Do you have an anger problem? I do. But not the kind you might expect.
I’m not the killing type, I’m not
but I would kill to make you feel.
I don’t mean kill someone for real.
I couldn’t do that, it is wrong.
But I can say it in a song, a song, a song.
And I’m saying it now.
– Amanda Palmer
In the town where I live, there’s an amazing Thai place. The Masaman curry makes my mouth water, but I have to go more than once in a single week to break out of ordering their Pad Thai.
The sticky rice noodles,
the firm tofu,
the savory egg,
the tang of the tamarind,
and just the right amount of spice
(two stars for me, three for my husband)
to open up my sinuses.
My husband and I have been coming here since we were dating, and when we walk in the door, the staff smiles at us like family, whether they actually remember us or not. It’s not uncommon for he and I to meet for lunch there during the week.
The restaurant happens to be in a historic part of town, where charm is abundant, and parking is not. The retailers on this particular street, rather than banding together to encourage consumer traffic amongst themselves, have chosen to stake out the parking spaces directly in front of their businesses like gold plots in the Old West.
CUSTOMER PARKING ONLY and VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED are plastered up and down the storefronts.
What makes matters worse is that our hole-in-the-wall Thai place is no secret. If you get there much later than 11:00, good luck finding a parking spot.
Well, just my luck, I usually break for lunch at noon. Sometimes I get lucky, or my husband will pick me up and brave the parking situation in my stead. One particular week, I was not so fortunate. I drove to our lunch date, and there was not a spot to be found in front of the restaurant. However, just one parking space down from the allocated Thai parking, in front of a very sleepy smoke shop with darkened windows, was a place to park.
I hesitated briefly, then pulled in, a plan in mind. I would simply pop in and buy a soda before my lunch date. I don’t smoke and honestly don’t drink many soft drinks either, but I would make myself an honest customer.
Before I could go inside, my husband walked up to meet me. And then my plan backfired.
The shop owner appeared in the doorway and announced he was going to have me towed if I didn’t move my car.
My body tensed.
I smiled, trying to defuse the conflict.
(Oh, that dirty word.)
“I was just coming in to buy a drink.”
His eyes narrowed, apparently no stranger to this move. “Yeah, and then go eat lunch.” He crossed his arms. “Just go on and see what happens.”
I was flabbergasted. I had played the friendly smile card—and he escalated!
My face turned red. I started to shake.
“Well, Jesus loves you!”
I jumped in my car and slammed the door, leaving my husband agog. I swear I saw him sneering in the door as I pulled jerkily away.
After parking a few blocks away (in an uncontested spot), I walked back to the restaurant on the opposite side of the street to avoid looking in his window. I could barely speak to my husband as we waited for a table. I broke out in a cold sweat, and my insides roiled like hot tar.
When we were seated, I burst into tears.
Not sneaking-out-of-the-corners-of-your-eyes tears. I straight up sobbed, filling both of our napkins with snot. I’m sure the wait staff thought it was over between us. Not the lunch date my husband was hoping for, I imagine. (Bless his Welsh heart, he’d never judge anyone for spontaneous tears, but I think this time he was a little worried.)
I was a wreck for the rest of the day, replaying the event over and over, analyzing how I’d handled it badly, what I could have done better. Waves of guilt washed over me, as if limited downtown parking were as dire a cause as homelessness, and I’d splashed a muddy puddle in its face with the wheel of my car. I told no one about what happened for months and months. I didn’t even bring it up again directly with my husband. I had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Full disclosure, at the time of this event, I was still groping toward a diagnosis of Anxiety and Depression. Since starting medication, my response to emotionally intense situations (and simple arguments with my husband about the grocery list) has become less extreme.
It’s been well over a year now, and if you’d seen how many times I put down my pen and walked away from this entry, you’d know that wasn’t the only thing wrong. If you could see how deeply the title of this post makes me cringe, you might start to notice a pattern.
I’m not trying to say I have an anger problem—a problem with being angry. My problem is a gross tendency to not be angry.
At all costs.
Even if it might actually be warranted.
When working with dissatisfied customers in a previous job, as their voice got higher, mine got lower (which, about 50/50, either calmed them down or pissed them off even more). When someone bumps into me, I’m the one who apologizes. When friends and coworkers talk about opposing political views, I clam up and smile vaguely until they stop. (This election cycle was pretty horrifying for me, by the way, but that’s another blog post.) When my husband and I get into a heated argument, I tend to shut down and try to end all engagement.
If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, when I tell you I’m a 9, you might have a bit of an aha moment. If not, you can read a bit about it here. I’ve found it to be a fantastic instrument of self-study. In short, each number on the Enneagram (1-9) represents a set of basic fears and motivations. As a 9, my primary motivation and desire is unity, and my worst fear is loss and separation—the absence of unity. The last thing you’ll find an average 9 doing is rocking the boat. We like smooth waters, and the last thing we want is the spotlight. We’re down with whatever, so long as it keeps things status quo.
I took a seminar on the Enneagram, and the presenter’s take on the 9 was that the “deadly sin” that defines us is sloth. Not laziness, exactly, but a tendency to inaction, with the idea that inaction means no ruffled feathers, which could potentially lead to broken unity. The presenter pointed out that in order to grow, a 9 needs to come to terms with their anger.
In my incredibly intuitive husband’s words, this means “sitting with my anger.”
You have no idea the creepy crawlies that statement evokes in my being.
Anger is to be stuffed down,
Anger is not even to be acknowledged.
To anger is to lose control.
Break the social contract that holds everything together.
Of course, these things aren’t true, not all of the time, but try telling that to my inner compass. When any amount of pressure needs to be applied in a situation, it leads to an emotional traffic jam of guilt and avoidance.
For a long time, I thought this made me a better person. I wasn’t one of Those People who spew vitriol at the drop of a hat. I didn’t waste my energy on anger, because it wasn’t productive. My opinions bent over backwards to make everyone comfortable.
I was zen.
I was a yogi.
I was centered as hell.
The meek shall inherit the earth…right?
The problem is that, in stuffing my anger so deep down inside, I lost my voice.
I was as accommodating as a ghost, slipping through walls, unseen, unfelt, unheard.
A friend once explained that, throughout her Southern Baptist upbringing, she thought the “light” in “This Little Light of Mine” (I’m gonna let it shine, etc.) was, for girls, sitting quietly and being polite.
In what way does this resemble light? A chair with a sheet on it can do those things.
If you want light, you need energy.
Something has to burn.
When I’m angry, I need to ask myself why.
If it’s because I did something wrong and feel stupid, well, at least I learned something.
If it’s because I’m afraid, I need to look around (and inside) and figure out what I’m afraid of and why.
If it’s because I perceive something wrong in the world—injustice, oppression, greed, anything acting against the well-being of another—maybe that’s my moral compass telling me something needs to be done.
I need to act.
I can mold my anger into motivation.
Heck yeah, I think the Jesus who flipped over the money-changers’ tables was angry. I think he was very angry. Not because this made his temple “impure,” but because these greedy men were taking advantage of people who were just trying to give their best, to do the right thing.
I would never use this as an excuse to commit violence. As Amanda Palmer says in her song above, “I don’t mean kill someone for real.” That’s not molding anger into something productive.
But there are plenty of examples of non-violent positive action.
In fact, one thing I’m doing with my newfound courage is starting this blog. I’m getting ready to plow straight into some difficult subjects—and joyful ones, too—because I’m finally letting the fire inside me take the reigns.
I’ve found my voice.
And I have a lot to say.