Well said, Babysmurf! I definitely parent differently than I thought I would. Before having DS, I definitely subscribed to the "consistency is key" mantra, as well as, "Houseproof your baby, don't babyproof your house." I thought as long as I was consistent in enforcing the rules that he would accept it and we would all be happy.
What a fallacy! I have seen some children who are generally pretty accepting of rules, even when they don't understand the "why." You tell them no a few times, and they get it and occupy themselves in another way. DS is NOT that child. I quickly saw how unfair it was for him to be constantly in a state of frustration at not understanding why he shouldn't do or have something, and we concentrated on making our home as exploration-friendly as possible.
I think that our children dictate our parenting more than we realize. With a different baby, I might still be singing the "consistency" tune, not aware that it doesn't work for all, or even most, children.
I completely agree with you on behaviorism - once I actually learned something about it and how rewards/punishments are interpreted by children, there's no way I could conscionably implement it. Behavior manipulation with the reward/punishment system impedes moral development, promotes self-centeredness...and has become the basis of our culture's parenting knowledge! Yikes!
I also agree that modeling is how behavior is learned, which is one of the biggest reasons why I won't ever use any corporal punishment. I can't teach him not to hit other people when I hit him.
Anyhow, back to OP - I think it's great that you recognize that when you're harsh you're acting out of anger and stress. When DS is older, that can become grounds for some great conversations where you can apologize for an outburst and explain why you were wrong to lash out.
It is SO TRUE that committing to gentle discipline requires faith and patience. Children who are disciplined more harshly do tend to toe the line and obey and fit the mold of what our culture would deem as "good" children (i.e. - still and quiet). Gentle discipline really asks you to look at a broader picture of development, rather than short-term obedience. They payoff comes later down the road, when you have an older child who has a developed sense of empathy and morality, can use those skills to regulate their actions, are secure in their self-worth, are healthy skeptics, etc.
I think one of the biggest pitfalls of how most people parent their toddlers is that they forget that in ten years they will need to deal with a second toddlerhood. Toddlerhood and adolescence share lots of commonalities - the child is naturally inclined to do the opposite of what you say, is experimenting with their independence and individuality, are coming into their own. But the whole reward/punishment thing won't work (at least as well) with a teenager. They find ways around the punishments, sneak out, lie, and they're too big to spank. All the things that used to work, suddenly don't. The beautiful thing about non-punitive discipline and unconditional parenting styles is that they lay the groundwork for handling the bigger conflicts that are still to come.