I feel like the hulk, kind, unassuming and mild mannered until the smallest thing triggers unbridled wrath. I am angry 99.8% of the time. Only those who live in my house are actually unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it. My closest circle of friends hear about it. After a particularly bad outburst I will tell them honestly about what happened, how bad I feel about it and the resultant broken hearts and household appliances that suffered because of it.
Anger for me means: at least I’m actively engaged in the current battle set before me. I’m battling against the fact that I have all these negative emotions, that I can’t control or get rid of.
I choose to avoid
I don’t want to feel fear, pain, depression, sadness etc. Who does? So I avoid those feelings at all costs, and when I can’t avoid them, I actively try to get rid of them. I’m exhausted from the constant battle of trying eliminate them, and because I don’t allow myself to feel them they persist and get bigger. The cycle repeats. Repeats. Repeats.
When the avoiding stops working I spring into action, run out on the battle field of warring emotions and stare down the weaker ones first. I defiantly confront sadness and say “Ha ha ha, I’m happy. See, I’m laughing, therefore I am NOT sad”. It’s a lie, but it covers the sadness for a brief time. I draw my sword against the moderately intimidating ones like the hopelessness embedded in chronic physical pain. It’s moderately intimidating because it’s a constant companion and doesn’t pull any shocking new punches. Rather it’s like a low hum of traffic outside your bedroom window that without it, you couldn’t fall asleep but with it, keeps you awake. For these moderately negative emotions I pull out all the coping mechanisms I’ve learned. Meditation, yoga, alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, zoning out on TikTok, binge watching hundreds of episodes of mindless television and out of desperation to feel some relief, appointments for massage, chiropractic care and holistic doctors. All that activity is merely desperation to escape the hopelessness that coexists with chronic pain, disguised as self care and at least some type of activity.
For what I consider severe negative emotions; fear, anxiety, overwhelm and panic, I opt to hurdle over them and immediately transform them into anger. Here is how it happens, I experience a trigger and instead of actually feeling fearful, anxious, overwhelmed or panicking, I bypass all that and turn into the Hulk. Picture here the Hulk writhing on the floor in mental anguish while desperately fighting to gain control of the anger that is positioned to overcome him, yet and still with a glimmer, a hint of remembrance of the gentle and mild mannered Dr. Bruce Banner being violently smothered by rage. A small word like “why” or “how”, can be the trigger that incites screaming, swearing and slamming my fists on whatever is nearby. If I’m told a detailed story of injustice or unethical behavior toward another, I behave myself long enough to hear what I think are the important components of the story and then blind rage takes over and the behavior repeats. All that just to circumvent feeling the negativity of fear, anxiety, overwhelm, sadness and depression. It’s exhausting.
The result of all that avoidance, is anger always simmering just beneath the surface ready to break through at the smallest sign of inequity or unfairness. Upon further introspection I discovered that mostly I get angry that I can’t conquer the negative feelings. I’m angry that all my fighting and striving does nothing to change my emotions to positive and happy ones. Then I feel trapped by all the negativity and that I am powerless to do anything about it, to effect change. The point when I recognize that I have no control resets the entire process and the battle starts again.
In summary, I don’t want to feel fear, pain, depression or sadness etc. So I righteously engage in battle in an attempt to eradicate those feelings. Because I don’t allow myself to feel them, they remain. They are quieted for a time but they persist like water in a pan on a stove set to a low heat, they simmer. Then because they are ignored the cycle continues. I encounter a feeling that doesn’t feel good, I fight the feeling, I despair and grow weary due to the constant, never ending battle of trying to dispose of the feelings. Eventually like the water in the pan my will power and patience run out and with nowhere else to go the heat consumes the pan and it permanently damages the pan. In this case I risk permanently damaging relationships and the toll it takes on my own body manifests like a charred, burnt unusable pan.
Sit with the fear, anxiety, dread, sadness, depression. Don’t ignore it, avoid it or even try to change it. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Let it sit in your presence, pay attention to it. Negative feelings are a divinely created early warning system that something is wrong. Don’t strive and fight to get rid of it and get somewhere else. Because the mere attempt to control it, avoid it, dismiss it and ultimate failure to control it fuels the burning rage. The feeling must be felt, not suppressed, ignored or destroyed. It demands attention – so give it it’s due.
