I blew it. Okay, I blow it fairly often, generally with those closest to me, my boys. I love my children dearly and value our homeschooling time and life together beyond words, but all that closeness can lead to some less-than-ideal parenting if I’m not paying attention. And I’ve certainly had not-so-kind words with my ex-husband, but that’s been generally smoother as well. I’ll make no excuses for those transgressions of patience and compassion, but they’re not the focus of my disappointment in myself now.
I can count on one hand the times I’ve succumbed to using angry words against another adult (ex-spouse excluded), and yesterday I added one time to that total. While I still think I can hold the total in my palm, it’s one more time than I want to have occurred. I’ll not share the details here, but suffice it say I was off guard and feeling highly protective when the encounter occurred. Again, those aren’t excuses. I didn’t rant or rave, swear or curse, or act violently, but I didn’t speak with respect and compassion. And I believe strongly in cultivating respect and compassion.
Yes, I followed my strong words with a written apology. I’ve replayed the scene over and over in my mind, knowing the exact moment when I started to protect my ego and not my friend. That’s where the problem started. As soon as my speech was more about protecting that outer sense of self, the ego, I was no longer protecting a friend or acting out of love. As soon as my words were made to sting rather than repair or even explain my position, I’d crossed from of being caring friend and to cranky, rude person. I lost my center, simply put. I lost touch with that connection with other humans, the connection that touches, in my view, the divine.
A psychologist I saw during the end of my marriage gave me some wise words about anger. Anger, she explained, is based in fear of loss: fear of loss of a person, a thing, or of control. Since that conversation, over two years ago, I’ve examined my anger and looked for where my fear of loss was. With the boys, it’s generally from my fear of loss of control of a situation. Dealing with a child who causes delays, interrupts a call/book/thought/nap, or screams at me has led to my fear of loss of control of the situation. I don’t generally have a desire to control my kids (I really have way too much to work on with myself to put effort into that, even if it were a good idea.), but I do find that sometimes I just want things how I want them, darn it. When I can stay in the moment, drop my expectations, and just let go of the idea of having to control the moods of the people in the house, no anger occurs. And, surprise, surprise, the child’s issue generally resolves quickly. Hmm.
With adults, I generally don’t have the fear of loss. I had plenty of that fear during my last few years of marriage, the separation, and divorce. I feared loss of my spouse, of my home, of my ability to homeschool my boys, of my children’s well-being. Some of that fear came out as tears and sorrow. Some came out with angry words. As time has progressed, I fear less, although I still occasionally feel anger flare when I fear for my kids’ emotional well-being. But in my general dealings with adults, while I may be opinionated and vocal, I rarely have an angry exchange. Perhaps I don’t perceive much to be at risk. No fear of loss, no anger. Perhaps I just can work through those fears more successfully.
So what happened yesterday? I’ve thought at length about that and despaired plenty. I can still touch the anger I felt, but finding the fear behind it has taken some effort. Our exchange started without incident, but I know the moment my fear came up and bubbled out as anger, the point where I was no longer speaking out of compassion for my friend but out of fear voiced as anger. Not fear of bodily harm, loss of possession, or anything tangible like that, but simple fear of loss of what I see as true. Those of you who know me likely know I hold and voice some strong opinions (generally voiced with respect to those around me). I tend to over-identify with being right, although I’m aware that being right is subjective most of the time. (My younger has tried to argue math problem answers with me. In the math he’s doing, if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. That’s a different post.) It’s a bit of a personal pickle for me, and I know it can extend beyond the personal and bug others. I work on it, sometimes with more success than other times.
But this time, I blew it. I went from fear to anger in a breath. I lost my focus on connection, compassion, and love and slipped into judgement and anger. And while I can’t take it back, I can apologize, again, and start over again. With my next breath, I can begin again, aware of my fear and anger. Aware that they’re intense feelings. Aware they’ll pass. And hoping that the pain I caused another with my expression of anger can pass as well.