What If Your Real Self is Really Mad? (Plus a Giveaway!)

You’ve heard the platitudes …

Honesty is the best policy.

Tell the truth and shame the devil.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

They make it sound simple, don’t they? As if telling the truth was so straightforward. But for those of us who are accustomed to covering up, getting real is … complicated.

When you start speaking up after years of silence, you’ll discover the land mines in your psyche. You probably won’t even know they’re there until you step on one. The anger and sadness that you stuffed down years ago will rise to the surface. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll hate it.

When you get a sense for how much emotion has been buried within you, you will be tempted to turn away from it all. You’ll judge and shame yourself for the war zone within.

But living a life of love necessitates uncovering and disabling those land mines.

anger, getting really mad

Scared to Get Mad

A few weeks ago, I wrote in my journal, “I’m scared to be the real me and express how I think and feel, because I’m so afraid that the real me is a colossal b%^&*.”

If you think about, this fear makes a lot of sense. Why? Because exploding-doormat or “caged” anger is vicious. And if you don’t address it, it will blow up your relationships, your body, your very self.

As Anna Kunnecke wrote in this post, “… Imagine taking any healthy loving human being and locking them up in a cage for 20 or 50 years. Think how contorted she would get. How desperate. How filthy and furious and twisted.

This is what happens when [you] lock away [your] anger …. The problem isn’t that [you] lost [your] temper. 
The problem is that it took [you] SO LONG to lose [your] temper.”

Kunnecke goes on to say that our job is not to “exile our anger even further”, but instead to “integrate her, to welcome her back to the table.”

So that’s what I’ve been exploring lately: how to feel and welcome anger. How to get mad. How to acknowledge anger’s role, rather than turning my back on her.

Using Anger Constructively

Here’s what it looks like in real time.

A few months ago I agreed to do a video call with a friend. But when the day arrived, I felt myself getting upset. And for once, I listened to it instead of suppressing it.

I thought, “This is the time when I exercise, but with this call, I’ll be at my desk for another hour. That’s the last thing I need today. I’m so mad at myself for agreeing to this!”

Then – light bulb moment! What if I could use that anger to fuel a positive change? If I asked my friend to do a phone call, I’d be able to walk while we chatted. Even so, I hesitated to make the “selfish” request. What if my friend took it personally? Couldn’t I just sit for another hour?

This is the precise point at which I usually give up on setting boundaries. I discover a need that’s not being met and consider drawing a line … but then I ask myself, Well, can’t you just not need that?

Then I come up with several reasons why I shouldn’t need whatever it is I do need. The specter of selfishness looms, and it frightens me so much that I give in.

Fear of Being Selfish

I cannot tell you how much time, money, and energy I’ve spent on things I dislike just to avoid feeling “selfish”.

But lately, I’ve been doing things differently. After all, I already know what happens when I don’t set boundaries: the anger goes underground, but it doesn’t go away.

Nowadays, I’m practicing what Anne Lamott calls “radical self-care”: taking naps when I need them, leaving margin time between activities, saying no thanks when I’m not interested.

And if that means that I get a scarlet “S” for selfish, then so be it.

So I took the plunge and asked my friend if we could forgo video. She said yes, no problem. We had a great conversation as I walked. I got to exercise and keep my commitment.

When I didn’t martyr my needs, the anger evaporated. There was no need to get mad anymore.

As Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong:

“ … The most compassionate people … also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries …. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Isn’t that amazing? When you set boundaries and stand up for your needs, you don’t get resentful!

Relaxed Caroline

Practicing radical self-care by taking pause on a weekday afternoon.

Of course, these stories don’t always have happy endings. Sometimes, what you fear does come to pass. You voice your truth and get your metaphorical head chopped off.

Last year, a friend asked me for a favor. After careful consideration, I (kindly) declined the request. She froze me out after that. It hurt like hell. But I don’t regret the decision. Instead, I wish I’d stopped the people-pleasing sooner.

As Martha Beck once said, “No pretend people can ever create a real relationship.” Pretending in order to ‘preserve’ a relationship is as exhausting as going without food. Without real connection, we lose our strength.

But when we dare to tell the truth, we nourish ourselves and everyone else.

Book Giveaway

Friends, since today’s post is about the danger of turning anger inward, it’s fitting to connect it to a beautiful memoir about depression and recovery. Dog Medicine by Julie Barton is a gorgeous example of truth-telling to nourish the soul.

It’s being released Tuesday November 10, but I read an advance copy from ThinkPiece Publishing. I laughed, I cried, and I fought Jonathan when he tried to take it away because it was making me cry.

And guess what? ThinkPiece has generously given me two print copies to give away!


Here’s the synopsis:

“At twenty-two, Julie Barton collapsed on her kitchen floor in Manhattan. She was one year out of college and severely depressed. Summoned by Julie’s incoherent phone call, her mother raced from Ohio to New York and took her home. Psychiatrists, therapists and family tried to intervene, but nothing reached her until the day she decided to do one hopeful thing: adopt a Golden Retriever puppy she named Bunker.

