Today marks the first post in a 3-part series on ‘Owning Your Anger.’ Why am I writing about anger? Because I don’t want to…and because I must.
Allow me to explain.
My husband, Jonathan, became temporarily disabled this week. He has tendonitis in his right foot, and he’s been couch-bound for two days.
Yesterday, after I’d searched through (several!) L’Arche closets for crutches (and gone to CVS for an air-cast and to Safeway for groceries and…), the truth of what I was feeling came rushing over me. I had a knot in my stomach…a knot of fear and worry.
And I had a clenching feeling in my chest…anger.
I’ve only recently learned to identify how anger feels in my body. I know sadness, I know delight…but anger sneaks up on me sometimes. I think it’s because I’ve not allowed myself to get familiar with it. My ‘typical’ response to anger is to rationalize it away. Or to deny it altogether…and then explode, into tears or shouts, when that anger finally becomes too big to bear.
Here’s a quote that has stayed with me, from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance Of The Dissident Daughter: “Perhaps the thing most denied to women is anger.”
To that I would add: Perhaps the thing most denied to care-givers is anger.
Do you feel denied permission to feel anger? What does anger feel like in your body?
We don’t want to be angry. We want to be present and helpful and kind. But what if not expressing our more challenging feelings (anger, grief, fear) only gives them more power over us?
To take it further – what if expressing our anger has the potential to actually bring us closer to the people we’re trying to love and support? (And what if not expressing it builds a barrier between us?)
Here’s a case in which expressing my anger made a significant change in my life. I admit – the example is somewhat extreme. I’m not advocating destruction of other people’s property. I’m simply saying that, in order for me to connect with my brother, I had to express my anger rather than deny it.
Without further ado, here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming (free!) ebook, “Your Creed Of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive)”:
“…Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I got so angry with my brother Willie (and his erratic, sometimes-violent behavior) that I smashed an antique guitar to smithereens. (If it helps, it was an old, ratty guitar, not a collector’s item.) This guitar had been given to my brother by my grandparents. After a particularly difficult evening at home, I walked upstairs, saw the guitar and simply…started smashing it against Willie’s wooden bed-frame. I was so, so angry. I so, so badly wanted him to stop acting crazy. I wanted him to change back into the brother I knew.
After, I felt bewildered, astonished…and relieved. While the wood was splintering and the strings were snapping, I’d realized…I could not change him. I could not change my parent’s decisions. I was powerless to change any of those things…but I’d done something I needed to do. I’d released some anger I needed to release. I’d stopped fixating on what I wanted to change about him and started letting myself feel what I felt.
Ironically, this was the first moment in ages at which I could feel empathy for my brother, who had so much rage inside of him. It was small, but it was a beginning.
Sitting amidst the shards of a broken guitar, I took my first step on the road to loving my brother as he was, not as I wished he would be.”
During that time, I knew why I was angry: my brother’s behavior had me thinking that my family’s needs (for safety, love and connection) weren’t being met. Last weekend, though, I wasn’t sure. So I asked the same question: what needs aren’t getting met?
Again, the truth washed over me. My need for control. My need to be taken care of and to feel safe. I’d made the mistake of not saying how I felt about Jonathan’s injury. I hadn’t confessed that it shook me up. That it connected me to my feelings about Vincent*, a beloved friend who is dying of cancer. I felt the presence of a hovering grief, one I hadn’t allowed myself to feel.
Fortunately, my husband won’t let me lie to myself for long. “How are you doing, mi Carolina?” he asked. And it came spilling out. Yet this wasn’t a dramatic rant. I didn’t blame or yell. I simply told the truth about what I was struggling with and how it felt. Turns out that the way to get past it was to go through it…not to deny it or avoid it. As I spoke, a weight lifted from my chest.
Then I spent the rest of the day taking care of myself — cooking good food, watching Psych, and cuddling up. I took time to write and pray this morning. A friend has offered us crutches (thank you, Megan!)
Right now, Jonathan is sleeping peacefully. And I’m at peace with who I am, with this imperfect, unique, ever-growing heart of mine.
Have you ever gained a greater understanding of yourself (and others) after owning your anger?
If so, tell me in the comments!
*Names have been changed.