My anger is an unwelcome visitor.
I see myself as a gentle person. It shocks and frightens me when I feel rage building up inside of me. I feel petty and callous for holding grudges or for slamming doors, but lately I found myself playing that unsavoury role far too often.
Anger showed up unannounced when I found the butter dish empty as my toast grew cold, or when my child would tell me she had to go to the bathroom after being buckled into her car seat. Each small obstacle brought forth more and it grew into a pit of frustration inside of me.
At first I wondered what I could do with it.
I imagined the healthiest release would be to move it through my body. If I could, I would have run out into the forest to scream it all out. I would have thrown, hit, broken something. I would have yelled and stomped my way through the anger until I hit the spring of tears, the fear and the pain that I knew hid underneath.
Children demonstrate the effectiveness of this method to me often. After a round of yelling and a good cry, life is peaches and cream again.
But as an adult, I can’t always act on that.
Anger doesn’t wait to visit us at our own convenience.
It comes to us when we have to do what we don’t really want to do. When we would like to pull back, but can not. It comes when we fear we have nothing left to give, and then are asked to give even more.
It comes for me when I go to tuck myself into bed at the end of my long day, exhausted, just in time for one of my children to wake up wet, lonely or thirsty. In those moments I can not disengage, nor can I allow myself a satisfying tantrum to relieve the pressure.
It comes when our expectations are unfair and we can’t live up to them.
It can come when our trust is challenged. When we need to surrender the need to control, but are afraid that it is not safe to do so.
It comes for me when the chores pile up so much that I can’t find a clean pot to cook in, and I curse myself for not being more prepared.
It comes when I expect maturity from my toddler and when I expect myself to have a handle on everything, all the time.
When I spread myself so thin that I do everything sloppily, because I decided it was important to be a perfect wife, mother, homemaker, friend and writer every single day.
It comes when I know I should let myself off the hook, but worry that if I don’t overextend myself that my household, my children and I will all fall into miserable pieces.
It comes when I see myself crumpled under that impossible weight of expectation, and I feel guilty for not being patient enough or setting a better example of emotional stability. It continues to snowball and I find myself frustrated with myself for being frustrated.
And when it comes for me, I can not just run out into the trees and howl and rage. As a parent especially, I can’t often allow myself that sort of impulsiveness.
If I speak harsh words, I can cut my loved ones very deeply. If I stomp my feet or snarl, I feel ashamed and I wonder what the neighbours might think if they could hear me yelling through the walls.
I don’t want to act on it, but if I try to repress or ignore it, it burns me inside.
I try not to fight it. At least, I try not to deny it. I try to catch my breath or look on the bright side.
But lately, as much as I would strive to be peaceful and aware, the anger still comes. Like it had not finished with me yet.
So I try to follow it to the source and aim to pull the root out.
To start, I acknowledge it. Resistance or denial can only make it worse. I accept that I am having an angry moment and let that wash over me. I re-evaluate my agenda, knowing that there is not much I can accomplish in such a state of mind. Maybe we don’t need to rush out the door in that instant. Maybe I can cancel my plans, or put off the dishes just a little bit longer.
I am coming to see my anger as a red flag that I need my own attention. I remind myself to take that warning seriously, to keep it from overwhelming me.
Next, I do my best to ask what it has to show me. I can follow it back to my most crippling fears of inadequacy. Farther still to the deepest, earliest hurts. I ask myself why, again and again until I hit the bottom of the well.
When it comes from my exhaustion, from feeling like I just can’t keep up with the day to day demands of my life, I find it comes from a feeling of lacking—time, energy, resolve. I get caught up feeling like I have to push myself through, I won’t ask for help and I worry when I can’t plan and execute things the way I think they should go.
It seems to comes down to a fear of not being supported. Some small part of me that I am ashamed to embrace or even acknowledge a lot of the time, needs to be reassured in the most basic, primal way that there is a place for her here. That her life is not a disaster that needs to be struggled against.
Here I realize that I need to be mindful of my perfectionism, keeping myself in check so I don’t wear myself out trying to force things. And as hard as it can be, I find the more I relax and go with the flow, the more I am reassured that things will always work out for me. I’m earning my own trust one step at a time.
When it comes to parenting, I’ve realized I am afraid to make even the smallest mistakes. I wondered why it sometimes set me off so much when my children were being particularly defiant or needy. I noticed that when I am worn down (from my striving) I am less able to respond patiently and empathetically as I would like to. And I don’t tolerate my own less than ideal reactions towards my kids very well.
I carry a worry that any human error on my part could cause my children serious lasting damage, because I am now realizing how much events from my own childhood have shaped me. I push myself to be an unfaltering peaceful parent, creative activity planner, supportive listener and benevolent role model.
When I can’t be calm and I yell, or when I can’t give them my attention and leave the television on for too long, I feel like garbage.
So I wonder: Why I am really so afraid to be less than perfect? Why I am afraid of making mistakes and make excuses to avoid taking chances instead?
I dig just a bit deeper and find that I want to feel like I am innately talented, special without trying. The way my father used to make me feel, back before the divorce that separated him from me. Way before his untimely death two years ago.
Oh, boy. How did I not realize all of this before?
Now I am working on being patient with myself as I learn to be my own healer and guide. These new insights into my sore spots give me plenty of material to digest—slowly but surely.
I have no magical solution for healing old wounds, but starting the process has allowed me to flow more easily towards resolution. It actually feels productive to stew on these insights, and keep cycling back to them as I grow to understand and be comfortable with more about myself.
Now each new encounter with something that can put me into a rage has me asking questions of myself. And the longer I practice, the easier it comes.
Now I am just as likely to be surprised by a wave of understanding as I am to be surprised by fury. That ball of frustration that was building inside of me is gone—I listen to what my anger has to tell me and let it pass on through, without any screaming or stomping.
I can see that the person mocking something I believe in online is not really trying to demean me. They are sharing their own perspective, probably with as much defensiveness as I can have when sharing mine. I recognize that others have their own triggers to work through, and their displeasure does not have to be personal to me.
I understand that the tidiness of my house is not really a reflection of my skill as a parent or my value as a human being. A lazy, distracted day and a box of cereal tipped over on the floor are not legitimate reasons to berate myself. My kids will benefit more from having a parent comfortable in her own skin, with her own life, than they will from having one who is always trying to prove something to herself.
Anger has a big stigma attached to it, especially in the mindful community. We paint it as an uninvited brute. We see it rubbing our human frailties and bruised egos in our faces when we wish so badly to evolve past all that.
But that brute can be one of our greatest teachers, and it can lead us to places inside of ourselves that lay withered in neglect.
Better to treat it with some respect as well as caution. It only lashes out when it’s trying to protect something hurt and broken inside of us.
If we stop trying to fight it and listen to what it has to say, we can take up the work of tending to those sore spots in our psyches for ourselves.
When there is nothing left for it to defend, anger dissipates on its own.
Author: Alura Henault
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Meg Cheng/Flickr