Dog Medicine captures in beautiful, elegiac language the anguish of depression, the slow path to recovery, and the astonishing way animals can heal even the most broken hearts and minds.”

Visit ThinkPiece to purchase a print or electronic copy, and leave a comment below to enter our giveaway! I’ll choose two winners at 1pm Central time on Tuesday, November 17. Good luck!

**November 17 Update: The giveaway is now closed; thank you all for your beautiful comments. You touched my heart with your stories and your courage. In fact, there were so many great comments that I decided to expand this into a four-book giveaway. What can I say? You guys have that effect on me.

Congratulations to our book recipients Michelle, Kimberly, Bindi, and Melanie. I’ll do more giveaways in the new year, so stay tuned. In the meantime, don’t forget to pick up a print or digital copy of Dog Medicine from ThinkPiece as a powerful gift this holiday season!**

PS – In addition to having several AWCC posts reprinted on The Huffington Post, I just had a guest post published on Kristen Howerton’s blog, Rage Against the Minivan. It’s titled, “What I Want You To Know About Having a Seat at God’s Table.” Enjoy!


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45 thoughts on “What If Your Real Self is Really Mad? (Plus a Giveaway!)

  1. Debbie says:

    My dogs are great medicine for me! Would love to read this book. 🙂 I recently was having a horrible day and my dogs helped get me out of it.

  2. Lindsay says:

    So many things you write resonate deeply with me. I guess i just need to hear reminders (again and again), thank you! And yes, my sweet pup knows just when to raise her little head and give a smile. Happy Monday to all!

  3. Joy says:

    Caroline, I know that anger is there and I am a people pleaser too. I really appreciated reading this. I know working on this is a long slow journey. But I am glad I am not alone.

  4. How effectively so many of us have buried negative emotions over years or even decades that await us as we begin to choose living our truth over living a lie about who we are. They can truly be land mines, revealing eruptive emotion as we uncover them in our quest to live freely and vulnerably, making us question whether it is really the path to freedom we are on. And yet, it is truly in digging up these buried emotions that we can experience and release them from our lives. They were buried because we were afraid to feel them; only feeling them now gives us the power to let them go, and be free of the fear. As we walk the path, they become fewer and fewer as we unearth and dispose of them, and we walk more and more in the light of whom we really are and express our unique truth in the world.

    • So well said, Greg! As always, I appreciate your thoughtful words. And you make a good point that as we continue, the emotional land mines are fewer and farther between.

  5. Sometimes, the way your post matches what is happenining in my life, makes my hair stand on end. Once again, thank you for the support. It’s like another little God-breeze, blowing me in the right direction. Blessings!

  6. Maswoliedza Mulweli says:

    It is really touching to read this beautiful post…..I am also a person who likes to please my friends.I will appreciate if we can get inspiring posts like this in future.

  7. Jenna M says:

    What a lovely post! It really made me think. I have just went trough burn out and this really touched me.

  8. Michelle Trehey says:

    My son was a dog handler in Afghanistan. Letters home were full of Everett’s (the dog) latest tail-wagging adventures. In times of immense tumult, that furry beast kept my son’s heart full and smiling. Everett and my son were in a bomb explosion. Several soldiers were killed. After a brief recovery period, my son returned to a gunshy Everett. The 2 of them muddled thru the rest of their tour. They were separated when my son came home and I know it still breaks his heart. That dog had wings! An angelic companion indeed! My son would appreciate this book. And what a greater miracle if the 2 could be reunited!

    • What an amazing story, Michelle – thank you for sharing it here. The bond that can form between humans and animals is incredible. I bet it was a comfort to know that Everett was there with your son in Afghanistan, and I can imagine how tough it must be for them to be apart now. I pray that they can reunite somehow, be it in the flesh or in spirit.

    • Melanie says:

      I have heard stories about dogs and the healing power they bring to our soldiers in combat there as well as to those back home who are suffering from PTSD and other war wounds. They are so inspiring. I have also spoken to a local police officer with the K-9 unit who told me that you form a real bond with your four-legged partner. Please thank your son for all the sacrifices that he and his fellow soldiers have made on our behalf. I too am praying for a reunion!

  9. LJ says:

    My dogs are one of the best things in my life. (And I’m blessed with a great life!) This book looks amazing; I’d love a copy.

  10. Lisa W says:

    I recently started following your blog and have found the few that I have read very helpful! The possibility of winning this wonderful book is just a great bonus. Thanks!!

