If your parent blows a fuse, what do you do? Bottle up the hurt? Shoot hoops till you drop? Simmer inside, hoping your anger doesn’t boil over, spewing hurt on others?
Dennis and Ruth Gibson offer advice in “The Sandwich Years,” a book ahead of its time. Written in 1989, but certainly appropriate for today, it addresses communications issues, including the appropriate response to an angry parent.
First, try to find the root of the rage. Often anger is a symptom of depression–sadnesses at the inevitable losses of later life, such as death of a spouse or friends. Depression and anger often accompany diseases such as Parkinson’s and strokes. Dementia can cause a person to lose his or cool, as well. In these cases medications can sometimes help. But what about the parent who’s been grumpy since you can remember?
We can’t change our parent, but we can change our response. To help adult children cope, and diffuse the situation, the Gibsons suggest:
To criticisms (like, “The only person you ever care about is yourself,”)say:
1. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
2. “Thank you for telling me that.”
3. “I’ll have to think about that.”
4. “You may be right.”
5. “Oh.” Said a number of ways.
To testy questions (like, “Why can’t you be more successful, like your sister?”) say:
1. “Good question.”
2. “I’m not sure.”
3. “I wonder.”
4. “I wish I knew.”
5. “Beats me!”
To any attack, when the time is right, say:
“I must be a terrible disappointment to you.”
According to the Gibsons, “These simple responses give you a way to show respect without capitulating or even defending yourself. They maintain a kind of friendly neutrality.”
Do you agree with the Gibsons’ advice? Perhaps you have other coping strategies.
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