Advice By Kim


Kim Answers Questions About Life, Love, People and Problems.

Kim is a qualified, registered, practising psychologist who gives people answers to questions about their problems free of charge on Words By Kim.

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LC LC wrote on August 17, 2006 at 4:01 pm:
Struggling to be a good parent. Want to find someone to teach me how to stop periodic emotional or verbal abuse, when the stress of single parenting gets too much.
Admin Reply by: Kim

You gave additional information about the stressors you are suffering from in your answers to the questions contained in the form you sent asking for my help which make it clear you are carrying very heavy burdens. You have asked that I respond to you here rather than by email so I am honouring that request and hoping it was not a mistake as most people prefer an email.

It is natural to have outbursts when stress overwhelms our coping skills which is why coping skills are hugely important.

Coping skills can be as complicated as anger management training or as simple as doing something nice for yourself to ease the stress and strain you are under.

I am currently working on a project for this site that will include anger management training. It is far too complex and lengthy to be used here but I will try to give some useful tips from it.

The most important thing to do is learn to recognise when you are running out of patience and reaching a point where you are likely to become abusive and try to disrupt the cycle.

Most people feel physical warning signs when stress is building. Headaches, clenching their teeth or fists, neck or shoulder pain are just some of the ways the body responds to building tension before anger erupts and the first step in managing anger is knowing when it is coming to a head.

Once you know your anger is reaching a critical level it is important to try and defuse it but that can be hard if you are in a situation that doesn't allow many options.

Deep breathing, time out, substitute targets and cognitive self-talk are all ways to defuse or redirect anger that can help.

You don't say how old your child is so I don't know whether to suggest putting him or her in their room while you try to calm yourself or if you could tell them you are too angry to continue and need to take a walk or soak in the bath to calm yourself down.

You say you are a single parent but are there sources of support you could use such as friends, family, or even a help line you could call and blow off steam to? One of the most critical life skills is one called "Help seeking". Psychologically healthy and well balanced people are aware it is foolish to refuse to ask for help if help is needed and they don't hesitate to call in whatever supports are available to them any time they feel the need. You may not have individuals in your life who are willing to provide you with support but there may be professionals, agencies, help lines, baby sitters, parents of your child's friends, support groups, churches and other sources of support that you could use.

Does your child have a best friend? Can you arrange for your child to stay overnight at the friends place in return for the friend staying overnight with you so you can have some "me time" regularly for example?

You are not alone in finding parenthood a challenge. Most people do but people who have no support, or who think they must not ask for support, are at a disadvantage.

You mention physical issues but are you healthy enough to be able to do some form of exercise to reduce anger? The tension anger produces is due, at least in part, to the release of adrenaline into the system. The purpose of adrenaline is to make the body capable of fighting or running from threats and people often find a quick run around the block or some other form of physical exertion such as punching a punching bag, chopping firewood, scrubbing the bathroom and so on will use up adrenaline and allow them to regain their balance.

Sometimes anger is a response to feeling used, abused, unfairly treated or overworked and doing something that makes you feel cared for and appreciated, even if only by yourself, can sometimes help. A long soak in a soothing bath, hugging a teddy, a chat with a sympathetic person, writing your feelings down, or simply some alone time can help.

Sometimes anger is a reaction to unrealistic demands being made by others or, often, ourselves. Trying to be a perfect Mom will often backfire because perfection is not possible. Take a look at what you are asking of yourself and see if there are any ways to reduce your stress level.

If you have tried all this without success you may have to look at what is called "Harm minimization" strategies which means looking at ways to minimize the harm your abusive outbursts are likely to do to your child.

That would involve looking at what you say and trying to change the words. Instead of saying "I hate you" or "You are such a worthless/useless/stupid/clumsy/other negative personal judgement" you could try substituting "I am angry" or "That was a bad thing to do".

It would also involve trying to repair any damage that has been done to their self-esteem and that can be countered by apologies and efforts to build good self-esteem. Children are resilient and you can undo any damage you may do on impulse if you are sincere and work at it the rest of the time.

I hope this has been helpful and I wish you all the best.

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