You make me so MAD! Really?
Written by Mick Edlefsen
There once was a five-year-old boy who’s circumstances in life delivered him into unfamiliar surroundings. His parents had divorced and now, a new marriage had consigned him to the care of his father and a new young bride. She was pleasant on the outside but carried within her an anger which resulted in her inability to parent in a loving way. She probably hadn’t learned parenting skills from her home. Nevertheless, this inner anger eventually resulted in physical and mental abuse of the boy. Her frustrations compounded as baby brother and then a sister joined the family. Her uncomfortable pregnancies and her daily choices contributed to her inability to feel happy. This now seven-year-old boy, from the beginning, was subjected to physical beatings, restrictive confinement, and strong verbal abuse as he lived in fear of his stepmother. She often threatened him with dire reprisals if he told his father about what she was doing. I was this boy.
Today many face the challenges of fear, loneliness, and enmity. The septic sources of these feelings are many. Dysfunctional family life, abuse, addictions, and false self-beliefs are some of these negative contributors. But, these feelings do not just exist in the chaos of toxic choices. Even when people are surrounded by the best of circumstances, many choose to embrace the draining influences found in the shadows of their experiences. And yet, there are a few who learn how to take constructive ownership of their emotional choices.
I’m not alone in my understanding of abuse. Unfortunately, there are too many who experience this… and worse. For me, having this kind of baggage in my life could have easily allowed me to unload my frustrations upon those around me by choosing to blame my outcomes on others. And, for a time I was filled with anger and blame.
Reflecting back, I’m not sure exactly when, but somehow in my high school years I discovered the idea that I could choose to be happy or sad. It was my conscious choice. Someone or something planted this belief in my brain. Since then it has been a teaching I have passed on to many around me, including my wife and children.
I asked my wife and now adult daughters, who all have children of their own, to relate their feelings on this ‘choosing happiness” teaching.
They submitted the following.
“I grew up with parents who did not teach that I was in control of my own happiness. I kept blaming others that they “made me mad” and never had a clue that I could choose to be mad or happy. Naturally, when I got married, I assumed that my husband’s job was to make me happy as well. Funny thing, there were still times that I blamed him for not being good enough at making me happy and sometimes I was downright angry.
Then we had children and he started teaching our kids that no-one can make them anything (happy or mad). They get to CHOOSE how to respond to a situation and even in hard situations they could choose to be happy. It took me decades to buy into the idea. It was hard to let go of blame and expecting others to make me happy. After all, who wants to take responsibility and go through the hard work of keeping emotions in check? Blame is easy, accepting responsibility is difficult.
I vividly remember one experience I had in my kitchen. I opened the cupboard under the sink to throw away something and pushed the garbage in the can down a little. One of our daughters had opened a can and left the lid up on the can. The can sliced my finger wide open with the rough edge. While I danced around in pain, I immediately began to blame my daughter for cutting my finger. It was her fault, right? Wrong.
After watching our daughters embrace responsibility for their emotions and then teach our grandchildren, (and their husbands), I can see how beneficial it is to learn it from an early age. The grandchildren have greater self-control and have the freedom to decide how they react to circumstances. I wish I had learned it as early as our kids did.”
-Valerie Hope Edlefsen Mother and Wife
“I remember as a kid being taught that my emotions were my choice. At first, I thought my parents were crazy for teaching me this, but I soon found out that I really could choose whether to be happy in any situation. One of the points in my life when this really blessed my life was when I was in my thirties with 5 kids ages 11 to 3 years old. My husband and I bought a rundown farm that didn’t have a house on it. Out of financial necessity at the time we moved the whole family into a 70’s 5th wheel trailer onto the property to live in. I had a choice, I could either complain and whine about my situation and make my husband and my children’s lives miserable or I could choose to put a smile on my face and be grateful for the things I did have. This was definitely a conscious choice on my part to be happy through this tough time in our lives. I learned then what I really needed to be happy and it wasn’t much. I learned to laugh even when I was sick of my situation. I learned that in I could do hard things and be happy with them.”
