It was the second week of the Human Element Practitioner workshop, and I was in the shower trying to solve a mystery. Twice the day before my girlfriend (at the time) had been vulnerable with me and both times I’d made light of it. She got angry at me, I apologized, and then she got angry at me for not getting angry at her. I was frustrated and confused.
She was convinced that I had pent up anger at her and it was now coming out in other ways. She was convinced that I was “poking” at her in these moments of vulnerability because of built up anger or resentment. I didn’t think this was the case, but something didn’t feel right. I went over the clues in front of me:
Earlier in the week I found myself being open to the workshop group about my biggest childhood struggle. Instead of receiving openness from others, I received what I interpreted as judgment. Two other people in the group were then open about their own struggle but did it in a way that felt negative towards me. I was called inauthentic by many of the group and one person called me “snake-like.” I felt attacked.
What did I do? I kept it together, kept my emotion inside, and calmly tried to reason through the situation logically.
A few days later during an exercise, the instructor of the class told me “Things would be better between us if you dropped the facade and stopped being so fucking reasonable.” I know the statement sounds defensive, but I trusted he meant well.
Some people in the class occasionally did get angry (sometimes at me), and afterward I’d feel nervous around them. Once I followed up with someone who I thought might be angry at me. I asked “Are we good? You seemed a little frustrated or angry earlier.” He replied, “I don’t remember much of that, but I was angry and I spoke my truth and I felt better.”
“What an interesting idea” I remember thinking at the moment. People speak their feelings and then feel better? How does that work? What have I been missing? Isn’t anger a defensive and immature emotion? Why would I speak up and be angry? I like to think I’m better than that. If there’s a conflict between us, why wouldn’t I try to figure out what I can be accountable for, and apologize for my part? Emotion just gets in the way right?
Fast forward back to the shower where I was putting the pieces together:
If I wasn’t letting the anger I feel out, was it coming out in other ways I wasn’t fully conscious of? My girlfriend thought this was the case, and well, she has a tendency to figure things out about me a little before I do. *sigh*
I thought back to times that I did get angry at her. Here’s what I remember from them:
- She’d get angry and I’d remain calm. I’d try to reason with her.
- I’d quickly apologize for what I thought was my part.
- I’d try my best to suppress the anger I felt at her, often redirecting the anger at myself.
- I’d get resentful.
- I’d sometimes feel a weight on my chest for days afterward.
- I’d get codependent.
Yup, I’m Codependent
There’s a word I didn’t think I’d ever be using to describe myself. It’s what I do when there’s emotion inside me I can’t deal with myself. In my head I’d described it as “leaning In” when we had conflict in our relationship. I would want to cuddle more. I’d want to talk through the conflict and replay it the way I’d have wanted it to go. I’d want to talk about how much we loved each other. It was me basically saying “Please help me feel better about my emotions, they’re too much for me.”
I felt overwhelmed and behaved codependent immediately after we had any sort of conflict. This was a harsh realization, that I really didn’t like.
Was I suppressing my emotions and they were coming out in my codependent behavior and the passive-aggressive ways when I would “make light” or “poke” at her? ARRRGGG!! I was losing my empathy when I was harboring resentment.
That was it, that was the “Damn, she’s right” moment.
I needed to learn to get angry, let my emotion out, and the thought was really scary. It’s still scary. I care a lot (likely too much) about people liking me, so why would I behave in a way that might cause them to not like me? If I’m reasonable and not angry, there’s less of a chance of being rejected, right?
The problem with this, as you can see from above, is that if I don’t get angry and express myself it will come out in other ways. Thus, I will manifest the very rejection I’m so fucking afraid of.
What’s Scarier Really?
A. Someone who you can tell is angry at you but doesn’t express it and you don’t know why (withholding).
B. Or someone who is open about what they don’t like about your behavior, so you know exactly where you stand.
It’s obvious right? It always comes back to truth and openness, doesn’t it? Even when it’s defensive anger. Withholding is never the right answer. If you have to ask yourself “should I say something?” the answer is always yes.If you have to ask yourself 'should I say something?' the answer is always yes.Click To Tweet
The following week at the workshop my girlfriend and I got angry at each other, we blamed each other for things, and the funniest thing happened. We started to grow closer.
My anger and defensiveness is about me, it’s not about others. When I emote and get my feelings out, it’s me telling my experience. It is not the “right” experience or the “real truth”, but it is “my truth.” When I don’t express my truth when I’m angry I build resentment, and it effects my behavior, often in unconscious ways. It shows up in my lack of empathy when you’re open with me, in my internal feelings about myself, and in codependence.
The best thing I can do when I’m angry is to get it out. It doesn’t have to be defensive, but it can be something as simple as “I don’t think I like it when you ____.” Or even “I feel ___ when you do ___”. This is expressing information, and when I express this am I making my experience known. I’m not telling you this to try to make you feel anything. I can’t make you feel anything. Only you can choose your feelings.
Please get angry at me when you’re angry. I’ll try my best to do the same and stop being so fucking reasonable.