In less than a second, Google can produce 12,900,000 results for the phrase “anger and adoption.”
This confirms my hunch that for many adoptees the pain of relinquishment is not erased when adoption papers are signed. Without the proper tools, unexpressed grief and loss may burst forth as anger. Expressed outwardly, it causes pain for others; expressed inwardly, it can manifest as illness or self-harm. When channeled effectively, however, it is an incredible force of energy and a potent agent for change.
After spending much of my life being told to deal with my anger without being taught any concrete skills, I went in search of ways to manage the wildness of my mind. Here are my top three tools.
Breathe it out
My search for well-being took me to India where, after 34 years of being alive, I finally learned to breathe. Pranayama is the ancient yogic practice of regulating your breath. Breath–-prana–-is life, and as my yoga master taught, “The longer your breath, the longer your life.”
Go ahead, take a nice deep breath. How do you feel?
Now, contrast that with the feeling of anger: clenched fists, tight chest, short breath.
Self-care tip: cleansing breath
Anxiety, anger, and annoyance can create a lot of hot air inside your body. A great way to release this pressure is to use the cleansing–or “whooshing” breath. Bring your front teeth together and purse your lips like you are going to give someone a kiss. Take a deep inhale and push the breath out through your teeth and lips. It will create a “whooshing” sound. For a deeper release, draw your shoulders up towards your ears and as you exhale and “whoosh” drop your shoulders and relax. Repeat three times.
Taking a nice deep breath opens the heart and lungs and softens the constricted sensation of anger. Daily breath practice regulates mood, and calms the mind and the central nervous system. Of all the wonderful things I learned in India, breath work has had the most beneficial long-term effect. It’s easy. Just do it. You won’t regret it.
Choose one of the following options and commit to practicing every day for a week. Find a place to sit comfortably, and set a timer to one, three, or five minutes. Close your eyes and breathe through your nostrils.
Option 1: Pay attention to your breath. Cool air in, warm air out. That’s it.
Option 2: Count your breath. Start at 27 and count backwards. Inhale 27, exhale 27. Inhale 26, exhale 26. If you lose count, go back to 27 and start again. No attachment, no resistance, no judgment. Just do it. (I never get past 25. It’s the focus that takes you out of the busy mind.)
Option 3: Inhale to the count of four; exhale to the count of four. Repeat.
Think back to the words you wrote down describing anger. I wrote fiery, constricting, blinding. The yogic system finds balance in opposites. Where there is fire, seek coolness; where there is constriction, seek openness; where there is darkness, find light.
Walking in the fresh forest air or near bodies of water can cool the fire of anger. Calm music or the sound of flowing water can soothe the frayed nervous system. Surrounding oneself with blues and greens can quiet the mind. Drink cool water with mint or cucumber slices and stay away from fiery spices. Spend 5 minutes a day with a cooling eye bag on your eyes to soothe the eyes and quiet the mind. These seemingly small lifestyle changes can make profound life differences.
Use your words
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) came into my life when my previous workplace was embroiled in political turmoil, and my colleagues and I needed a way to communicate in a healthy and life-affirming manner. The essence of NVC is a four-step process:
- Observe the situation
- State how you feel
- State your need
- Make a request
Let’s say, for example, you miss your bus on your way to work and you’re already running late. Anxiety surfaces and quickly turns into anger, and then rage. NVC suggests identifying the needs behind the feelings. In this case, the need could be for consistency and flexibility. Your request to yourself would be that you allow yourself more time to get out the door in the morning, thereby meeting your needs. This process can turn
potential triggers into life-affirming actions.
Breathing mindfully, finding a balanced lifestyle, and learning the steps of NVC can help to soothe the nervous system and enable you to recognize that anger is a result of unmet needs; moreover, by managing your anger, you can create opportunities of growth in your relationships with yourself and your loved ones.
Erin Melvin is the Education Coordinator at AFABC. After many years of traveling and searching for meaning, she realised she was looking for an understanding of where she came from and what it means to be adopted. She’s keen to keep learning and helping adoptive parents build stronger families.