-Tina Edlefsen Cordner Daughter number two
“When I was growing up I was always taught that my life, is totally my choice. My actions, my reactions, and the way I choose to feel. My father instilled this in me from the time I was waddling in diapers. I have one instance I can remember in detail. I was a sophomore in High School. I was on a Volleyball team and we were playing a tournament on the opposing team’s court. We were up by 1 with a few points to go till we won the game. The opposing teams crowd decided to try and distract me when I was serving. They would scream and make noise, I didn’t let it get to me at first, I was doing okay serving the ball and playing. But as they got louder and more obnoxious I became more irritated and missed my next serve. I lost it. I started yelling at them and became very angry, I kept messing up and they would cheer even more. I was so angry, they had “made” me so mad!
It wasn’t till we had a time out that I gathered myself and thought. I’m an idiot. I was the one who decided to be angry. I was the one that let all that was happening to me, happen. I was now angry at myself. I had the choice to feel that way. No one makes me angry! That’s my choice! The opposing team is a lot like life. No matter how much someone tries to break you, it’s your choice to let them. You have the ultimate power.
After the time out was over I drank some water, took some deep breaths and let that anger go. That was MY choice. The opposing crowd could no longer touch me. Now being a mother I get to teach my kids that very important life lesson that my father taught me so many years ago, which I will forever be grateful. I am in control of my feelings. Just like you are. ”
-Heidi Edlefsen Kellel, Daughter number four
“Growing up we were not allowed to whine much. I remember when I was eight years old I wanted to go skiing on the biggest hill, My dad told me that I could go and he would take me, but I could not whine. Meaning I had to choose to be happy. I remember thinking, oh, okay I can do that. The fact that I could choose to be happy was understood at a very young age, and I am so grateful that he taught me that at an early age.”
-Brittany Edlefsen Fowler, Daughter number five
“One of the most valuable things I have learned in my life is that there exists inside of me a magical switch, that I control, and that I have the power to decide whether the switch is up or down at any point throughout my day. I’m the master of this little switch in my mind that controls my attitude. I have relied on this countless times in my life, and it’s been one of the things most important to me, that I want to ensure my children learn. I want them to understand that they have control of their own switch too. My 11 year old son struggles with the nightly drudgery of homework. From about the time he started the 5th grade, his homework has been the worst part of our day! Endless time has been spent with math books open at my kitchen table, in fits of anger, frustration, with conversations about choice. As a mother I feel like yelling, throwing my hands in the air and getting mad, but my ability to choose to keep my cool has helped him see an example of choosing to be happy. I think I have talked his ear off about how the only choice he has, is to do is homework angrily, or to do it happily. Now he’s nearing the end of 6th grade, and I can see the fruits of our labor blooming. Homework isn’t the dramatic scene of life or death that it was a year ago, and I have seen him wrestle with, and win, that battle of anger boiling inside. I’m sure we will have many more conversations about the power HE has inside of him to control that little switch, but he is figuring it out, and I’m so proud! ”
-April Edlefsen Parry, Daughter number three
Choosing to be happy does not mean you will not encounter disappointments or face the draining emotions of life. It will, however, set you on a course of action that will improve your character when these challenging emotions arise. These women have all chosen to see happiness in life events.
May I suggest two powerful antidotes for changing unhappy thinking into conscious happiness thinking.
First: Infuse your life with gratitude. Be grateful for all things. See and seek the enthusiasm for life, light, sunsets, flowers, children’s laughter, health, relationships and the abundance of the earth.
For seven consecutive days take two minutes and write down three things you are grateful for. List three new thing each day. If you forget one day, “Ya well,” don’t beat yourself up. Just begin again. But, the process must flow for seven continual days. On day eight reflect on how this exercise made you feel. You may discover how empowering this tool is and continue the practice.
Second: Take hold of the intention of believing that you deserve happiness.
Sometimes deep inside us, we feel we are not able to find happiness.
This false belief enables our mind to only look for confirmation of circumstances feeding our unhappiness. This justification thinking tends to ignore our actual happiness encounters because of our narrow vision. Believing that happiness is part of your life is basic in choosing the path of happiness.
Purge this unhappiness thinking by being around children at play. Not only around them but join with them in their happiness and laughter. Remember at some time you were these children and your inner knowing delights in the experience of happiness. Ponder and remember the emotional sounds, smells, and noises of your happy experiences in your mind eye. Think of your happy times always…