“I’m a wounded child interacting with another wounded child.”
Is this what I say to myself anytime I’m about to express anger? No. It is, however, what I hope to practice in the midst of challenging moments. Not in the effort to quell or repress so-called “negative” emotions but to mitigate the compounding of pain that can happen when we aren’t mindful of what we’re experiencing. If I feel a surge of anger swelling in me, which is typically a great sign that I’m confronting my own bullshit manifest in someone else (or just projected by me onto them to deflect my complicity in the same behavior/belief and therefore my responsibility for it)…actually, I rarely feel surges of anger swelling in me, and so that’s what I’m getting at here. Am I so wounded, are my defense mechanisms so deeply entrenched that I can’t (see: won’t) express anger?
Listen, it’s there. I’m not a saint.* I have murderous thoughts as often as the next guy.** But I’ve only ever experienced “rage” once in my life, and it was so short-lived that it probably doesn’t count.*** Also, I get angry with my family, but I imagine that’s par for the course.**** The rest of the time, I’m basically air conditioning. Not only am I cool as a single unit, but I like to think I’m cooling other people down as well. In this metaphor, I guess I have to hope we’re not all stuck in emotional winter, which would make me redundant and, in fact, an insult to injury.
Anyway, my go-to response to life is to smile at its absurdity. By choosing not to get angry, am I avoiding the reality of a complex inner emotional being? Am I enacting a profound wisdom? Am I just an idiot? Are any of these questions serving me?
We had to do an exercise in one of my improv classes where we gave monologues about pet peeves. I was totally stumped, so I made some shit up about traffic. I mean, I don’t enjoy traffic, but it doesn’t get under my skin the way a pet peeve is supposed to. Our teacher (and based on the rants that followed, everyone agreed) thought this was the easiest exercise imaginable to get us talking and channeling a clear emotion. The only clear emotion I felt was alienation, and I’m not even sure that’s an emotion. Am I missing some core element that other people have, e.g. potent irritation to slight annoyance? Is this just a conditioned behavior that I somehow never internalized? Am I just bypassing these normal emotions, refusing to accept that they’re in me? If so, what’s so bad about anger and its ilk that makes me run away?
It’s possible that I want to maintain the perception that other people have of me as a serene stoic who also can be totally goofy and effusive and performative when the moment is right. If that’s the case, then surely I have to keep dreadful “anger” out of the picture. I can’t go around disrupting the pleasant image others have of me with the corrosive strength of anger. I also can’t ruin my self-image. Anger and Lou? A nonsensical pairing! Fuck you for suggesting we could work together!
It’s also possible that I just don’t need to express anger. It comes up, I greet it, take an interest in it, thank it for visiting, and then bid it adieu. What’s wrong with that? I’m not pretending I can’t or don’t get angry, I’m not acting like it’s not in here with me, but I’m also not getting carried away with it. Which isn’t a knock against people who express anger. I’m genuinely baffled by why I don’t find myself moving more often with that energy. Do I not value my person enough to get offended? Do I see that there is no person who even could be offended and so why bother with anger?
I won’t go so far as to say anger shows a misunderstanding of reality; if I wanted to go that Stoic route, then all emotions are lumped into that claim. (Stay in the middle lane, Icarus!) In fact, I won’t go so far to claim anything about anger. Well, except for this final forthcoming claim:
It’s an energy that moves through everyone, but it’s not an energy that has to live in anyone.
*Which, let’s be real, saints are people, and they definitely experience “fuck this shit!” moments. They likely just know not to attach themselves to those moments. They know how not to identify with deleterious bullshit. Or they’re just superheroic repressers.
**Wait, this is a thing, right? Please tell me it’s a thing before I murder you!
***It was during a touch football game in college. I was, with my unearned speed and agility (thanks, genes!), torching my opponent. This may have gotten to him (or I’m making all this context up so I look better…although I’m not sure bragging about my “talent” makes me look better…he was probably right to do what he did) so on one play, he decided to tackle me, aka flip me over onto the ground. Instinct (I guess…in that I don’t want to be responsible for it, as if it’s this separate thing that in no way could be me too) took over, I launched myself up from the ground and “stepped” to him. Just as soon as I was about to punch this clown, I backed off, shook my head (in an almost cartoonish way, as if there’s some magical mental erasing effect to it) and calmed down.
****It’s strange that we say “par for the course” as if that’s normal. In golf, “par for the course” is extraordinary. It means you’re a professional who should be earning millions for your arbitrary talent.