Saturday, October 21, 2017

What is under the anger?

What is this ladder reaching for?
One of the sentences I hear myself repeating is "This past year I have been so much more angry than ever before in my life."

It's not really something I'm proud of.  It's actually taken me completely by surprise and expresses something that has been unexpected for me in marriage.

So, what do you do with anger when you've never really dealt with it before?  What can anger signify in your life, relationships, state of your soul and psyche?

I've been asking these questions, often while I'm very emotionally worked up and frustrated and overwhelmed and confused.  But occasionally when I'm calm and detached and curious and not overly concerned that something is horribly wrong with me or my marriage because I am angry.

I'm learning so much.

This morning I practiced centering prayer and wanted to bring my anger into the presence of God.  To learn and hear truth and find some of the healing that I need as well as the courage to face the anger.

As I started to introduce anger, a memory flitted in.  I was treating an elderly patient who was not getting better, kept falling, and was too stubborn (and angry) to consider that she might need to consider something other than physical therapy to address her needs.  I had just told her that I could not continue treating her.  She responded angrily, told me that as I had only been working for 3 years I knew nothing compared to her 30 years as a teacher.  She did this loudly in the middle of our therapy gym.

I remembered my heart rate rising, hearing the pounding in my ears, feeling like I was getting tunnel vision.  Basically, I was very angry.  I "kept my cool" and stood my ground firmly.  She was just a bully, I was taking the high road.

As I remembered, I thought to myself "Hmmm, that was a time when I was really angry.  That was a physical response.  Maybe that can help me remember that many of the things that bring on my anger now aren't really that upsetting."

That seemed like a nice way to pat myself on the back and move on.

However, for some reason, I continued to ponder that scene.  I thought about a podcast I had listened to about how most fights in intimate relationships are basically about our needs not being met (or not feeling like they are going to be met.)  And it struck me that yes, I had taken the "high road" in that instance, but I had not been able to see how scared that patient was of losing control of her life.  That age was staring her in the face and not being gracious.  And she was angry.

And yes, she was grumpy and unpleasant and rude and pushy and all sorts of unacceptable things, but that's another thing I am learning about anger - it often covers up deep insecurities and fears.

I found my thoughts shifting to an openness to consider what insecurities and fears might be hiding under my anger.  I also pondered that perhaps my anger might not be so quick to rise toward my husband if I could remind myself that he also is dealing with insecurities and fears.

It takes great courage to be vulnerable.  Especially if you are (quite humanly) uncertain if the person across from you will step into that insecurity, fear, need and not quickly respond that it's unfounded or stupid or crazy.

And if we haven't seen vulnerability modeled in our parents, teachers, friends, media, we actually may not even have the foggiest concept of what it would even look like to attempt it.

I don't like my angry responses.  I'm often ashamed of them.  I can see how hurtful they are.  But sometimes I don't even know why I'm angry.  I don't know another way to get attention to the fact that something is important to me (even though I'm not exactly sure what the root need or want is).

So, as I journey deeper into the roots of my anger, I must stay curious.  And when I encounter anger around me (and in me), I want to practice kindness and compassion and ask "What is under/behind that anger?"