anger is a four letter word

February 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm 2 comments

Knowing someone is mad at you is one of the worst things ever. Why is that?

I feel mad frequently. In fact, though I am ashamed to admit it, today I yelled: GET OFF THE EFFING CHAIR!, at my own children. Granted the bigger kid was punching/shoving the little kid off the back of the armchair, but it isn’t hard to feel angry. There is plenty that can get under one’s skin. So why do we get worked up when someone else is mad?

I hate it when someone is mad at me so much that I immediately feel really mad at them in return. That’s crazy when I think about it, but so true. I think to myself, you have no right to be mad at me! The right? What? I write in this space almost every night about feelings, how everyone has them, how to help your kids feel theirs, how to honor everyone’s feelings, and then as soon as somebody feels a hint of anger that is directed toward me I suddenly wonder where they get the right. Hmm.

And then I defend myself. Outwardly I try to rationally explain why they shouldn’t be mad at me, why that doesn’t make sense. (As though a feeling has to make sense before someone feels it. Haha!) And then I go inward, keeping up a daylong diatribe in my head about why this person really should not be mad at me. I am so desperate to deflect that I even lie to myself about my culpability. Pretty soon I completely believe my own defensive story and then have my hackles raised for the foreseeable future.

And if I happen to get the chance to talk to a girlfriend before my feelings wane? Look out.

I get mad, then I defend, then I defend/rant with a friend. All because someone felt a feeling.

If we aren’t our feelings, if our true selves are separate from the emotional sensations that wash through several times a day, then we certainly aren’t any one else’s feelings either. So why do I care? If my toddler throws her shoe at me because I buckled it before she had a chance to buckle it, I don’t get mad, defend, then rant. I give her empathy. I also calmly let her know I had no idea what she had intended, and that if she has something in mind she can always let me know with her words, and that I didn’t like the shoe hitting my head. Simply put, I see her anger as just a passing emotion, not a judgement of me as a human being. But as soon as an adult lets me know they are angry, and angry at me I lose that appreciation.

(As an aside, I also recognize that of all the emotions children experience, it is the expressions of anger: shoving, hitting, yelling, screaming, tantrum throwing, door slamming, that parents attempt to control with the most rigidity. A weeping child elicits more empathy than a fuming one. It seems that even when children are involved, our relationship to anger is a sticky one.)

I’ve noticed I am not alone in my sensitivity to receiving anger. And anger isn’t the only emotion we buck against. Anger’s sisters: annoyance, irritation, and dislike, get us equally riled up. And what’s worse is that because we share an uncomfortable reaction to these emotions, or are concerned that if we express something like anger we may receive some anger in return, we often lie when confronted!

Are you mad at me? (Desperately worried and uncomfortable)

Me? No, why? Do I seem mad? (Lying)

Well you seemed bothered by my comment earlier.

No I’m fine. Really. (Lying)

Well if you are you can always tell me. (Lying)

Oh, of course. I’d let you know right away if I was bothered. I’m not! Really. We’re fine. (Lying)

We attempt to spare the other person by keeping our own feelings hidden. The truth is that the other person is never spared. They are writhing in their own personal torture by wondering and worrying. And by trying to help them, we in turn, create our own personal torture. If I feel irritated by something someone did but then spend my time trying to make them feel okay with their perception of my feelings by telling them my feelings are something different altogether, well… that is torture.

The best case scenario for anger is to let it fly, the person it is directed at catches it full on, hears it, holds it, empathizes with those feelings, then lets it slip off and goes about their business.

This isn’t what we do. This isn’t what I do. What’s the deal? What are we so afraid of?

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oh universe outakes

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rachel  |  February 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Just wanted to let you know that this was very helpful to me. I tend to read your blog in my feed, but I clicked over here to comment. Of the hundreds of other blogs I read on various topics, including parenting, there’s none I look forward to was such anticipation as yours! It always makes my day 🙂

  • 2. Ivy  |  February 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    We all do what you describe. I wonder if we’re all really worried about rejection. If someone is mad at me maybe they don’t really like me. If they’re mad and don’t like me, then what’s wrong with me? I don’t want to think anything is wrong with me and so I’m going to be mad at them instead…. I don’t know but it makes a certain sense. It isn’t necessarily rational, but then feelings aren’t always rational (ever?).


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