“I have a right to express my anger,” he says. “But you are hurting me with your words and rage,” she responds. Who is right and who s wrong?
Both are right. However, what we are talking about is a much bigger question that is – what is the ethical way to express feelings of anger? No one should force feelings into denial, because they will come up again, often at inappropriate times, and create more separation between you and those you love. You lose energy, closeness and connection when you begin to hold any of your feelings down by not accepting them and expressing them fully. Your ability to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, and your ability to keep your relationship healthy, depends upon your ability to allow feelings to release through you freely so that they do not create dis-ease. However, the exercise of free will, or free release of feelings, also comes with an element of responsibility. That is, you cannot dump what you are holding inside in a way that feels abusive to another. I get to dump, all I want in fact, but I don’t get to dump on or at you!
I once had a roommate whose father was verbally and emotionally abusive. I had no idea how badly she had been hurt by him until we went to a weekend seminar together. We were about to leave the parking garage when the attendant stopped us, insisting he be paid. We had been informed parking was pre-paid so I began to launch into my fathers arrogance and give the attendant a piece of my mind. By the time I was finished, my friend was curled up in the seat and had flattened herself against the passenger door looking caught – like a deer in headlights! I immediately got that something was very wrong and for the next hour, we discussed what had happened to her as a child and how my outburst had affected her.
Apparently, when she was a child, her father would create a disturbance every place they went by berating the service people, demanding special attention, criticizing the food or service and in general humiliating my friend tremendously. She really got in touch with how terrifying that had been for her. My father was similar. He too raged about everything, and I had the opportunity to clearly see how his rage was still very much a part of how I dealt with my own perceived inequities and injustices in life. She internalized her father’s rage and made a decision to never take exception to anything. I internalized my father’s rage and was unfortunately able to see I still dealt with some issues, just as he did.
We made an agreement. Whenever I felt I just had to take a stand about an issue, I would let her know in advance and she could exercise the option of leaving the space and making herself safe. By keeping her in mind, I also gave myself the opportunity to slow down and ask myself if the injustice I was experiencing was first of all real, justified, worth making a scene over. In addition, slowing down gave me the time to ask myself if I was complaining to the right person. Very often a letter to management is much more effective than being upset at an attendant who has little or no control. Encountering this issue in my life helped me to heal the ways in which I vented misplaced anger.
In order to avoid making your partners, family or friends feel abused as we release strong feelings; we have to take responsibility for first discharging or dumping the intense energy behind those feelings in a safe way. After we release some of the intensity, we can then talk about the problem or the feelings together in a non-abusive manner. Much of that initial work should probably be done alone, or if it does not feel safe to be alone, with a therapist or a person who has good boundaries, and who does not come from an abusive environment. It is not OK to overpower anyone else with your feelings. If you do that, then you are perpetuating abuse.
Very often feelings, such as rage, just get triggered. In that instant, you may find that you do not have the control you would want to have and are unable to stop the response, or limit the expression. That’s why I recommend safe rooms in which one can yell, hit pillows, tear up phone books, scream, rant and rave – all of which are perfectly acceptable and healthy. Agreements must be kept that neither person will yell at, use abusive language to or about the other. Most of the time, the intense feelings that are triggered in the moment are really about the past and need to be released safely before it is possible to deal effectively with what is going on in the present situation anyway.
If you who are still into your sense of entitlement, you may be yelling now, “I should get to have my feelings exactly as they are and not have to limit myself.” That’s an interesting perception. Could it come from having been abused as a child by someone who felt exactly that same way? Did someone vent their feelings directly at you and is that the role model and scenario you are now repeating! It won’t work to your benefit and you’ll only end up wishing you had done it better, and in a more respectful way when the venting is over. One of the ways we diminish our own self-esteem is by continuing to behave in a manner that makes us feel disappointed in ourselves. The bottom line is that you both have a right to vent. And, you both have a right to feel safe and not have intense hostile feelings directed at you. With a little simple negotiation about safety and a willingness to learn on both your parts, you can have your cake and eat it too.
© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2013. All rights reserved. No part of the intellectual property of Dr. Dina Evan may be reproduced, placed on mechanical retrieval system, transmitted in any form by electronic, video, laser, mechanical photocopy, recording means or otherwise in part or in whole, without written permission of the author. Contents are fully copyrighted and may not be owned by any other individual or organization.