Every relationship of ours may face some kind of crossroads or conflict at some point. In other words, the other person may do something that makes us angry. Anger is probably one of the least understood emotions. So much so, that it has almost become a dirty word. We are told that it is “ugly” and “evil” and that we don’t have a right to feel it.
“Just get over it. Let it go. Life’s too short to get upset,” is a common refrain. But anger is one of our four most primal human emotions: sadness, anger, frightened or happy. It is perfectly normal to feel angry. It is how we express it, however, that makes all the difference.
To be honest with someone and tell them, “You hurt my feelings”, takes a lot of courage and may risk jeopardizing the relationship. Rather than making waves, we resort to remaining silent and compromising a piece of our dignity, all for the sake of maintaining the status quo. But at what cost?
I keep a checklist in my mind of things that a few people do or say to me that make me very angry. Perhaps you do, too. Maybe they do 10 different things or 50 until I explode.
Of course, the person I’m mad at has no idea about my feelings or what triggered them. To them, what happened may be a minor incident. This is because “to save” the relationship, we haven’t been doing the hard work of being truthful all along and expressing our real feelings in the correct manner. This becomes particularly treacherous ground when it is with an extended family member. Just add the words “in-law” to mother, brother, sister and father and stronger complications can arise, with high stakes.
I had just such an incident with my sister-in-law Joan. I had a volcanic eruption of massive proportions. I had been letting issues and little things slide between us for quite some time. Then she hit number 47 on my checklist and BOOM!
Again, while it is perfectly okay and acceptable to feel angry, I hadn’t done the work of clearing my feelings with her all along. I was scared of losing the relationship, so I sacrificed being true to myself in order to be in it.
I was headed down a slippery slope, even as I prided myself on being able to accept her instead of trying to change her into the person I wished she was.
Joan finally committed the intolerable sin. She withheld information from me, and then when I tried to question her and get some answers, she ignored me. In my mind, she had committed two affronts to me. One, she lied to me by omission, and two, she ignored my questions about the issue. Sure, someone like Joan, who professed to love me unconditionally, wouldn’t hurt me like this, right? But I got no response. She went to Lake Placid for the weekend. This woman, who always has a cell phone in her hand or ear, didn’t have enough concern or respect for me and our relationship to call or text me to say “Nothing happened” or “Let’s talk this over when I get back.” Nothing. Nada. So I wished her a good trip and let it go. Or did I? I found myself stewing about it over the weekend. I became consumed with rage. It just kept building and building to a climax. And then I released it in what felt like unending tidal waves of emotion that just kept flowing. I expressed myself in very choice text messages one right after the other: “F*** you!” “I hate you!” “Your not replying to me was egregious.” “We’re done!”
With deep shame, I write that I spewed out a constant and steady barrage of insults, including comments about her parenting skills and that she’s too busy talking about herself to think of other people. After hitting the send button several times and letting the scared and hurt little girl inside me throw a temper tantrum, the waves finally died down.
Then the fallout began.
Clearly, my actions were the egregious ones because, although I had every right to feel angry, I obviously didn’t express it in an appropriate manner. Take it from me, never hit the send button in the heat of an angry reaction. Repeat after me: Never!
You can write down all the vituperative comments and curses toward a person you wish. That’s your prerogative. In fact, it’s healthy. Just don’t hit that send button until the next day when your “parent” – or superego – can take over. You must control your id – or inner child – before you wreak havoc. Trust me.
Only after sending a dozen white roses, apologizing profusely, and taking full responsibility for my actions, did I have a shot at salvaging our relationship. Joan forgave me. She did however inform me that she forwarded my angry messages to all of her friends…I guess it serves me right. Trust me. Never hit the send button.