Yesterday, I taught a class on anger management. I agreed to teach this class because it was a good stretch for me. Anger is something I feared most of my life. Other people's anger always seemed so scary and so not pretty! My own... well, I was always afraid that if I ever got angry, I'd stay angry forever. And so, I never expressed my anger, never gave it voice, never let it go.
My perceptions about anger are based on a childhood spent in an often angry household. My ability to deal with anger is based on learning from what happened in my home by hearing and watching my parents fight -- my father yelled, my mother cried. My sister and I would hide in our bedroom. I'd escape into a book and pretend everything was a-ok. Sometimes, we'd hide under the covers and hold each other. I'd console her while she cried and I would chatter away about other things. I'd tell her stories. Make up poems. Do whatever it took to keep both of us feeling as safe as we could while what we perceived to be WW3 raged outside our bedroom door.
As an adult, I recognize that my childhood perceptions of how grave those arguments between my parents were is somewhat faulty. Challenge is, those childhood perceptions are the foundation of my adult behaviours, and I look at anger through my child's eyes. Until I'm willing to accept responsibility today for what I feel, my response to my feelings of anger will always be the same -- based on childhood beliefs that are not true for me today. Ultimately, whatever I think or fear about anger, if I don't respect myself, including my anger, I will always respond as a child.
Anger is an emotion. Like all emotions, it comes and it goes and if it's not released, it festers.
Challenge is, finding a healthy way to express anger when all I've ever known how to do is pretend it doesn't exist.
In yesterday's session, one of the questions I asked was, "What do you do to get even?"
My way of 'getting even' is to withdraw, go silent. My brain may be working at a kazillion light years a minute but I am too busy stuffing words down my own throat, smiling away and pretending nothing is wrong to have time or the courage to get words or feelings out!
Someone else said, they like to make fun of the person they're mad at, and someone else suggested they liked to get creative and find the meanest thing they could do.
Now, I don't believe getting even is a good idea. It doesn't create honest communication based on integrity, reciprocity and respect. Challenge is, sometimes, my feelings, my triggers, my habitual responses, override my 'thinking' and I retreat into my self-defeating game of withdrawal and using silence as a manipulative tool -- before I recognize I've left the conversation. Sometimes, I'm so busy smiling and pretending I'm not angry, I never take the time to take my own temperature. When I ignore my feelings, I am creating a problem, not behaving with integrity and ultimately, not speaking my truth in a way that respects and honours me and those around me.
When my daughters were little I used to tell them, "You have a right to your anger. How you express it is your responsibility. No matter how angry you are, it never gives you the right to be cruel."
As I've gotten in touch with my anger, I've begun to recognize its power -- to create and to destroy. Anger, when expressed with the intention to create better communication, can break down fences and build bridges of understanding. Anger when unexpressed will destroy my peace of mind, eat away at my conscience. Anger inappropriately expressed will tear apart a loving relationship, breakdown trust and communication and cause pain in someone else's heart.
For example. Yesterday when I got home I found the living room cluttered with my daughters things. UGH! I love to come home to a tidy living room. My mind immediately went to that place of criticism of their behaviour. "How many times do I have to tell them. Why can't they... blah blah blah blah blah." All the while, I'm picking up their stuff, dumping it in their rooms or at the top of the stairs for my youngest daughter to take to her own room. Too angry to settle down to doing the things I'd intended to do when I got home, I let my mind rage around what I perceived to be their lack of consideration, respect, ill-manners, blah, blah, blah. As I angrily picked up their stuff I thought about the laundry I needed to do, the floor that needed sweeping, the kitchen counters that needed cleaning. And I did those chores too! Within an hour I had taken the dogs for a walk and tidied the house the way I wanted it -- and I had the laundry going, dinner in the oven for a friend who was coming over, and I'd had a cup of tea.
I got a lot accomplished in that hour because my anger propelled me forward. I'm grateful for getting all of that done -- but, there was another way I could have accomplished it without letting anger burn its way into my peace of mind. I could have taken the dogs for a walk and while walking, rather than being irritated with my daughters and indulging in a bunch of negative self-talk, I could have stepped into the enjoyment of spending time outside enjoying the fresh air and my dogs' antics. When I came home, I could still have accomplished what I did -- but I could have chosen to do it with a loving heart instead of an angry one.
I don't believe it's right that my daughters leave their stuff lying around. I don't believe that's acceptable behaviour. Fortunately, both my daughters were at work until late last night and I didn't have a chance to vent AT them. Today, I have the opportunity to discuss WITH them how I feel about walking into a home that is cluttered with their stuff, versus one that resembles the space I left in the morning when I went to work.
Last night, I got a reprieve from expressing my anger negatively. Today, I have the gift of time to express it lovingly with the intent to create mutual respect, honesty and cooperation with my daughters.
My anger can be a tool to create more of what I want in my life and less of what I don't. When I'm clear on my intent, my anger is not a weapon but simply an emotion that flows through me, in the moment. How I experience it and express it can give me a headache or peace of mind. It's up to me.