I began to wonder who that person was that had just grossly overreacted.

Certainly it wasn't actually me. It couldn't have been. I don't act like that. I'm too old, too experienced, and too in-control to lose my temper like that.

As I stood in the bedroom thinking about this I turned and saw my reflection in the mirror. I was looking right into my own eyes, and I realized that the monster I had just witnessed was actually me. I was the monster.

Of course I already logically knew that but emotionally it was a big moment. Often we try to rationalize away our actions blaming them on factors external to ourselves when really it is our own fault. We lost control. We acted poorly. We failed. We are the monsters and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Here are three things I have learned about controlling my "monster":

  1. Stop blaming other people and other things. It is my own fault that I lost control and let myself become Mr. Hyde, no one else's.
  2. Apologize as quickly as you are able to regain control. The longer you wait the harder it will become and the less likely you are to do it. Do it now.
  3. Learn from your Mr. Hyde. Identify what set you off, how were you feeling, what had been happening at the time or just prior to it. If you can learn the warning signs you can better avoid situations where Mr. Hyde could visit.
The other day wasn't the first time that my Mr. Hyde visited and I am certain, unfortunately, that it won't be the last. But I know that I can gain greater control over my own monster (myself) as I apply the three things I described above.

I challenge and invite you to apply these three suggestions so that your monster will visit less and less often. Good luck!

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