It’s Maxim Monday! And today’s is: control anger.
On the surface, I think, yes, we absolutely need to control our anger. I’m raising small children. How many times a day can I say the following? Keep your hands to yourself. Use your words. How are you feeling? We don’t hit people. If you hit anybody in any way with that, I will take it away for the rest of the day. Please be in control of all your parts. You may not call me names.
All of that is great advice for big or little people. We shouldn’t hit in anger or call people names. We should express our feelings verbally using I statements. We should be in control of all our parts (to my 4-year-old I mean arms, legs, feet, hands, etc; to grown ups I would say not just our body but all of our parts: brain, heart, and spirit, too).
Being in control of anger doesn’t mean we don’t get angry, though. In fact, I think anger is a valuable emotion, especially for women and other marginalized people. Getting angry can provide us with powerful information: this hurts me, this situation is Not Good, I’ve been wronged, something needs to change. But for many women and many othered people there is a tendency for our experiences to be diminished – oh you’re making a big deal out of nothing, oh you’re just so emotional, get over it. So we learn to distrust our feelings. An angry woman is equated with a bitchy woman. An angry black woman gets pigeonholed as, well…. an angry black woman, the thought of which terrifies white society. But maybe black women have a ton of things to be angry about. Or a million people who want equal rights. Or hundreds of thousands of people who want economic or environmental justice. There are a LOT of reasons, personally private and broadly systemic, about which to be angry.
The key is what do we do with that anger. At whom do we direct it? A lot of the time, in my own personal experience, it gets directed inward. Instead of expressing my anger out of a fear of not being taken seriously I learned to turn all that emotion inward and against myself. I felt hurt so I’LL SHOW YOU. Such an ugly root of perfectionism. I learned to be STILL when at my most angry, still like a coiled viper, or a cornered animal getting ready to pounce, claws out, waiting to draw first blood. Utterly unhealthy.
I still don’t quite know what to do with my anger when I feel particularly ‘rage-y.’ I’m doing a better job than ever at not taking my emotions out on others. Nothing like parenting to highlight what areas need work. Many days, especially with a four-year old, controlling my anger is Life Lesson number 1.
I’m learning more and more to use my words, to keep my hands to myself, to seek out healthy ways to channel righteous indignation when I feel it, not to call people names. I’m learning to see anger as an ally, like the beast in the Strength card in tarot. Instead of feeling that it will devour me alive, I am riding it, learning from it, and yes, controlling it.