Put On Your Big Girl Pants

Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. – HARRIET LERNER, The Dance of Anger

I have a bone to pick.  A really big bone to pick.  And it’s with society as a whole.  You see, we’re brought up to believe that anger is a bad emotion to feel.  It’s taboo.  It’s not good.  If you’re angry, then most times there is something wrong with you, that you’re out of control, emotional and need to get a grip on things. Oh my goodness, it’s a sin!

What a load of crock.  I feel like telling all those people who have said this untruth to shove “it” up their “you know what.”  Anger is not bad.  It’s actually very good. It’s your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t good for you – That there is an injustice which took place.   And why do we suppress it?  I just don’t get it. I have done A LOT of suppressing in the past.  To the point that I just would not respond to anything which may have happened, and would think that as a result, I was a very stable person, and I was proud of it too.  Looking back, I was the complete opposite.  Suppressing anger is not being stable.  It’s being a friggin kook.  I’m angry about getting angry!!

While reading the book The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner (by the way, I absolutely love her books) I learned a few things about anger.  Some of the most important things I learned are that anger is extremely important for two reasons:  Firstly, it’s a vehicle for change – both individually and socially.  It is the fuel which feeds the fires and efforts to change.  Secondly, anger helps us to define ourselves – who we are, what we believe in, what we stand for.  It helps identify our boundaries – how much we are willing to give and do, and especially what we find acceptable.  It particularly helps clarify who we are and separates that from what others expect from us.

I’m learning to do this.  The problem I found is that, as a woman (and I’m not being stereotypical, it’s a proven fact), I didn’t use my anger in this way.  I would give in to a lot of things that I didn’t agree with.  I would constantly compromise myself and beliefs, go along with others in order to avoid feeling angry and create conflicts at all costs.  I understand that all relationships require compromise and give and take, but the problem I see where I was concerned is that there was an imbalance.  I was the one that compromised too much of myself.  Most of my thoughts, beliefs, ambitions and wants became negotiable in these relationships, to the point of almost non-existence.  As a result, I questioned myself in everything I did. Then I came in the other extreme for a period of time, where I would be involved in an endless cycle of blaming and fighting, without any constructive solution.  I was constantly up against the world, alone.  I would fight and fight with the other person until I was blue in the face, only to give up in the end and compromise myself once again.

Although these appear to be two extremes, they are actually two sides to the same coin.  I felt helpless, powerless and really, like a loser.  I felt like a complainer, constantly venting my anger but in the meantime, I was protecting the other person.  Yep, that’s right.  I was protecting them because I wasn’t forcing change in the relationship by not changing myself.

You see, I was paralyzed by anger.  I wasn’t able to get anything done, make any changes and therefore the other person would continue on with their behaviour the same way.  For example, when I was working at the publishing company as a production and sales coordinator, my boss was horrendous and verbally abusive.  I was only able to work when he was in the office, which wasn’t much often.  Those days he wasn’t, I would find ways to keep busy.  When he was, he would walk by my desk and throw a paper at me and tell me to type it.  And type it I would.  I’d print the document off and hand it to him.  He would read it and criticize me because I didn’t edit it. Then when he would hand me another document to type and because of the previous criticism, I would edit it, and then he would yell at me in front of the entire floor of coworkers for making changes that he did not authorize.  I was in a no-win situation.  No matter what I did, I would be reprimanded.  I would get extremely angry at the injustice, but I wouldn’t do anything about it.  I did not confront him, did not demand not to be treated this way.  As a result, my confidence level deteriorated, my esteem was nonexistent and I was suffering from anxiety and depression. I felt like my power was gone and I had no control over anything.  It affected all areas of my life, and in the end, I silenced my anger.  I stopped receiving the signals of survival and self worth it used to send to me.  The saving grace, which forced me to take control of my situation, was when I went to see my family doctor because of heart palpitations, and he asked me to explain the state of my life to him.  He told me that I was in an abusive relationship, and I needed to make changes.  He gave me three options: Quit, medical leave, tranquilizers. I quit.

