I am sitting on my back patio, enjoying a glorious Spring day, determined to write about ANYTHING but COVID-19! I am guessing I am not the only one who is over-saturated with updates, opinions, and emotions running high. So instead I thought I would write about some things that keep us stuck in anger and frustration. It relates to what I call emotional adulthood.
Often, when life is not cooperating and giving us what we want we react with indignation and anger. As if our insisting that people should behave a certain way, or life should oblige us, is completely reasonable. How many times have I had family members bring loved ones to my office–children or spouses–and ask me to fix them, so the offended member can have peace?
We often convince ourselves that we can finally calm down, have peace, or be happy if only…
If only my husband would stop drinking. If only she would love me. If only our children would appreciate all we do for them. If only my wife was not so hard on me. If only my boss was reasonable. If only the Governor or President or Congress would…
Why do we spend so much energy focusing on what others should do? Because it is much easier to blame others for our pain and hold them responsible for our contentment than to take responsibility for our own life and choices. This is not to say we cannot have opinions about other people’s actions, but we need to be mindful that they are not responsible for our peace and happiness!
Of course, it is not easy to see anything clearly when it is too close, especially ourselves. Scottish poet, Robert Burns’ Ode to a Louse, speaks of a woman putting on airs in church while a louse (singular of lice) roves around on her bonnet. The best line, in my opinion: O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us! In other words, if only we could see ourselves as clearly as others do!
Let me give a few examples:
Beth is frustrated. She longs to be seen and heard, and she believes her husband, Rick, should be the one to provide for her emotional needs. After all, she has loved him and done so many things for him over the years! Rick, on the other hand, does not really need time and attention, and cannot understand why this upsets her. Rick would rather be fishing in silence and peace. Over time, Beth ratchets up her fuming, trying to convince Rick to spend more time with her. In making her case Beth is often hostile and aggressive. She reasons, “If we spend more time together, we’ll be happier.” Rick, on the other hand, reasons they will be happy when Beth stops nagging, and he looks for more opportunities to fish.
Both Beth and Rick hold the other responsible for their pain, rather than owning the choices and responsibility they each have. Beth is angry because she is lonely. She wants to feel significant and insists Rick is the man for the job! But what if she acknowledged her real need and looked for other legitimate ways to meet it? Maybe she would find a Bible study group, a service project, or returning to school fulfilling, which in turn would take some pressure off her marriage. On his side, Rick might need to learn to be more assertive, rather than avoidant. He also needs to work on making emotional connections if he wants a good marriage.
Or let us consider Bill.
Bill’s brother was killed in a car accident while they were teenagers driving under the influence. He struggles with guilt. “It should have been me who died.” And so, in often unconscious ways Bill sabotages his life–accepting jobs that are beneath his abilities, neglecting his children, and ruining an otherwise loving marriage with a series of poor choices. Rather than taking responsibility for getting help, or availing himself of the opportunities he has, Bill labels himself a “screw-up” and angrily rails at what he perceives as an unfair life. He cannot let go of the guilt and his belief that he does not deserve better. He is his own worst enemy. Bill’s past is held responsible for his present circumstances, which is easier than owning his choices and creating a life that has purpose and meaning.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says the ability to choose one’s attitude, to choose one’s way is the last of the human freedoms, is something no one can take from us. And yet so often we willingly give away our freedom and choose to let others decide for us. We stay in relationships or jobs or circumstances where we hold others accountable for being stuck. We stop exercising our right to choose and our responsibility for our own happiness.
Anger is a secondary emotion. If we view it as a door that we could open, the question would be, what is on the other side? Why am I so angry? What is it that I want? And how am I going to take responsibility for getting the things that I need?
If you need help dealing with anger, or sorting through the choices and responsibilities in your life, Crossroads is here for you. Give us a call at (225) 341-4147 to set up a time for us to help.