Saturday, February 14, 2009
Dealing with my own anger is one thing. Dealing with someone else's is quite another--especially if it is directed at me.
I grew up with an angry parent. We walked on eggshells to try to protect ourselves from the emotional lashing out. None of us wanted to incur wrath and have the potency of the anger directed at us. We learned through this that we were responsible for others' feelings and that we had to try to manage their behavior.
Wrong! Dead wrong.
Each of us is responsible for our own feelings and our own behaviors. Period.
If you get mad at me, I am responsible for my behavior. What did I do that contributed to your anger? If I was unconscious or insensitive or uncommunicative then I need to look at that. To the degree that I missed the mark in my interactions with you (or about you) I need to own up and, where necessary, apologize, change my behavior, and do what we need to repair the relationship.
You bear the responsibility for what you do with your anger. If you tell me about it, I'll work with you to repair the situation. If you swing at me, I am outta there. If you vent on me, you will come up against my boundaries. If you vent in my presence and let me be with you in your anger, that is part of the process of righting what went wrong between us.
In a family, if only one person gets to do all the anger, then that person usually carries all the power creating an imbalance. In a relationship where only one person gets to be angry, the power is out of balance, too. Unilateral power is unhealthy--whether in couples, families, or governments.
Everyone has a right to his feelings. Everyone has the responsibility to make decisions about how to express those feelings. And if someone chooses an expression that hurts others, we have a right to set boundaries and protect ourselves.
It's taken me many years of training, experience, and therapy to figure that one out. Just because the other person is angry, it doesn't mean he is right.
(Wouldn't it be great if we, as a culture, learned to feel, express, and celebrate our anger like in the story told by Something Cheeky?)