To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Staying close to home today. I hurt my back AGAIN. This time, sweeping the kitchen floor. I am going to have to do something about this, because it's getting ridiculous. Thank goodness for my leftover Soma from two years ago.

So I'll follow up to my post about women looking ticked, to talk about what to do when you feel angry.

And it's important to think about this. Some people, because of either the culture they were raised in or their own characters, have trouble confronting others when they're mad. Perhaps they ascribe to other people the feelings they would have if called out about X, when actually the other person wouldn't give a damn. Or they elevate the importance of the other person's feelings being hurt over the importance of their own internal serenity. That's bad because (a) you internalize this stuff and it can make you resentful and even sick, and poison the relationship, and (b) it's tempting to wait until you are mad enough to let your anger deal with the situation for you, which is uncontrolled and frequently destructive to the relationship. We will pause for a word from William Blake:

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

- Blake, "A Poison Tree"

I think we can all relate to this.

So here are my suggestions for when you find yourself angry at someone.

First, someone you don't know and with whom you will have only limited dealings. My daughter called me from school one day, crying in anger because the man at the post office had been unbelievably rude to her. She told me exactly what she'd said, and what he'd said, and it was unmistakable, unnecessary, and shocking. What I said to her:

1 - Happy people don't act that way. He must be a miserable person.
2 - You were exposed to him for five minutes. He has to live with his misery 24/7.
3 - Would you want to trade places with him, and be the one who is miserable enough to act that way, rather than being on the receiving end able to walk away afterward? No?
4 - Then can you feel sorry for him, that he's such a wretch? And feeling sorry for him, can you forgive him? Say a little prayer for him, and put it aside?

Her angry sobbing quieted. I think it helped.

(Amazing how a short but sincere prayer for that provoking person can help one's feelings. This has caused me to formulate a tentative definition for "forgiveness". It's when you no longer accuse that person before God. He may have to answer for what he did - thinking of really egregious things like concentration camp guards here - but God can be trusted to meter out justice without you continuing to point the finger. It can be a liberating thing. And it does not preclude seeking earthly justice. I read somewhere about a prosecutor who was a devout Christian. When perps would say to her, "I found Jesus!" she would say, "Congratulations, you're going to heaven! But first, you're going to jail.")

Second, someone with whom you will continue to have more or less intimate dealings. This could be a coworker, spouse, family member, or close friend.

Start with questions for yourself.

1 - Is this misplaced anger? Maybe you're only slightly irritated at the person in front of you but you're really angry at your boss, you can't address that as you'd like b/c you need your job, so you lash out at a safe person - your spouse, child, etc. Or you're frustrated at your life conditions right now, underemployment, health problems, and so on, and you can't fix that but you can holler at a person. This is not fair and not productive, and is a relationship destroyer.

2 - Could you be hungry, tired, getting sick, or premenstrual? We women dislike being asked if we have PMS when we get angry. The assumption is that we're being accused of irrationality. But it's a valid question, and one that we should be OK with asking ourselves. Solve those peripheral issues, or wait a couple of days if it could be PMS*, and if you're still angry, then it's time to take the next step.

3 - Exactly what is bothering me? And exactly what outcome do I want? This second question is one of the most important because throughout your confrontation, if you have one, you have to keep that in front of you to stay on track. You don't want to use the confrontation to hurt the other person's feelings - to assert your dominance - to bring up unrelated and unresolved crap; you want to solve the problem, period. So if the problem is that your spouse doesn't do as he promised and wash the dishes when you have cooked, the outcome should be not that your spouse understands how he is immature and lazy, and never does what he says, and you are doing more than your share of the housework all the time, etc., but that the dishes get washed without making you ask and nag. Period, full stop. This is bolstered if you address issues as they come up rather than letting them pile up until you're good and steamed.

