Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Use and Misuse of Anger

from BarbaraWilliams2010 at Flickr

Sometimes we trick ourselves into believing a lot of bullshit.

For example, the idea that anger is a "bad" emotion.  That "nice" people (especially nice girls) don't get good and angry sometimes.  That we should always forgive people, even when they continue to do or say hurtful things to us, over and over again.

How's that workin' out for you? 

It sure didn't work for me.

Jules over at Big Girl Bombshell is hosting his month's Self-Discovery series, and her word is ANGER.

At first, I thought, anger?  Not something light and fluffy, kittens and rainbows and lemony-fresh thoughts?  Then I realized I was once again buying into the myth that anger is a bad thing. 

Can anger be abused?  Absolutely.  I know people for whom anger is their go-to emotion.  Seems like they always keep a pot o' rage simmering on the stove, and the smallest slight, misunderstanding, or disagreement gets hoarded and tossed in the pot, a scalding weapon ready to throw in the face of their Significant Others in future arguments.  "Yes, but remember in 1998 when you said I looked stupid in my Leprechaun costume and striped stockings?"

For those AngryMen and AngryWomen, anger may have become addictive.  Anger is certainly a "safer" emotion than acknowledging fear, doubt, uncertainty.  It can be used as a weapon to control loved ones, whether it's the bitter cold, ice queen treatment (my ex was a pro at the Silent but Stomping manner), or the typical volcanic eruption that everyone in the family tiptoes around, fearful lest anything set it off.

from Wikimedia Commons

People also stuff anger down, with food (this would be me), sex, shopping, exercise, work...  I don't know how many times I would not allow myself to feel angry at something, and then later... Many days, weeks, months, pounds later - someone would do something that made me legitimately angry - say, took a parking spot, and smiled and flipped me the bird while doing so, and I would inwardly boil for hours about it.

Well.  The reason something as minor as a pilfered parking spot could make me furious for hours is all that bottled up anger.  I've come to realize that sooner of later, I'm going to have to experience all my deferred emotions: anger, sorrow, loneliness, fear...  Like a credit card, eventually everything that hasn't been paid or felt will come due.  With interest.

When it came to my OCPD ex, I had to finally get good and angry about the way he treated me.  Yes, maybe he's mentally disordered, maybe he couldn't help it, but dammit, I did not deserve to be treated that way.  By anybody.

Righteous anger is an essential part of motivating ourselves to make changes in ourselves, in our homes, in our world.

I'm learning (oh, so slowly!) to be more mindful, in the moment.  To try to let myself breathe and figure out what I'm feeling.  Am I feeling angry?  Is it real anger, or is it fear-in-drag (like when a child dashes across the street, almost getting hit by a car, and his parent swats his bottom)?

Okay, I'm feeling angry.  Why am I feeling angry?  Am I feeling anger in proportion to the offense, or am I dragging a lot of old baggage into it?

Now, what do I want to do with my anger?  This is where a lot of people blow it, literally.  What we do with our anger is a CHOICE, and there are always many choices.  We can scream at a loved one, or a stranger.  We can punch a hole in a wall, kick the cat, go for a swim, write a nasty letter, eat an entire cheesecake, take a deep breath and explain to the person why their suggestion is unacceptable, and offer an alternative, or try dozens of other things. 

If we scream at a loved one, and try to excuse it, later, "I couldn't help it, you made me so angry," we're into Bullshit Territory again.  It's possible that their actions or speech did, indeed, make us feel angry, but screaming was our choice.  Possibly even the best choice for that particular situation, but we are lying to ourselves if we tell ourselves we couldn't have done anything but scream.

If we feel that someone is continually taking advantage of us in some way, getting angry is fine, but then we have choices.  Always borrowing the car without permission?  We make sure that person no longer has access to the keys.  We may, in fact, have to end a job, a marriage, or a friendship once we begin acknowledging our anger; or our anger may enable truly meaningful changes to take place.

I'm glad I'm learning how to sit with my anger.
How about you?  Got a lesson learned about anger?