When someone is getting up my nose – a client or colleague, my husband or a customer service representative (grrr) – it’s easy to get momentary satisfaction from a good blaming session.
Aren’t I wronged? Aren’t I indignant? Don’t I feel justified in my anger and the ranting and raving that comes with it? If that person hadn’t behaved that way I wouldn’t behave like this – they “made me” angry.
Of course, I’m fooling myself. The satisfaction of having a ‘good blame’ is fleeting. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m the only one that suffers at the hand of my resentment, and nobody can make me feel anything; I do that all by myself.
When I assign responsibility for my feelings or behaviour to other people, I’m deluding myself, I’m handing over my power to them.
I remember my parents telling me when I was young: “Don’t let other people decide how you behave.” It took me long enough to work out what they meant. Taking responsibility for my own feelings has been one of the most liberating lessons of my adult life.
I’m learning to notice my reactions to situations and conversations that are not going the way I would choose. When I’m able to detach (and I’m not claiming I have this thing 100% licked) I can observe what’s happening in my body – furrowing of brow, raising of temperature, increase of heart rate, tightening of jaw, prickling around the eyes, a sensation of pounding in the head. I can think to myself: “Wow I’m having a strong reaction here. I wonder what this is about.”
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My healthy anger is a signal that a boundary has been violated. I welcome that anger because it puts me in my power and helps me protect myself. My not-so-healthy anger, the kind that wants to blame someone, kick the car, throw my computer out the window or storm off in a huff, is something that’s not serving me to get my needs met.
Usually, when I look underneath that anger, I find fear. I fear you will reject me, I fear I am powerless, I fear I’m inadequate – I fear you will find out the truth that I’m not perfect.
Whenever I’ve been able to recognise what’s underneath my inappropriate anger, or rage, (whether it’s coming out sideways or hitting someone head on), and I’ve come clean about it, it has almost always deepened my connection with that person. And without fail, my anger has dissolved.
Here’s a brief example. I have a friend who I introduced to a program. She took to it like a duck to water and began to blossom and excel. She worked really hard and did very well. Muggins here started to criticise her approach to certain things. I began taking the opportunity to offer “feedback”. When I found myself really ticked off about something one day, I took a long hard look at myself. Truth be told, I was jealous as hell. I wished I was doing so well. I was disappointed with myself for not putting in the kind of effort my friend was putting in. I felt sad and afraid that I might be missing out. I was making up that I was inadequate and I was fearful my imperfection was showing. I owed my friend an amends.
So I came clean. I told my friend I’d been jealous of her success. I apologised for my behaviour and for the resentment I’d been carrying around in my head. I acknowledged all her hard work and shared with her my fear of being inadequate and my sadness that I was missing out.
In this conversation where I took responsibility for my stuff and owned the truth of my fear and vulnerability, I had a moment of integrity. You better believe I count that relationship among my most precious. Because, in the cradle of that friendship, and all those relationships in which I have risked being a grown-up, I recognise myself. And the truth that I am not perfect is not so scary after all.