Is Your Teen Addicted to Anger?

Anger often becomes an addiction for adolescents. Learn to help them quell this fiery emotion.A recent Harvard Medical School study found that nearly 8% of adolescents experienced bouts of extreme anger, sufficient to be diagnosed as "intermittent explosive disorder" - a form of mental illness. I'm surprised the number isn't higher.

Over the past 20-plus years, I've worked as a self-esteem elevation coach and have witnessed a growing addiction among the majority of people to three primary emotions: anger, sadness and fear. While all people display all three of these emotions during upsetting situations, adolescent males are most addicted to anger.

Early on in life, typically before the age of six, children experience some significant event that causes them to doubt themselves and/or their self-worth. Someone says or does something that causes the child to believe that he/she is flawed, unlovable, unworthy and imperfect, marking the child's first true realization that he/she is not perfect and fails to measure up to society's standards in some important way.

The initial upset can be one of two types. It can be an unkind word from a peer or authority figure; a spanking, an insult, an argument or a bullying/name calling episode. It could occur as a direct result of something the child said or did that provoked an attack on his or her sense of worthiness or ability to fit in. Also Read: 5 Ways To Treat Depression Without Meds

The second type of self-esteem diminishing episode can be a result of the child misinterpreting someone's words or actions to mean that the child is flawed, unlovable or defective in some way. In such a case, no insult or demeaning connotation was intended. Rather, someone said or did something and the child mistakenly understood it to mean that there was something wrong with him/her as a result. That interpretation "made" the child angry (or sad/afraid, to a lesser extent).

From that point onward, the child begins to scan for events, people and interpretations that evoke that same familiar response of anger. The more he or she becomes conditioned to "getting mad," the easier it becomes to lose control and feed that addiction to anger. Over the course of several years, the child grows into an adult who has conditioned himself to find countless reasons to react to the world in anger. (The same is true for those who suppress their anger and become addicted to either sadness or fear and thus, attract people and events into their lives that "cause" them to become sad or afraid.)

Daily, there are hundreds of opportunities for a child to misinterpret life in a way that gives him his "fix" of anger; this eventually compounds to tarnish his self-image over the long term, as the anger ruins relationships and kills personal effectiveness. The process of diminishing self-esteem, fueled by an emotional addiction to the resulting predominance of anger (or sadness/fear) that began early in life continues throughout life, as the person becomes accustomed to scan for additional situations that may serve as more evidence to reinforce this thought of being flawed.

During such potentially upsetting events, the child reinforces this idea of his unworthiness by further interpreting life events to prove the fact that he/she is defective or inadequate in some significant way. After years of accumulating such evidence, his self-image deteriorates further with every episode. Before long, there is no doubt in his mind that there is something wrong with them. After all, he has created a self-fulfilling prophesy to cement this belief firmly in his self-perception. Also Read: 10 Signs Your Teenager Is Depressed

Parents can do only so much to help their children feel good about themselves, and to champion their positive self-image. They can continually reinforce the concept that no one is perfect, and all one can do is their best. They can be a source of unconditional love, supporting the child at every opportunity, and encouraging them to see themselves as worthy of affection, abundance, love and trust. They can make sure that the child understands that they, as parents, might not always agree with the child's behavior.

In addition, most parents will continually emphasize that the child is not their behavior. Everyone makes mistakes, and life is a process of learning and growing. No matter what mistakes the child makes, he or she must realize that they are always inherently good, lovable and worthy. Parents can continually reinforce that they love their children unconditionally.

However, children need to realize that even when they make mistakes and parents do not approve of their behavior, this does not affect their love for them or their sense of value. Children will benefit from knowing that they are loved for who they are and not just what they do.

Parents can speak respectfully to their children, reassuring them of their competence, capability and inherent value. They can empower them to make their own choices whenever possible, fostering their belief in their own ability to make wise decisions and learn from their mistakes. They can give them responsibilities that nurture their self-confidence and belief in their abilities.

Whether these activities include making their bed, helping with household chores, or selecting their favorite juice at the grocery store, each can serve as an opportunity for the child to grow in self-confidence. Parents can consistently acknowledge their children for worthwhile qualities they see in them. They can get into the habit of finding something good about their children every day, and pointing it out. Parents can support their children to see what might be missing for them to be more effective with other people, or in accomplishing their goals.

Rather than focusing on their weakness and faults, they can empower their strengths and communicate that everyone has unique talents and gifts that make them special. They can support their children to identify their passions, pursue their special interests and develop their gifts. Parents can teach their children to interpret life with empathy. They can support them to imagine what it's like in another person's world, so they can better understand why people do the things they do.

Parents also can support their children to not take the reactions of others personally. When children realize that no one else can make them angry, sad or afraid, and that only they themselves can, they learn to not be reactive and easily provoked by other's issues. Parents can teach their children to forgive themselves for the mistakes they make. Also Read: Anger: Cleansing Squall or Hurricane?

They can teach them the value of cleaning up any mistakes by speaking and acting responsibly. They can also teach them to forgive others, knowing that they are doing the best they can based upon how they see the world. This does not mean that bad behavior is to be condoned, however. It simply means that it is important to understand why others do hurtful things at times, and distinguish that they do them because of their own perceptions, prejudices and insecurities, rather than interpreting that they do them to us.

Parents can teach their children to have gratitude for their blessings in life. They can teach them that the world is an endless source of abundance for those who believe in themselves and their ability to attract good things. They can teach them to expect success, happiness and rich relationships. They can also teach them to bargain for what they want, as they stay committed to their goals with a vision of success in their minds.

Many mistakenly confuse high self-esteem with ego. It is important to distinguish between fostering high self-esteem in children, as opposed to creating ego-maniacs

obsessed with themselves at the expense of others. High self-esteem means being competent and capable of producing a result in every area of life. This includes being effective in relationships and in communication with others, with an appreciation for what it is like in the world of other people. Those who care only about themselves with no concern for others do not, by my definition, possess high self-esteem.

It would serve parents to commit themselves to being perpetual students of personal development, knowing that their children will model their actions and their approach to life around them. It is with such an energy of respect, love and acceptance that children will receive the tools they'll need to manage their destructive moods, create empowering interpretations that support relationships and grow into self-actualized, happy and self-assured adults that possess high self-esteem.

Written by Dr. Joe Rubino for

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