Emotion can derail almost any situation, add divorce and kids to that, it’s a mess. Jennifer Graf teaches us how to manage our anger and emotions so we can achieve the goals we want. The key is to address them, don’t bury them, but communicate despite them.
- A divorce coach can help you before you even hire a lawyer.
- You can get a divorce without spending a lot of money.
- A divorce coach does not replace a therapist or a lawyer, but can be part of the team.
OUR GUEST – JEN GRAF, LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
Jessica: Welcome back to another episode of the exExperts podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. You know why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. I’m Jessica.
TH: And I’m TH. Today we’d like to welcome Jennifer Graf, founder of the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine, and a licensed clinical social worker. We’d like to welcome Jennifer back to our podcast today. From the first one, we talked a little bit about anger and managing anger and the importance of communication. We felt it was pretty important to dig a little deeper into that. Welcome back, Jen.
Jessica: Thanks for coming back.
Jennifer: Great to be here. Got my shovel, let’s dig.
Jessica: Let’s jump right in. One of the things that we were talking about the last time you were here, you were sort of rating anger on a scale, which I think is really helpful to people because it gives you a way to categorize where you are and not just feel like you’re sort of all over the place. You were saying that in general, ideally, we’d like to be able to keep ourselves somewhere in the one to four range, particularly when it comes to interactions with your soon to be ex or with your ex, and not overreacting, which is my specialty. I think the biggest question is how do you maintain that range when you really are feeling anger or rage given your circumstances?
Jennifer: Right. That’s an excellent question. It’s subjective, because what is a one or a four on a scale of one to ten? We’re just rating our own level of reactivity in the moment. If we’re talking to our ex, or soon to be ex, or anyone for that matter, and there’s a reactive topic, because usually the subjects we’re talking about are not pleasantries, it’s usually about money or kids or health care, whatever it is, to check in with ourselves. Notice our heart rate, notice where we hold tension, are our shoulders tight, is our stomach doing flips, our palms sweaty? These are good physical cues. We can feel it within us. We can talk about rage, and we can kind of feel blood pressure rise. If we feel that, we can just check in for a moment and close our eyes for just a second and say, okay, where am I on the scale of one to ten in terms of flipping my lid? If it’s anywhere above a four, it’s probably not a good time to talk about a hot topic. Anger is an important emotion, and we need to honor our own anger. It is information, and it tells us that we’re not having our needs met. We need to check in with our own anger and take it as good information, but we don’t want to fly off the handle. When we fly off the handle, we embarrass ourselves, we don’t make the point we want to make, we say things we don’t really mean or that are effective. Take a few seconds, and if it’s not the best time to talk about it, we say, look, now’s not a great time for me to talk about it. Can we get back in a half hour? Or can we get back in two hours? Or can we pick this up tomorrow? I’m just flooded today. Do get back to that person about what it is because it’s probably an important topic, because if we’re upset about it, it’s probably urgent. The way we wouldn’t storm into our boss’s office and say I want a raise, we treat each other with the same kind of respect and respect for our time the way we would a colleague, the way we would a friend. We get very comfortable with our exes, with our kids, with our parents, and we say things that we wouldn’t in a million years dream of saying to a colleague, or a doctor, etc. Just keep that in mind. Does that answer that question?
TH: Yeah. I think that was great and I wanted to dig a little deeper. You said anger means that you’re not getting something that you need?
TH: Let’s talk about that a little bit because you have to go to the source, right? If you keep feeding the anger, you’re not really addressing the source. The source is I’m not getting what I need. So am I not being heard? Am I pissed off about something else that now I’m redirecting in your direction? How do you identify what you need, so that when you are ready to have the conversation, so it can be productive anyway, you will have addressed the core, the source, of that disruption, I guess? How do you do that?
Jennifer: I think that writing a letter that you may or may not send is a good starting point. List all your needs. We talked about last time making an observation, so this happened, these are my feelings about it, what I need is this, and I request this. It’s kind of like a four step process. Writing is an excellent tool and journaling is also an excellent tool. You can journal all the anger you want. You can curse, you can name-call, you can metaphorically throw dishes, but it’s all in a journal. You’re not directing hatred towards the person, you’re just expressing yourself. A great way to defuse anger is to express. You can talk to a friend, you can talk to a therapist, you can go for a hike, you can go for a run, you can do yoga, you can meditate, all of that good stuff, you can do artwork, anything that’s expressive gets it unstuck. The only problem with emotions that gets stuck is that it just exacerbates. Sadness can turn into depression, anxiety can turn into panic, and anger can turn into rage, so we want to get expressed. And women –
Jessica: Can I just ask you, along with all of this, because it’s such a good point of how you do that so you are able to be there and control yourself and make sure that your needs are met. I wonder who out there listening can relate to this. This is my whole thing. I will get all worked up, presumably my needs aren’t being met, and I’m easily excitable, whether it’s for good or for bad. I’m just an easily excitable person.
