“You can’t solve anything by pissing each other off! What good would it do to make him angry? He’ll just shut down, and that will be the end of the conversation.”
Jill was definitely not going to talk to her husband about the way he was dealing with his daughter—Jill’s stepdaughter.
She had major concerns about how the girl was doing in school and the lack of supervision after school. But she also knew her husband had declared that topic a no-go zone. She was not allowed to comment on his parenting. So she bit her tongue, watched, and kept her thoughts to herself.
That wasn’t the only topic Jill kept quiet about. She didn’t talk about their finances, too, because every time she’d tried she’d made him angry. She didn’t bring up the times he’d said something to put her in her place or mock her feelings, because she’d learned long ago that he did not like criticism.
Her belief that you can’t solve anything by pissing people off extended to politics, too.
She wanted everyone to be happy and for the world to live in peace. She didn’t like arguing on Twitter or satire that went too far. She wanted people to sit in a circle and talk to each other. So she did her best to stay neutral, stay pleasant, and listen to both sides with an open mind.
If you met Jill, you’d love her. She was impossible not to adore.
Does she sound like someone you know? Does she sound a little bit like you?
There are a lot of good people in this world. People trying hard to do the right thing.
They try not to fight. They do their best to promote peace, starting at home. They’re not so attached to their egos that they need to speak their mind even if it hurts.
And yet, for all their goodness, they have one fatal flaw: their fear of anger.
They don’t want to be angry. They don’t want to see other people being angry. They want to wipe anger from the face of the earth.
Anger, they believe, is responsible for violence and abuse and war and destruction. Anger stops up ears and shuts down understanding. Anger doesn’t get you anywhere.
But it does.
I’ll never forget a soldier in Ecuador telling me that, to fire them up to fight, their leaders would ask them to envision the enemy soldiers marching into their villages, burning their homes, killing their families. This was more than a territorial skirmish. This was an attack on what they held most sacred.
With that fire in their bellies, they were eager to fight. They’d follow their leaders to death’s door.
I’ll never forget the woman who told me that seeing what her toxic marriage was doing to her child finally gave her the courage to leave. Until then, she couldn’t bring herself to see the truth about this man she’d loved for so long. She wanted to believe in happy endings.
It wasn’t until she welcomed anger in that she found the strength to burn through the ties and free them both.
Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, is a wonderful example of the power and strength we can tap into when we allow ourselves to feel our anger. Like her Hindu counterpart Kali, she destroys in order to make room for something new.
When we pour cool water on the fire of our anger for fear of enraging another, we weaken ourselves. We cut ourselves off from a vital source of energy, telling us that our boundaries have been violated or we have been mistreated in some way.
Your anger is a welcome friend. It is bringing you an important message.
It is up to you how you act on that message. You are always responsible for your behavior, no matter what your emotional state. You can be angry and act in a respectful, decisive way. Angry people do not have to raise their voice or wave their arms or throw things. Angry people can simply stand their ground and say, “No more.”
But if you avoid your own anger, if you are always the one who placates and calms while your partner blows his or her top and explodes in anger, then you are enabling an unhealthy pattern.
Consider that your partner may be expressing anger for you, because you refuse to express your own.
The one thing that may save your relationship is beginning to own your anger.
Make friends with it. Ask it what it is trying to tell you. Ask it what it wants you to do.
It may want you to set boundaries. It may want you to stand up for yourself. It may want you to leave the relationship.
You do not have to obey your anger, but it is amazing what happens when you give it the space to speak..
Jill was a good woman, with the best of intentions, but it was time she stepped up to become a great woman, owning her own right to have a voice in her life. Yes, some of the things she needed to say were going to upset her husband. But she was not responsible for his anger. She was only responsible for her own.