4 - Be sure that there's not some reason you haven't thought of, why the person is doing whatever ticked you off. Suppose your kid told you a couple of times that he's out of notebook paper. Before you tear into him for not doing his homework, it should probably occur to you that he can't do it without notebook paper, he told you he needed it, and he doesn't have a driver license and can't go to the store and get it for himself. You can avoid not only confrontations, but looking like an idiot, this way.**

If you do have a confrontation, after you've assured yourself that you have a legit issue and are not tired, etc., and the other person doesn't have an obvious reason to be unreceptive, be effective, brief, and fair.

1 - Ask yourself: How can I get what I want? I mentioned before about the DISC personality test. "I" stands for "influencing" and it means using your charm and personality to get people to do what you want. I score rock-bottom on that one. The person who facilitated that test the first time I took it was kind enough to tell me that my score was due to my desire to deal with people from a position of sincerity, and the things that would have caused me to score higher, I would have viewed as manipulative. That's cool, but it means I have to make a conscious effort to think about dealing with people to get what I want from them. And you can read a lot of this stuff in just about any women's magazine: Don't jump on somebody when he's just walked in the door. Don't buttonhole him when he's hungry, tired, or doesn't feel well. Couch what you say in positive terms as much as possible: "I appreciate you taking the trash to the street. We probably need to make a point of taking out the kitchen trash when you do that, to keep it from getting smelly." As opposed to "How come you didn't take the kitchen garbage out?" This may be intended as an entirely neutral and fact-seeking question, but it comes across as an accusation.

2 - State exactly what the issue is, and don't overstate the effect on you. If something is mildly irritating, it isn't driving you crazy.

3 - Preserve the relationship, and the other person's feelings, by not deviating from rules of polite conversation. If you want the other person to have tender feelings for you, you have to protect that by not forcing him to develop defenses because you verbally hurt him. This means not attacking his character or his upbringing, but only the specific behavior that bothers you; and not bringing up other things to try to show a pattern of failure. This also means not taking opportunities to ambush innocent things he says by using that as a jumping-off place to air your grievances.

4 - Remaining polite and sticking to the point has the added benefit - a very important one - of not giving the other person anything to respond to except the thing you want him to respond to. If you assert that he doesn't wash the dishes because his mother spoiled him, he can now react to the fact that you attacked his mother. You've left the path.

5 - Be brief. The longer these things go, the greater the chance that things will be said that shouldn't be.

Understand that some issues will not be resolved. You may think your spouse should do X, he doesn't think so, and either X won't happen, or it will and he may resent having to do it. Hopefully he will not do X but make you pay for it in other ways, or if he simply won't do X, the end, you will not continue to punish him for that. Either it can be tolerated, or it's a dealbreaker; there should be no middle ground. Do, however, give people a chance to mature, if you are going to stick it out. If your spouse used to do something that angered you, but he has thought better and doesn't do it anymore, then let it go and move on with him.

Finally, mature people understand that they can't and they shouldn't get their way all the time. If you can't see yourself ever saying "you're right" and backing off your position, then you should not be in a relationship.

*Going back to what I said before about PMS pheromones affecting men: It's entirely possible that someone will irritate you, you'll realize that you are premenstrual, and you will decide to wait until you are not and he does it again, to decide then whether and how to act on it; only to realize that you go through this over and over because he only does it when you are premenstrual. I have had this happen. What you have to do then is gird your loins, exercise superhuman self-control so that your PMS doesn't harsh your cool, and then calmly address the issue. And then go have that rum-and-coke.

** To further this thought: Rather than saying "you better start your homework right now or you are grounded for life," you can say something calm and neutral, like "I see that you are not doing your homework." That way when your kid says "I don't have any paper, I told you" it doesn't put you on the defensive and start a bunch of back-and-forth crap. You can just say "that's right, you did," and ask exactly what kind he needs as you pick up your car keys, and offer to let him come along so he can pick it out.


Nancy said...

I think these are great observations and very sound advice. It would be interesting to test the pheromone theory.

Kevin said...

I agree; excellent insights. Thanks for posting it.