Have you seen the Disney/Pixar movie Monsters, Inc., (2001 release, now available on DVD)? It’s very entertaining, and, as is usual for Disney, has a great message about how we deal with our anger monsters.
During the story, we are introduced to a big fuzzy monster. Of course, he is a softie at heart, nothing like the big scary fella he pretends to be for his job – scaring the scream from little kids. But then while filming a training video for other monsters, he sees a picture of his “scary” face, and right next to it, the petrified big-eyed face of a little girl. The little girl is actually someone who the monster cares about.
One thinks Disney (always trying to impart wholesome values to its viewers – old and young) intentionally placed this moment so that we could blatantly grasp the film’s message: there is a monster in each of us, be careful who sees it.
As I watched the movie, I began thinking about how our children sometimes see us – adults, parents – as monsters. One moment we are concerned for their health, loving them and telling them how wonderful they are. The next moment we are yelling at them for hitting their sister or making a mess. How scary we must be for them when we put on our “monster face”.
But, the anger monster within us is as much a part of who we are as is the big fuzzy loving creature. We can’t hide our monster. We can try to tame it. We can try to surround our kids with as much love as possible, so that when that inevitable monster escapes, it is only momentary and our kids know it is only one part of us.
The goal is to integrate those angry parts of us so that they reveal themselves appropriately. That is, we need to own the impact of our anger monsters. Disney’s big fuzzy guy had to come to terms with his monster. Sounds difficult? How did he do it? He started by seeing himself as the monster. We call that “owning” it. Next, he found a way to reconcile this aspect of his character. He recognized it as a natural part of himself. Finally, he took note of his impact on others. He let the little girl know that this was only part of him, not all of him.
That’s actually a healthy way to view these shadowy parts of our characters: the trait is not you, just a piece. You may have very straight teeth, but that’s not all you are. That’s just a nice feature of you. You don’t want people going around and saying, “Yeah, she’s my straight teeth friend.” You want them to see the whole picture.
It is all a fine balance. It’s probably a good idea to check in with our children now and then to see how they view our monster. They might wish we’d shove it in a closet. We need to let them know that they have a monster, too. And, it’s okay to let it out once in awhile. We just need to take care of it when it’s in the closet, so when it does escape, it’s roar doesn’t fill the room and it’s bite is a mere nibble.
So, if you have a little monster in your closet, or you’ve noticed one rearing its angry head with your child, take another view of Monsters, Inc. Watch the movie with the whole family. After the show, bring up some scenes that you thought might be really scary to a little kid. Notice to him that we must look like monsters to each other when we get angry. Ask your child how he might talk to his own son or daughter about being angry. Try to recall a time when your own parent got angry at you. How did you feel? What did you do?
Beginning at an early age to discuss anger management can help your child better integrate this shadowy self as he gets older. Anyone with a teenager at home knows that monster is a frequent visitor. Let’s just remember where our kids learn how to reveal the monster. They learn it from us. What a gift to tell a 6-year-old that it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to let your monster out of the closet.