“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..” ―John Milton, Paradise Lost
“They yearn for what they fear for.” ―Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Sorry if I’ve scared you with the picture of a flaming bonfire and quotes about hell. I promise today’s post won’t get religious or preachy, I just thought the quotes and photo really went well with what I had in mind to talk about today. Oh, and FYI, that picture is of an actual bonfire I attended at my husband’s family’s farm (they call the place Podunk, trust me, I can’t make this stuff up!) the bonfire pit is so large and wide that sometimes the fire gets so hot, you have to back away. I digress.
When I was in college I took an amazing class on the Seven Deadly Sins, I signed up for the course not because I had a deep interest in the subject matter, but because I’d heard such great things about the teacher. I’d been told by a number of students in my major that I should take any course that Dr. Maria Roca offered and I wouldn’t be sorry that I did. They were right.
My professor taught the course using a variety of methods and tools, she taught using guided meditations, we wrote in a journal, studied Dante’s Inferno and Skipping Towards Gimorrah by Dan Savage, watched movies like Seven and even played a game of Monopoly when we were studying greed. I know, it sounds like this course was a breeze, right? Wrong.
The class was interesting, but it went beyond that. It was by far the most emotional experience I’ve ever had in a classroom. The course impacted my life so much that the things I learned still pop into my head even now, nearly eight years later.
The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking back on what I learned in Dr. Roca’s classroom more and more. I’ve been struggling with a lot of things in my personal life and I have really had to work at making myself step back and analyze things rather than reacting from a place of anger.
This is really hard to talk about, especially on the Internet, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’ve made a commitment to myself that I am going to be more vulnerable and write fearlessly and I intend to honor that commitment. So here goes.
I was raised in a family where the only acceptable emotion to express was anger. At least that’s my perception, anyway.
Once I moved out of my parents’ house and became an adult, I left a lot of my issues with anger behind. Even before I learned about the seven deadly sins, I knew anger wasn’t a viable way to express myself. I knew it was toxic. I knew I’d try very hard to not react with anger toward the love of my life. And I am
proud (<– oops, that’s a deadly sin!) happy to say that my husband and I are entering our tenth year as a couple and we’ve never yelled at each other. Maybe that’s normal for most people, but for me, it seems like such a huge, out of the ordinary accomplishment.
Since I took the Seven Sins course and really delved deep into each sin, I understand the ways in which they manifest themselves. That has helped me, especially when I am feeling angry, to pause and think about what I am really feeling. I’m not perfect, and it doesn’t always happen this way, but for the most part, I have gotten better at keeping anger at bay. Of course, writing and other forms of creative expression help also.
But what I have found when I step back from the situation is that I am actually feeling something else. I’m not really angry. A lot of times what I feel is hurt, sad, confused or betrayed. But it’s easier to just be angry. Now, whether that’s a common reaction or one that has been learned by a lifetime of watching family members flip out and get angry rather than talk it out, I am unsure.
What I do know is that anger isn’t the best way to show someone that you’re hurting or scared. I’ve learned that it’s the chicken shit way. It’s a form of escape. Whereas vulnerability, while it may sound like the wimpier choice, demands real strength.
I think we all know it’s far easier to pretend, to wear a mask and hide what we really think and feel, and even, who we are. That’s not what I want, though. I revamped this blog at the end of last year with the intention of being real. Of being vulnerable by writing fearlessly.
So far, it’s been the scariest, messiest, most liberating thing I’ve done…and that’s helping me work through so many things swimming around my head these days, including residual anger for things like the unfairness of a parent dying young, to the tedious, emotional roller coaster that is caring for a stroke survivor, to much, much more.
It already feels like I’ve traveled a long and winding road, even though I know I’m just getting started. Thanks for being my faithful companion through this journey.
4 thoughts on “Anger vs. Vulnerability”
Amanda, I can relate to your story. I grew up in a house of yelling. I couldn’t believe that my husband and his parents never yelled or fought with one another. That’s not to say there weren’t disagreements, but there was no “my way or the highway” mentality. It has impacted my life drastically to learn that not everyone expresses herself this way. Kudos to you!
Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. I know what you mean about that type of mentality, my husband’s favorite analogy of why so many fights erupt in my family is because there’s far too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. 🙂
I understand that kind of household, too; I think many people probably do. You’re right, anger is the easy and cowardly way out, whereas self-awareness takes courage and strength and a hell of a lot of work. As for vulnerability–it does take a tremendous amount of strength to be open and honest, especially when you’ve grown up in an environment that not only doesn’t value it but actively suppresses it. In my case, I can be so vulnerable because compared to what I’ve lost, I don’t have much fear left. We all get there our own way; what matters is that you try, even when it’s hard, even when it’s scary. Bravo! You’re doing great.
Thanks, Angie. I think in my case I just can’t keep things inside anymore, I kept the dysfunction of my family quiet my whole life because of my dad, who was like me, just trying to get through all the craziness unscathed, or as unscathed as one can be when involved in a volatile relationship. Now that he’s gone, I don’t feel the need to hide it anymore.