(Bonus points if you started humming the tune as soon as you saw the title…)
What makes me angry? Well, vast cosmic things like injustice and oppression and waste of resources, but I have to say honestly, those things only make me angry in a vague theoretical sense, like if I hear an item on the news that makes me say, “That’s terrible!! People shouldn’t do that!!!” But it doesn’t make my blood pressure rise or make me yell at people or cloud my judgement, like real anger does.
A lot of things annoy, frustrate and irritate me — I do have children, after all — but that’s not true anger either, in my book. It’s here for a moment and then gone, and the worst I might do is speak a little more sharply to someone before the whole thing is forgotten.
Very few things make me really, really angry. Which is why the phenomenon interests me. If it’s hard to make me mad, then surely I can learn something from the things that do make me mad, can’t I? It’s kind of a psychological truism that anger usually isn’t the first emotion you feel; you usually blew past something else on your way to getting angry, maybe guilt or sadness or fear, and you can learn a lot by stopping to examine what makes you angry (very very angry). In fact, I have been thinking about this a little bit lately because of a particular situation that was making me angry, and I’ve realized that it does reveal a lot about me.
The few instances of real, gut-gnawing, red-hot rage that I’ve experienced in the last couple of years have never occurred either at home or at work, two classic places for getting angry. Instead, mine always happen in volunteer situations, sometimes but not always at church. And in every case I can think of, they occur when I perceive (rightly or wrongly) doesn’t appreciate how reliable I am. Like, I’m scheduled to do something, and someone else shows up ready to cover it because they didn’t think I would show. Hel-LO? That’s a situation, right there, that can drive me to insane levels of rage.
Or let’s just say, theoretically, that I was involved with some kind of program where we had clearly divided responsibilities, and the other person kept checking up on and asking questions about my area of responsibility, even though I trusted him to do his without any checking or questioning. It could just be that this person is a little anal and doesn’t delegate well, or it could be that he doesn’t realize that when I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it. Or (and this is a distinct possiblity) this person means no ill at all and is only making casual inquiries about how my side of the job is going, and all the mistrust is occuring deep in my twisted brain.
The other day the unthinkable happened. I had a meeting dealing with one of these very situations which occasionally drive me over the brink with insane rage because I fear the other people involved don’t truly appreciate how very very reliable I am, and I … guess what? I missed the meeting. I forgot it completely. I was unreliable.
So now, instead of Rage, I had Shame to hang out with for awhile. We walked around the supermarket picking up groceries after the meeting I missed, me and Shame, with Rage dogging my steps, and all the while I was asking my new companions, “What is the problem with me and reliability???”
My parents instilled in me the belief that it was absolutely essential to be reliable and do what you promised — which I think is great, because a surprising number of people don’t seem to realize this, and it makes them a little annoying to work with. But I think I might have taken that good life lesson over the top a little, if it leads me to Rage when someone doubts my reliability (possibly not even intentionally) and Shame when I forget a single appointment out of the hundreds I have every month.
Really, like almost everything else, it boils down to pride. That’s the emotion that drives my anger: hurt pride. It’s not even being reliable that’s the most important thing; it’s being seen to be reliable. It’s having people admire and be impressed with how reliable I am. In the end, it’s all about me, and the key to avoiding rage and shame and all those crazy things often seems to be letting go of pride and the illusion of control.
So, maybe once in awhile I should be unreliable. Or better yet, just cut myself some slack and admit that like everyone else, I am unreliable sometimes … and it’s not the end of the world if people find that out.
Learning that was a nice little journey of self-discovery. Now, if only I can put it into practice…
(And for those of you with the bonus points who are not that interested in my self-analysis but are still stuck wayy back on the title … oh, OK, here you go:)