  11. Caroline, This post has me crying… again. I lost my pug, Daisy, in July, and I cannot have animals in the condo I am renting between moves. It is the FIRST time in 50 plus years that I have been without a dog (usually multiple) or cat. I was talking with my mother about an unsuccessful house hunting trip, and I said, “I don’t care so much about the house, as I do about getting a dog. I miss Daisy more than anything.” Yep, a 50 plus woman honestly saying what matters in her life. I don’t want this to be a “pity story” to receive the book, as much as I want to truly admit to myself that I’ve had the “blues”, because there’s a part missing in my life… a pet, a chosen part of families. They are the “relatives” we choose… and they give more than they every receive. Thank you for your transparency…

    • Oh Kimberly, my heart goes out to you! I’m sorry for your loss, and hope that you can welcome a new pet soon. I like your point that pets, like friends, are the family we choose. Sending a big hug your way.

      • Thank you for the beautiful book! I cannot wait to read it! I came home tonight after teaching my classes to find it waiting for me. Funny thing… the envelope was completely destroyed and open, like it was tossed around carelessly. The book, however, was perfect… no blemishes or scratches! And your note of encouragement was such a blessing. I will say that inside crumbled people are great stories just waiting to be heard! Such a perfect analogy to examining your anger… it’s ugly, but underneath lies a gift you can give yourself, if you take time to examine it closely and make friends with it. Thank you, again!

        • You’re very welcome, Kimberly; so glad to hear that it arrived! And oh, that gives me chills that the envelope was wrecked but the book wasn’t … thank you for sharing that resonant metaphor here!

  12. Bindi says:

    The lat two weeks I have been saying enough and have surrender to self care! I lost my dog of 14 yrs in April just two weeks after my best friend died of cancer. I have bee putting on a brave face, but finally gave in to the grief because I was carrying it around & it got too heavy to hold on to. I stayed in bed for over two weeks,crying, sleeping,tried so hard not to feel guilty! It was my way of allowing myself to feel even if others in my life don’t understand! Lizzie hard and we all need support, your writing has been a comfort to me, I will get another dog as I too suffer from depression, they are the cloud in my grey lining!

    • Bindi, I’m so sorry to hear that – what a sad time for you. It sounds like you have been doing the healthy (and hard) work of grieving your loved ones, so brava to you for that.

      I’m both honored and humbled to hear that my writing has been a comfort to you in this time. Thank you for being here – I am sending love and light your way today.

  13. Melanie says:

    Like Tara, I find that this post like the others you share coincide with what’s currently happening in my life. But I’m not going to call it “coincidence”. Actually, it’s been happening for years, but recent incidents especially this past Sunday alerted me to more inner work is needed to be done. Though I’m an absolute dog lover, I’m not allowed to have dogs where I’m living. However, I have neighbors who patiently have allowed me to get my dog fix from time to time. They’ve all attested to the healing power of the love from their companions/family members. BTW – I saw Sarah’s website. Looking forward to reading her book and seeing her mini documentary.

    • Melanie, I agree – it doesn’t seem to be coincidence, does it? I just read a short essay on Liz Gilbert’s Facebook page that I swear she wrote for me! 😉

      Happy to hear that you have a ‘dog fix’ – I’m going to be getting mine this Thanksgiving, as my parents and brother have a fun-loving mutt named Chevy.

      Good luck with the inner work, and definitely let me know if there are any particular topics you’d like to see more of here!

  14. Valentina says:

    Thanks for your words, Caroline. I guess you (and many others) will agree that what’s worst is that, in some cases at least, you can get addicted to people-pleasing. I personally felt for a long lifespan as if I was BORN to please others – and conceived this almost as a gift, not as an enemy to my wholeness. In these cases it gets even harder to let anger and “selfishness” resurface, but then hey… The harder the struggle, the better the reward! And I am now deeply rewarded, especially when I get as a reply the magic words “This is not like you!” What they don’t know is: it really IS like me, it has always been like me, it was just sitting idle down there 😉

  15. Sarah says:

    all of this is so true. I have been working to not surpress my emotions (no more caged up inner lady!), and I’ve gotten good at recognizing them in the moment, but I’m not so good at taking a breath and figuring out a way to act on them instead of reacting. Baby steps. Also that book looks amazing and right up my alley. I am very interested in animal therapy and dogs are my obsession 🙂

    • Yes! I agree, Sarah – identifying the emotions is a key first step, and taking pause and acting positively is the next one.

      I actually just had a conversation with my husband about this very topic. I’d taken a risk and voiced feelings of anger and upset, but I didn’t do it in the healthiest way. Fortunately, we were able to talk it through.

      Like you, I’m learning to communicate feelings in a non-reactive way that invites connection.

      Brene Brown’s great line, “The story I’m telling myself is …” has been really helpful in this. Thank you for sharing; I’m glad we’re learning alongside one another.
      Caroline McGraw recently posted..What If Your Real Self is Really Mad? (Plus a Giveaway!)

  16. Kyla says:

    This was such an important article for me to read! I’ve always been a people-pleaser and I know firsthand how destructive this suppressed anger can be.

    I’ve always felt such strong connections with the animals in my life and know of their powerful healing energies. I’d love to add this book to my reading list!

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