Is Anger Contagious?

He is SO mad.  He runs up the stairs, slams the door, stomps and throws things.  He is SO angry.  I’m not even sure why. I doubt it is about today’s events.  It probably doesn’t even have anything to do with me or others around him.  This anger which displays itself in rage is much deeper than the events of the last 16 years.  This anger is at his parents…his biological parents and the situation they put him in years ago.  He spends most of his days thinking about it.  How did he get here and why?  He isn’t sure and he can’t pinpoint most of his feelings, but he can identify one emotion clearly.  He is angry.

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Even though he isn’t aware of it much, he isn’t alone.  There are a lot of kids that feel exactly the same way he does.  We met one last week. John stayed with us for a few days while his parents traveled.  He is 11 and we marvel at how much he looks like our son.  Not his physical attributes, but behind his eyes, his stares, his fake smile, his fidgeting.  We recognize the symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder and he clearly displays them.  He treats us respectfully and enjoys his time away from his adoptive parents (also very typical.)  We enjoy some frank heartfelt discussions with him.  He talks openly about how he has fits of rage for his parents and how he treats them poorly.  He shares stories about throwing things and breaking things.  He speaks of these things easily and when we ask him why he treats these kind folks this way he simply says, “Because I am mad at my biological parents.” This statement and his behavior make so much sense to him.

John challenged us a little while he was here.  He attempted to make us angry by little acts of disobedience, but we didn’t participate.  We explained to him that anger isn’t contagious and that he couldn’t make us mad just because he was near us.  We refused to get angry with him.  We recognized the pain and the source. (And, he’s only visiting so we could excuse most of the behaviors.)

After making the statement about anger not being contagious, I wondered how many times have I “caught” anger from someone else?  How many times have I allowed anger to become contagious?  How many times have I infected others with my own anger? Parents of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder often find it difficult to refrain from anger when anger is being spewed at them from the child they love.  As much as we try to resist and protect ourselves from catching this dreaded emotion, we find our resistance gets low and we, too, become angry.  Sometimes we are angry at the same thing the child is angry at. The unfairness of the situation, the frustration at the lack of support and sometimes the world in general.  Anger can be contagious.  But, only if we allow it to be. “Kill them with kindness” is an expression that was used in my family while I was growing up. I believe its’ origin is in scripture:

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  –Romans 12:20

So instead of “catching” anger from our troubled children, we should respond in the exact opposite way.  What a challenge, yet we can find hope in another scripture:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.   —Galatians 6:9

Hang in there RAD parent.  You are doing fine.

 

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