Quitting removed me from immediate danger, but it did not solve my problem.  While reflecting on my past, I found that what I tried to do when I was fighting, as well as when I wouldn’t, what I truly, deeply was hoping to do was to change the other person’s mind.  I wanted them to see things the way I wanted them to.  I also wanted them approve of what I desired, of what I felt was important to me.  This was a justification of what I wanted.  I needed for them to make the decisions for me, because, quite frankly, I believed that THEY knew what was best for me, and not me.  Then I would get angry when it didn’t happen that way.

After many, many years of life, I finally understood that it’s not possible to change another person who does not want to be changed.  You can’t change anyone.  You can only change yourself, and when you do, one of two things will happen. You will be met with resistance and be forced to try to change back to who you were, or the other person will change to compliment you – it’s their choice, not yours.

Many times, when I have become extremely angry, or others were angry with me, many hurtful things would be said.  Later, apologies would be exchanged, and all would be forgotten – until it would be used in a future argument.  But while contemplating, I noticed that there was a lot of truth behind these statements.  The statements were indicators of how we felt, whether we were saying “you don’t listen to me”, or “you treat me like garbage” etc.  Sure, the other person may not be guilty of such accusations, but the truth lies in how we feel, and hence the reasons why they were said in the first place.  And while silencing the anger, I was silencing my needs, and couldn’t hear how I was truly feeling.

I have learned to make promises to myself, and adhere to them too.  I speak up now about what is important to me.  I try not to strike while the iron is hot, because then I become lost in the argument and lose sight of what I stand for.  I need to clarify my position on things and communicate them.  I walk away when I believe it’s the best thing for me, and will not continue to engage in something that feels wrong for me.  Most of all, I need to keep understanding that I am only responsible for myself in the relationship.  Yes, caring for the other person is extremely important, but that isn’t the same as being responsible for the other person’s actions. As Harriet Lerner states:  Defining a self or becoming one’s own person is a task that one ultimately does alone. No one else can or will do it for you, although others may try and we may invite them to do so. In the end, I define what I think, feel and believe. We do not define what I think, feel and believe. Yet this lonely and challenging task cannot be accomplished in isolation. We can only accomplish it through our connectedness with others and the new learning about ourselves that our relationships provide.”

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9 thoughts on “Put On Your Big Girl Pants

  1. Hey there Smartie,
    It seems like the word “angry” or “getting angry” has become a hot topic lately 😉 Nothing wrong with a once and a while blowout. As a matter of fact, it’s totally normal. It’s the plot of the argument, when one is angry, that makes all the difference. Sometimes we tend to step outside the circle on the point of the matter and we become more enraged as we’ve begun to bring up past arguments, which were unsettled or not finish being resolved. As funny as it may seem, anger and arguments are a form of communication, when you keep it to the “root” of the problem. When the worst case situation arises, at least try to agree that you don’t agree.

  2. Dear Smartie,
    Well done! This is an important subject.
    I too have wondered why we pathologise anger, just because some people have blamed anger for striking out behaviour – hurtful behaviour should never be blamed on an emotion, it is a choice!

    “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
    I agree with The Buddha in this quote, if our anger is directed towards another person. But as you correctly point out, our anger may also be directed towards ourselves…. so perhaps inspecting the hot coal, and isolating where the fire started, as you suggest, is the better approach. Perhaps if we sit with it, and don’t huff and puff, it will just go out. Why, we may even be warmed by it!

    “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” -Ajahn Chah

    Keep up the good writing, Smartie!
    (Now let me quote your blog last sentence “We can only accomplish it through our connectedness with others and the new learning about ourselves that our relationships provide” – I so agree, so why dont you let me know when i can connect up with you.. haha)
    Koyl

  3. Regarding your ex-boss, you should have sabotaged him…Potato in the muffler, sugar in gas tank, laxatives in his coffee…
    Don’t worry, I’m only joking. But some people do these things when they’re angry, rather than finding out what is really getting to them.

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