It seems like I've backed into a series on negative emotions. I wrote about regret and then anxiety, and the past few days I keep reading stuff about anger.
So, let's talk about anger. Why not? We're on a roll here.
My favorite book on anger is by a Jewish feminist, Harriet Goldhor Lerner. It's called The Dance of Anger, and the first sentence of this book rocked my world:
"Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to."
I'd always heard that anger was really bad, and I needed to stop being angry immediately.
The confusing thing was, there were adults in my world who were angry all the time, who didn't stop it immediately, and somehow that seemed to be okay.
Lerner goes on to say this:
"Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right. . . Just as physical pain tell us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say 'no' to the ways in which we are defined by others and 'yes' to the dictates of our inner self.
"Women, however, have long been discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger. Sugar and spice are the ingredients from which we are made. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers, the steadiers of rocked boats. It is our job to please, protect, and placate the world."
(Click on over to the resource page to find a link to The Dance of Anger on my relationship carousel.)
First of all, let's get this out of the way: all emotions are valid; not all behavior is healthy or appropriate.
This blog post is not your permission slip to go around screaming, yelling, and throwing things just because that's how you roll. (That is how you will end up in my office with Child Protective Services on your tail.)
This blog post IS your permission slip
to acknowledge your anger,
to see it as a signal,
and to explore what that signal means, exactly, for you.
And then maybe, actually DOING SOMETHING about whatever it is that's got you so angry.
Simply acknowledging anger is a very difficult task for many women.
Instead of acknowledging anger in ourselves, we may instead call it:
- "I was just kidding"
- men are so clueless
- nobody's perfect
- no marriage is perfect
But if we're feeling frustrated, irritable, moody, bitchy, if mama ain't happy and nobody ain't happy, it may be time to acknowledge that anger is waving a million red flags, and it's time to stop and understand the signal.
Why can't mama be happy? That's the real question. If mama has to be pacified all the time in order to be okay, we are all in a bad place. Underlying issues need to be explored.
Lerner says that anger can signal things like:
- we have unaddressed emotional issues
- we're compromising too much of our selves in important relationships
- we are doing or giving more than we're comfortable doing and giving
- others are doing too much for us, hindering our own competence and growth
Sometimes we're willing to go on and on in our anger because we have no idea how to make things better, and we're terrified of making things worse.
I used to feel this way all the time in our marriage. The day Andy was going off scuba diving and I ran beside his car, yelling and pounding on the door, should have been a teeny-tiny heads-up that maybe we should have stopped every single wonderful ministry thing we were doing, and WORK ON OUR MARRIAGE, for God's sake.
Really, for God's sake.
How did we keep writing newsletters and smiling for prayer cards when our lives were such a wreck? The mind boggles.
I think the problem we have with anger-acknowledgement is this:
IF WE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR ANGER, AND SEE IT AS A SIGNAL OF SOMETHING THAT'S WRONG, THERE COULD BE BIG, SCARY CHANGE.
As angry as we are, and as bad as it is, we're used to it this way. It's hard to step off the cliff into change.
I had fears like this:
- What if our problems were too big to be resolved overseas?
- What if our problems were too big to be resolved at all?
- What if he just didn't love me enough to work on it?
And, frankly, it just didn't seem worth it to take the chance.
Therefore, I choose NOT to acknowledge my anger and the problems it signaled. Instead, I kept it all locked away until the weight of my emotions dragged me into the pit of depression, where I was too broken to do anything but finally, finally see the mess for what it was.
Since it's too late for me to be a good example to you in this, let's just all take my experience as a cautionary tale.
I do, I'll tell you.
I keep my emotions on a short leash. It's a daily check-up kind of deal. I have a personal contract with myself and with Andy that I will not go to sleep without speaking about the anger, the anxiety, the sadness, if I'm feeling any of that.
Whatever it is, it gets talked about today.
So, if today you find yourself screaming, yelling, and flinging the orange juice across the kitchen, know this.
I am not trying to shame you about your bad behavior.
I'm trying to tell you, from one who knows, that if you don't deal today with your anger (by dealing with whatever is behind it), one day your anger will deal with you.
Ignoring, denying, covering it over--that just delays the inevitable. And the inevitable will not be pretty.
Hear the Good News: Love never lets you go.
I think it would be great if you dealt with it right now, and saved yourself a world of hurt.
But you know what happened to me.
I kept on with the crazy, and Love saved me from that huge world of hurt anyway.
I think Love keeps doing that, loving us and saving us no matter what.
Even when things are really, really wrong, and we're really, really angry.