I had a really hard time writing my last blog post about letting go. As I began to write it, I noticed that I was struggling with letting go of many things. It was hard to pick just one example of letting go and write a coherent piece. So, I picked the incident with the delayed Amtrak train. I also decided that I needed a few more blog posts over the next few weeks (and perhaps months) to explore the concept of detachment (letting go of my attachments) more deeply.
I have an anger problem. I hate saying those words. It’s hard to admit to myself, and even harder to admit to others. None of us like messing up or appearing less than perfect. But anger is an ugly emotion. By definition it brings out the worst in people. And I struggle to master my anger all the time.
I grew up in a home and community where there was a lot of anger. Most of the men who fathered children did not stay around to raise them. My mom and most of my aunts were single mothers doing their best with limited educational, financial, and professional opportunities. They yelled at their children’s fathers for not being around and providing. They yelled at us kids whenever we misbehaved or “got on their nerves.” They yelled at one another as a regular form of communication. They loved us deeply, and did all that they could to give us all we needed growing up - but they were angry a lot of the time.
Anger was a normal emotion in my childhood. Before long, I, too, became an angry person. I got angry with my roommates when they didn't keep our apartments clean. I got angry with my students when they didn't listen. I got angry when my ex-husband didn’t do or say or think the way I thought he should. Before long, I was angry all the time. My anger eventually was the downfall of our marriage.
Sadly, I couldn’t see it the first time my ex pointed it out. It took him packing up his things and leaving before I would come face-to-face with how angry I was and how much it was damaging our relationship. I decided to take an anger management class to get to the root of my problem and start over. Our primary text was Angry All the Time: An Emergency Guide to Anger Control by Ronald T. Potter-Efron.
While reading that book and attending the anger management classes, I came to grips for the first time ever with how much anger I was carrying. I also realized the root of it was feeling hurt, vulnerable, and fearful of future mistreatment. Besides all the yelling and screaming in my childhood, I suffered ill treatment. As a seven year-old, I didn’t have the words to say that someone else’s actions were hurting me. I didn’t know how to say I was scared and worried that the hurt was going to continue. In fact, I shut down and became really sullen and withdrawn. Unconsciously, I began to cultivate anger as a way to keep people away – and prevent future damage.
I wish I could say that reading the book and completing my anger management course was enough to erase three decades of practice being angry all the time. They weren’t. More than a decade later, I nearly destroyed another relationship by being angry all the time. Fortunately, when my boyfriend said those words to me a few months ago, I admitted my mistake almost immediately. I also puled out my trusty anger management book and re-read it.
Right now, I’m committing each morning not to get angry during the day – no matter what happens. It’s hard not to get angry when drivers cut me off on the road, or my boyfriend doesn’t want to go out to the fancy restaurant I think would be great, or my supervisor doesn’t think every one of my ideas is brilliant. I’m tempted to get angry each and every time I don’t get what I want. Sometimes I give in to my anger, and make things worse. But I am learning to let go of anger – and the expectations that feed it. It’s a road that I am taking one day at a time.
Photo courtesy of Allan Donque from Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain via WikiCommons 2.0.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.