Jennifer: It’s very exciting.
Jessica: It’s very exciting. Sometimes I feel like I need to take a step back, and I revisit it tomorrow. Sometimes I come down so many notches that I just am more apt to give in. The thing is that giving in is not necessarily the answer, and it’s not necessarily what’s best for me. I know this is a conversation I’ve had with other people sometimes because it could be specifically about money that you’re owed for child support, it could be about who’s getting the kids for this specific family holiday or whatever it is. I am not afraid to speak my mind and say what I think, but sometimes I definitely, like I said, if I calm down too much, I end up going so far the other way that I give in. How do you even find that balance? For me I almost feel sometimes it’s better for me if I’m angry because that’s when I’m going to like fight for what I want.
Jennifer: Right. Not having your needs met is not going to get rid of the anger, it’s just going to cycle back. It’s not dealing with the needs being met, but you can put it on pause. You can say okay, I’m not going to fight this battle right now, right? It sounds like you’re saying throw in the towel, but rather than throw in the towel, just put a pause on it and get back to it at another time. But there’s an imbalance there if we are so rageful or we’re just kind of apathetic. That’s not the goal either. The goal is to be a calm place and ask for our needs. We can put a pause on it, absolutely.
TH: The other thing Jess, that I found probably after my divorce, because when you don’t have your lawyer holding your hand anymore and you’re out there by yourself, you better have your shit together, because you don’t have any safety net really. What I would do is I’d either type furiously and put it onto the computer, or I would call you, but then I would make a plan. I need notes. I needed notes when I would have important conversations for the very reason that you’re saying, to make sure that I don’t back down on the things that are really important to me and I don’t forget, which I do sometimes. I definitely go off on tangents. Then I could be talking about something completely different. Totally not me. What did we say? That I have like a monkey brain? We heard about that somewhere else. I have a monkey brain. I think that for me anyway, dealing with the anger doesn’t mean I’m not going to get what I want. I’ll probably get what I want.more effectively if I’m not angry. And for me, I need a plan. I may not refer to my notes, but if I write it down, then that works for me. I always take notes and that helps me remember things better, but I would have a plan going in any conversation for any relationship, so that I make sure that I’m being heard.
Jennifer: Yep. Yeah, I mean, writing it down, writing a letter, and making it clear for yourself most importantly, is a very good way to keep track of what the needs are. Then you can look at them and say, okay, do I really need that? What’s that going to fulfill? Then there’s negotiation that’s available. Again, when we’re not above a four, we can always negotiate. But I think women in particular have a tendency to suppress our anger. Anger is not pretty. No one likes an angry – there’s a term for that and it’s stuck.
Jennifer: It starts with B and ends with itch.
TH: Then you’re called emotional and off the handle, and you’re not going to be taken seriously.
Jennifer: Right. We get a bad rap for having anger, but anger is either expressed or repressed. As long as we express it in a responsible way, it doesn’t get repressed. Repressed anger causes not only depression and anxiety but a whole host of maladies, physical maladies that we don’t want to run into. There are studies galore on heart disease, lung disease, and obesity. We act out in crazy ways, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and it weakens our immune system. There are so many reasons why we don’t want to repress our anger, not to scare us into acting out but to be responsible for our own anger and take it as information. If we can neutralize anger, that it’s not bad, it’s just information that we’re not getting our needs met. That’s all that it is.
Jessica: Jen, where are people able to get the kind of resources that would play into this? You have done anger management webinars, what do you have going on? What’s out there that can help people to be able to learn to do exactly what you’re talking about?
Jennifer: Well, I do women’s workshops, and I see people one on one. Certainly you could see a therapist, I don’t know that you’re visiting many centers right now, but there are endless workshops on the internet for meditation. I teach meditation and yoga. Everything is accessible on the internet now, everything. You could do yoga, anything that’s going to help you deal with lower your stress levels, exercise, meditation, eating well, limiting sugar, limiting alcohol, and limiting red meat. Anything that’s inflammatory to the body, it’s like fire to our anger.
Jessica: It’s sort of those common sense things, but I just was wondering do you have a workshop coming up or something that you’re planning?
