La Shanda Sugg, LPC
In an effort to capitalize on HEMI Mentor Training in Trauma Informed Care, LaShanda Sugg is sharing articles regarding Trauma Informed Care to provide thought-provoking advice as you support your HEMI mentee.
Wherever you are on the mentoring journey, chances are you are no stranger to the emotional highs and lows that accompany the adventure; from the anticipation of meeting your mentee, to the disappointment of observing their challenges, to the joys of witnessing their triumphs, and everything in between. Sometimes our own personal lives and circumstances can become overwhelming, intensifying our experiences with our mentees. Being a safe and positive adult in the lives of youth can sometimes require a presence and steadfastness that is not always easy to maintain. It is not the absence of these challenges, but the awareness of them, that develops strong mentee/mentor relationships.
We have the capacity for a wide variety of emotions as part of our human experience; let’s discuss one in particular – anger. Anger is often used as an alert system indicating that something is wrong, unfair, or unjust, but it is a secondary emotion – layered on top of other, more complicated emotions. Ultimately rooted in fear, anger is the very tip of the proverbial iceberg that is visible while the bulk of the mass is beneath what we see. Identifying and exploring what exists below the surface is critical in developing the self-awareness needed to ensure that we are not misattributing our emotions onto our mentees and others. For this I offer a tool – the Anger Onion.
*Like actual onions, the peeling back of layers of the Anger Onion can be a laborious task, tedious in nature and sometimes tear producing.
Anger is not a “bad” emotion. On the contrary, the chemicals released when we are angry, like cortisol and epinephrine, activate our fight and flight fear responses and can be instrumental in aiding our survival. But when we only focus on our anger (and the anger of others) we are missing the core elements that fuel that emotion. And just like a skilled firefighter does not aim the hose at the top of the flame but instead at the base of the fire, so we must aim our interventions at the root of our anger – fear. So, let’s peel this onion:
- Anger (how does it
did you say or what didn’t you say?
- Yelling, blaming, sarcastic tone, silent treatment, etc.
did you do or what didn’t you do?
- Throwing things, aggressive posturing, withdrawing, etc.
- What did you say or what didn’t you say?
- Sadness (what’s
hurts you about this interaction?
- I thought we had a better relationship
- I am being misunderstood
concerns do you have about that situation?
- Will it be like this all the time?
- I don’t know if I can trust this person/place/idea
- What hurts you about this interaction?
- Fear (what’s
driving it all)
worries me about this?
- I failed, I’m not good enough,
patterns do I see repeating?
- I’m never understood, I’ll always be alone
- What worries me about this?
Let’s look at an example:
You schedule a time to meet up with your mentee. You have had these plans on the calendar for a couple weeks and even confirmed them via text message yesterday. You show up to pick up your mentee and he is not there. He responds to your text message saying something came up but doesn’t want to talk about it and then doesn’t respond to the rest of your texts or calls. This isn’t the first time.
- You are calm at first hoping he is just running late but become agitated when you get the text response. You start to feel hot in the face, send several more text messages explaining the importance of being reliable and keeping commitments.
- I’m really trying to be the best mentor I can, but I don’t know if it’s working.
- I’m making a lot of sacrifices and I wondering if it’s worth it.
- If it’s going to be like this every time, I’m not sure if I can keep this up.
- I’m afraid this is not what I thought it would be and a waste of time.
- I’m scared this kid won’t reach his goals.
- I’m afraid he’s going down the wrong path and I can’t stop him.
- I am failing him/I’m a failure.
It is not uncustomary for people to externalize their fear onto others – “I’m afraid he/she __________.” But we know when we have gotten to one of our root fears when it is an I-Statement – “I am failing him” or “I’m not good enough.” Fear is the hardest part to uncover, but just keep digging. And when you recognize that a fear of failure is what is driving your anger, you can put more focus on self-soothing and validating yourself than “fixing” your mentee’s problems with keeping his word.
This tool is one of the most instrumental that I have in my toolbox because not only can I use it to understand my own anger and what is fueling it, but I can use it to help me understand others. Let’s look at the same example, but from the mentee’s perspective:
Pretty powerful when you allow yourself to look beneath the surface of a person’s actions. When you recognize that a fear of abandonment is fueling his anger, you can focus your intentions on letting the mentee know that you are there for him even when he “messes up” instead of focusing on how he needs to show up on time and respond to messages (not that those things aren’t important, but it’s kind of hard to care about being responsible when you think you’ll always be alone because everyone will leave you).
So, the next time you experience anger, take a moment to peel back the layers; then you can address the fear that’s fueling the anger instead of the anger itself. And while we can’t know positively what the Sadness and Fear are for others, this tool can help us peel back layers of what may be underneath their actions. Our brains make up stories ALL the time; might as well make up ones that move us toward empathy and understanding instead of judgement and frustration.
La Shanda Sugg, LPC
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