No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about anger.
What is it about this emotion that overrides rational thought, logic, and control?
If you’re waiting for an answer from me, don’t hold your breath.
Of all the human emotions, anger is the one I have not even come close to mastering. Worst of all, anger breeds more anger. If jealousy is the green-eyed monster, anger is the red rabbit.
Recently, caught in the middle of an anger tornado, I dropped this post on Facebook:
I am bad at it. Some people, some amazing people with superpowers, can get angry, get the anger out, and let it go. Snap. Done. Anger managed.
I’m going to tell you about what happens to me with anger because maybe some of you will see yourself in this. And maybe some of you will have stellar advice for me? (HINT HINT)
First, because I know how terrible I am with this emotion, I avoid conflict as much as possible. Not as much as I used to—baby steps—but more than the average Joe. Even being around angry people disturbs me. I remember the fights my mom and sister used to have when I was a kid. My sister was just being a rebellious teenager, nothing new there, and Mom was just being a worried parent but, with ten years between my sister and me, those perfectly normal shouting matches cinched my six-year-old stomach into knots. I remember that feeling with perfect clarity. It was horrible. I felt scared and sick.
Whether it’s hardwired into me to avoid conflict or if I’m just an easy going person by nature is impossible for me to say. A combination of both, perhaps? But I do not come quickly or lightly to my own anger. I get annoyed here and there but most things that would upset other people just roll right off me. Prez says I don’t have a vindictive bone in my body. Josh says I’m a slow burn when it comes to anger. Whatever the reason, it takes a long time (glacially long) and a series of incidents or something big and genuinely distressing for me to cross into the anger zone.
But once I’m there? Hoo boy.
Anger flips in me like a switch. One moment I’m handling things fine, the next I am seeing red, I am consumed.
I usually don’t trust myself to confront the person or persons I’m angry with because I know I won’t be able to think clearly and get all the facts out while I’m in that state. Instead, I write a letter or an email. A long email. A very, very long email. I do this in the hopes that the person will read my calm and rational argument, understand how far they have pushed me, and respond with at least some kind of an apology and the beginning of a conflict-free dialogue to solve the problem.
This strategy is effective about 10% of the time.
The other 90% usually leads to the other person blowing up, getting defensive or misunderstanding what I’ve written, and the conflict escalating. From there, we’ll either end up in a knock-down-drag-out argument that eventually ends with concessions on both sides or I will disengage and walk away from the other person permanently. In both cases, there’s no happy ending.
While I am in the middle of these rare conflicts, I am a mess, physically and emotionally. My brain slips into conversation loops. The words I said, the words I wish I’d said, the words I want to say, the words the other person said, the words I imagine they will say…these are all I think about and they repeat over and over and over inside my head. I will replay a conversation hundreds of times, no matter how much I tell myself to stop.
I don’t sleep.
I feel sick to my stomach.
Sometimes my chest feels so tight it’s as if I can’t breathe.
I can’t work or at least I can’t fully concentrate while I’m working.
I pace and fret and stare out the window until I wear myself out.
This can last for hours or days. Sometimes weeks. All the self-discipline I pride myself on goes out the window.
When I’m in this state, all those things that usually roll right off me start to stick. The red rabbit breeds. Now, anyone and anything can make me mad. It’s as if I’ve been stripped of my clothes and someone is peeling away the layers of my skin until all my raw nerves are right on the surface—the slightest breeze feels like a slap. On top of that, I start to resent the person I’m angry at for the fact that they put me in this position.
Breed breed breed breed…
And when I’m angry on someone else’s behalf? When you’ve hurt someone I love? Take all of the above and double the intensity.
Now can you see why I go out of my way to avoid conflict?
The problem is that conflict is inevitable.
Some of my baby steps have helped. I am more careful about the people I allow into my inner circle. I say ‘no’ more often. I speak up about the “little stuff” so that annoyances don’t collect. I communicate my intentions more clearly and more often. I’ve lowered my general expectations of people. I recognize that the world does not revolve around me and my precious feelings. Even so, every now and then, the red rabbit bites me and I’m helpless all over again.
I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want every conflict to debilitate and exhaust me, to end in ruined friendships or resentment. I want to neuter the rabbit.
And this is the point in my post where I usually share the thing that changed my life and explain why and how everything is better now. Except it’s not. I’m still struggling with this one. So, instead, I will hold out my hat and humbly ask for tips, ideas, suggestions, or even just your thoughts on how to deal with my anger problem.