I’ve seen a few postings on Facebook in the last little while that I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around. The first is a posting that said tears are not an appropriate response to anger. The second is something to the effect that people and their behaviors have no control over us.
I agree and disagree with each of these statements. The first about anger is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Anger was never a safe emotion for me. As I’ve said in other posts, anger is the emotion I think of in connection with my father. He was angry, and if he wasn’t angry, he was just being mean, which seemed to make him happy. Anger wasn’t safe for me to feel because if I felt it when I was younger, I had to feel it in connection with my abuse, and that simply was not allowed. The only way I was supposed to feel about being abused was that I had done something wrong and that I should just be quiet about it, because, after all, “What would other people think?” In my opinion, people should have thought that my father was a sick bastard who should have been punished and kept completely away from children. Of course, that was not the acceptable response.
So for a long time, I could not say that I was angry about something. I would say other words like sad, frustrated, irritated, annoyed, but never angry. There are many things in life that make me angry. Honestly, truly, throw your head back and scream angry. Child abuse is one of those things. Victim blaming is one of those things. Domestic violence, war, murder, rape, oppression, poverty. I’ve got a list.
Now, though, it is safe for me to feel angry about all of these things and every day things. I do not consider myself an angry person, but I can at least be in contact with the fact that I do get angry. I try to deal with anger in an appropriate manner and I try to apologize if I lash out at someone, usually someone I love, over something that makes me angry over which they had no control or did not cause.
Sometimes I get angry because it touches an old scar which is not completely healed. Most of my scars are not as visible and certainly not as painful as they once were, but they are not all completely gone because scars don’t ever completely go away. In a situation like that, I have to learn a new way to deal with my emotions. I don’t need to deny the feelings, but need to figure out why the situation made me feel like it did and how to react differently. It took me a long time to learn not to apologize for whatever I was feeling, good or bad.
The second statement seems to effect me more in my present life than my past. Jennifer wrote in her post, “Is Anybody There?” her therapist realized that she didn’t have low self-esteem; she had no self-esteem. I used to be very much like that and I never argued or stood up for myself in any situation. I was a people pleaser extraordinaire. It was always easier for me to go along with the crowd and just blend in. At some point, I began to stand up for myself and voice who I was.
While I am in control and responsible for my reaction to situations, how others feel does affect me. If Jeff is having a bad day at work, I empathize with him. My day may have been completely fine, but I try to be in tune with his feelings. If my friend is having a hard time, it is ok for me to be happy, but I try not to rub it in his or her face. If someone at the store is mean or rude to me, I do spend some time reflecting on it, but realize it probably had nothing to do with me because other people’s lives do not revolve around me. If it happens once or twice, I just brush it off, but if it happens every time I see the person, I am less likely to try to be nice.
When someone is mean to me repeatedly, it begins to feel abusive, even if once in a while, they lapse into niceness. The person can keep being mean to me and I’m just supposed to take it and not say anything. I try to always be empathetic and consider the other person’s story, which I will probably never fully know. But I can’t let that go on to the point that I am a doormat for someone else. I did that for a long time and now know that I matter and other people don’t have the right to keep treating me badly.
Emotions are a curious and interesting part of the human experience. We all have them, though we may not understand them or have the ability to articulate them. We are all people and have different experiences. Each person has a story, which we will probably never know completely. All we can do is examine our own emotions and responses and try to be as compassionate to ourselves and others as we can.