One of the first questions I have, when teaching a new class or working with a father, is “Tell me how you express your feelings. Can you show you are angry, disappointed, frustrated in a healthy way or does it all come out as toxic anger?” Toxic anger is dangerous and greatly inhibits a child’s growth, impedes communication with others, and can lead to abuse and neglect. Understanding how a father deals with his feelings is key to understanding his relationship with his family, friends, and community.
One of the most common responses on how men deal with the feeling of anger is; “I want to hurt someone else. I want another to feel pain. I don’t want to be alone in my suffering.” This can surface in many ways, a bruising hand, a mouth filled with hurtful and caustic words. Other men leave and don’t come back, others come back but never talk about the emotion that erupted like a volcano. A lot of men simply get mad and stop talking, letting their silence oppress everyone who is near them.
Most men have never learned to deal, and healthfully express, their feelings. This is why for most men anger is their default emotion. The saddest part is they pass these traits along to children and the unhealthy cycle starts all over again.
An old Zen proverb says; “To hold on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
One of the easiest lessons of wisdom to learn is you are what you repeatedly think or do. One of the hardest wisdom disciplines to practice is thinking and doing good things.
Aristotle said, paraphrased by Will Durant; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” So what we keep thinking and keep doing reveals who we truly are, on the inside. We can say we are kind, loving, grace-giving, but if our thoughts and deeds betray us we must come to the reality of who we are if we desire to change or be at peace through acceptance.
For those like myself who live with depression, one of the cycles we can get into are negative thoughts about ourselves. We relive painful moments, negative events, over and over again. We get stuck with thoughts of how we could be better, how terrible we are, and how little we can offer the world and those closest to us.
Being caught in a cycle of negative thoughts, reliving mistakes and mishaps is called ruminating. For those battling depression the thoughts can literally go on for days, weeks, months. When we are doing well, on a plateau, we can catch ourselves and refuse to hop on these train of thoughts. When we are struggling our thoughts can take us down tracks from which we may never recover.
I like the Zen saying; “You can’t stop negative thoughts from coming but you don’t have to sit and serve them tea.”