If all that is true…
How do I coexist with all those emotions? How do I find rest and peace in the negativity and pain? When fear anxiety sadness and depression present themselves, how do I not fight? How do I not strive to get a “better” emotion?
Asking God through lots of tears – He says “Trust”. Fear needs to trigger trust instead of a fight or flight response. (this applies to fear that is created in the mind and not from an outside source like someone attacking you). Anxiety, let it prompt you to find trust. Overwhelm = trust. Sadness = trust. Depression = trust. Trust, that God will be with you and deliver you eventually from those things that trigger the fear anxiety, overwhelm, sadness and depression.
I will learn
I don’t know how I will do this. I will learn though. Because if I don’t, I will destroy my health, my family, my friendships, my business, and my work relationships.
The first step in learning this concept for me is this:
Each time a negative emotion presents itself it’s usually easiest to notice the anger first. Stop mid outburst and say out loud “HEY anger what are you really about”? Then go through the list with yourself ask your own brain, are you scared, anxious, sad, overwhelmed, depressed? Then wait until your brain has a chance to answer. Give it just a few seconds, don’t worry it’s smart – it will answer quickly. Then have a conversation with the answer. For example if your answer is fear – ask the fear some questions, what exactly are you afraid of? Is that true? Once you find the answer usually the anger becomes a faded old balloon that is floating away because it doesn’t care if you recognize it or not.
Example conversation that I recently had: the details and the participants in the conversation are literally irrelevant so I will cut to the chase and make it a bit generic.
Him: Are you sure? Why do you have to do it that way?
Me: BECAUSE I WAS eFFING TOLD TO, THAT’S WHAT THE CONSULTANT SAID TO DO AND WE ARE PAYING HER A $%*! TON OF MONEY, IT HAS TO BE RIGHT OTHERWISE I WASTED MY TIME AND OUR MONEY – I DON’T eFFING CARE DO WHAT YOU WANT!
Him: Dang, what did I say? All I did was ask a question.
Me: YUP I JUMPED STRAIGHT TO ANGER DO YOU KNOW WHY? WELL, I HAVE TO TALK IT OUT SO BE QUIET AND LET ME, CUZ I’M SO TIRED OF BEING ANGRY – I HAVE TO eFFING FIX THIS!
Me: OK SELF WHAT IS THE REAL SOURCE OF YOUR eFFING INAPPROPRIATE OUTBURST AND ANGER!?
Me: I’m scared.
Me: What are you scared of?
Me: I’m afraid that I made a mistake, that I hired the wrong consultant, that I wasted precious time and money only to find the wrong answer and did the task wrong.
Me: And what if that’s true?
Me: Then I made a mistake and will have to try again.
Me: Yeah, that sucks, is that the worst that can happen?
Me: No. It could be much much worse. I could have ignored the initial problem and never even attempted to solve it, the consequences of that would be much worse.
Me: Do you have to be so mad at yourself and take it out on him?
Me: No, I could be more gentle with myself and understand I’m not perfect and am doing the best I can with what I’ve got. I could give myself a little grace and patience while I work out the solution and understand that his question “are you sure – why do you have to do it that way” is literally just a question, not an indictment or condemnation.
Me: Where is your anger now? It’s floating away.
Me: Feel better? Yes.
Me: Why do you feel better?
Me: Because I let my fear exist, I gave it a voice and let it be recognized. I didn’t ignore it, dismiss it or try to obliterate it. I addressed it.
Me: Thanks for letting me do that out loud.
Him: Sure, now can you answer the question?
My anger is fueled by the presence of emotions that don’t feel good. Fear, anxiety, overwhelm, sadness, depression. The anger rises up when I try to eliminate the emotions. I can’t eliminate them they exist for a reason. I have to feel them. To not allow myself to feel all those emotions is to deny myself. Deny the very fact that I am alive, feel things strongly and have a right to those feelings. The feelings are caused by how I perceive the circumstances. Understanding that I cannot change most of the circumstances but only how I react to them is the beginning of recognizing and acknowledging the negative emotions that lead to anger.
At this juncture eliminating the feelings shouldn’t be the goal. Recognizing them. Acknowledging them. Letting them be an early warning system signaling that I’m going to have to initiate an exercise to engage the feelings, not a battle to destroy them.
Where does my faith fit in? In short, I’m not alone in this exercise. I have my God who is wholly interested in my well being along side me through all this, giving me the wisdom, ability and strength to discover the process, show me how to walk through the process and feel the peace from it.