Jennifer: I do have a workshop coming up. I could give you the information. We could maybe tag it in on this webcast. And support – what I love about doing workshops is it gets us communicating with one another. We take tips and tricks from each other, we tend and befriend one another, and we don’t feel so all alone, because in our own minds, it gets very noisy and simultaneously very lonely. We work better when we brainstorm with each other. I just love doing workshops. It also reduces stress. Community, being part of a community is incredible, and we can’t do this alone. We need each other. We need each other for good ideas. We need professionals to help us, lawyers, therapists, and women like you who put this amazing podcast together as a resource.
Jessica: Speaking of community, let me know if there’s anything else, because otherwise I just want to thank you so much for bringing it to our exExperts community. This is something that everybody needs. It’s a topic that touches literally 100% of the divorce population, because there’s no way that anybody who’s in a situation of either thinking about divorce, getting divorced, or has gotten divorced, hasn’t experienced the anger and rage to some extent, even if they never made it past a four. At some level there’s a reason that you’re not agreeing, and obviously, the more complicated the situation is, probably the more that that would arise. But, go ahead.
Jennifer: Yeah. I’m very visual, I like mnemonics and stuff. If you can imagine a pause button, and you just press the pause button, so as soon as you feel your blood pressure rise or you get hot under the collar, just press the pause button. There’s a saying called pause, ponder, and proceed. You stop the action. We’re not knee jerking at the moment, even though we think it feels good, or it’s kind of naughty, ooh, if I could just say that one thing it would level them. In the end it does not give us the results we want, and it feels icky afterwards. We are always slimed after we have an angry outburst, and there’s just no getting around it.
TH: I want to say one other thing that this definitely takes training [yes] and dedication and time, because I was, and sometimes I admit I still am, I want to get it out there. I want to get it out there, I want to be heard, I’m going to say really right away, I feel it, you need to hear it, and it’s got to happen. It falls on deaf ears like that. It’s definitely not as impactful. It’s taken me a really long time to check in with myself first. I would also say this is baby steps. Even recognizing it is a baby step, and then you’re like, oh yeah, she was talking about that. Give yourself a break because none of this growing and learning, particularly through divorce, but I would say in life in general, because then you have pre-divorce, divorce, after divorce, all the stages of your life and all the experiences you have, don’t let other people pressure you or put pressure on yourself. Well, she’s doing so great. I mean, look at her. She’s out, her kids are awesome, and she’s got like a whole new family already. I remember that was not me. I definitely felt lonely at times, but I had to let that in. I had to learn that I’m okay. Roof over my head, and I’m actually okay. I would just say, take it down to the smallest step that works for you. Then once you get that thing, go to the next one. It’s not an overnight process. It’s taken me many years to learn how to check in with myself. The journaling has really been one of those great sources, but you have to go back and read it. You put it somewhere, but then you have to actually go read what you just dumped on paper so that you can kind of dissect it and be like, okay, that was totally emotional, this is what I want to say. I would have to go back and highlight my points. But going back to read the journal, I was like I don’t want to do that. I definitely don’t want to do that.
Jennifer: Emotional is not even bad, but sometimes to look at is this rational or irrational? Is this what I want to communicate? What’s the core thing I want to communicate? Also, when we approach the person that we’re having this difficult conversation with, it’s always nice to balance it out with some form of appreciation, because then we really have them listening, and it’s authentic. We’re not lying, maybe we are sugarcoating a little bit, but appreciation goes a long way. If we get underneath the anger, we can always find some level of appreciation, or love, or tenderness that we want to also highlight. That’s impossible when we’re in the throes of anger.
TH: I want to say one other thing that we talked about last time, but I don’t want to lose it in this conversation because it still takes two to tango. Both need to be in a place of being able to have that conversation. If your partner or whoever you’re having this conversation with is at a seven plus, don’t even waste your time. You’re wasting your good work, and information, and planning, and notes, and all that stuff. You have to wait for that other person. When you say appreciation, for me, that’s only going to really extend to, do you have a minute? [Uh huh] So I’m being respectful of that person’s time. [Correct] But I don’t have to say, I just love the fact that you’re sitting and chatting with me right now. [No!] But sometimes people might be like do I have to say I like your shoes? I don’t even like him.
Jessica: No, but I think you can say things like I’m glad that we can at least talk about it, which is also appreciation. You don’t have to be like prostrating yourself.
TH: Exactly. I just wanted to clarify that it doesn’t mean you have to pay a compliment.
Jennifer: Authentic. Yeah, even just thank you for your time. I really appreciate that.
Jessica: Right. Well, listen, like we said, this is something that 100% of people going through divorce experience on some level or another at some point during that process. I really appreciate you bringing it to us. Jen, it’s great to have you back with us.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me back. Always.
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