What to do when you’re angry for more than 24 hours
Just when I was writing about anger in a blog post (see “Five helpful ways to deal with your own (or someone else’s) anger”), and I wasn’t feeling angry at anyone in particular, my spouse and I had an altercation that came out of anger that had built up. Well, it wasn’t actually an altercation – it was more like two people walking down the street, each immersed in their own thing and not seeing the other, bumping into the other and tripping and dropping all their parcels. (I often expect this scene and much worse when I see people out walking, but looking down at their device and texting – but that’s another blog post!)
It was Saturday morning. I had just remembered to text the repair guy again because I hadn’t heard back from him about whether he could come fix our broken shower. He responded right away and said he could come in one hour. I was glad. I told my spouse that (who was still not fully awake) and he grumbled a bit but said “OK”.
We each went about our business of getting ready. I had suggested a plan for what we could do with our day after the repair guy left. He said “probably not”. I was a little puzzled, but I went about my business and then I said something to him and he didn’t respond and I realized he was mad. I asked him if that was so – expecting him to joke it off like he often does, but instead he took a deep breath and said “yes”.
Then all of a sudden there we were in an argument about all the slights that had just happened, and making accusations at one another…I had made a schedule decision without consulting him. He didn’t want to have to rush on a Saturday morning. There wouldn’t be time after the repair guy left, for any excursion. He hadn’t spoken up when he could have. I was making unilateral decisions. He was unreasonably angry. Yada yada yada, as they say…
You know that kind of argument that erupts with unforeseen anger and each person feels justified in saying whatever is on their mind, and is full of blaming?
Of course, as in most arguments that occur – neither one of us was saying “I” felt this, or “I” thought that. We were however each saying “YOU” did or didn’t or always or never do that. “YOU” messed this or that up.
I tried halfheartedly to do what I had just written about in “Five helpful ways to deal with your own (or someone else’s) anger”… I could name it OK; I breathed into it (more like huffed into it, actually); I could barely sit with it; I thought more about my own underlying victimhood rather than a painful sense of shame; but I couldn’t really get with the speak wisely part or understanding the pains at the root of his anger. In my impatience with myself I thought “Real people can’t do this in the moment of anger – this is stupid!”
And of course the repair guy showed up right then, probably aware of the tension he had walked in upon. My spouse greeted him in a friendly way, showed him what to work on and then stomped out saying he was taking his walk – alone.
I was flushed, and embarrassed in front of the repair guy and tried to act like it was natural for my spouse to leave like that. I kept thinking about our argument and I was trying to be mindful about it. I was mindful enough to realize a part of me was mad too. I thought he had been unfair. I noticed I could feed that story pretty easily; and then I was also able to think “well, it’s just a thing. I understand why he’s mad and I can repair this – no big deal”.
Later, when he returned and after several hours of repair guy work, I tried to approach him with kindness. I apologized and talked nicely rather than rehashing the argument and picking it up again. He did not want to hear me. He didn’t care that I was feeling kinder. He wasn’t.
I made some food for him that he had been desiring. He said nothing and ate very little of it, purposely trying not to enjoy it. I tried to talk some more, and still got the mad cold shoulder.
I gave him some “space” and busied myself in another room – thinking “oh, he’ll get over this – he just needs time to do his process”. I think actually it was me who was distancing myself from him. I was tired he wasn’t responding to my having gone first with an apology.
I had thought more about his gripes and upset and realized that each of those actions of mine he had complained about were actually actions I had taken with him in mind in a thoughtful way. They were all efforts of mine, trying to be a good partner and trying to please him.
But as it turns out, I had mis-read him and his timing of what he needed when. And then of course he totally mis-read me and my intentions. He saw my actions as selfish on my part and took them all wrong. I wasn’t seeing him as very kindly intentioned either.
I had some moments of genuine thoughtfulness about him and thought about what had really made him so mad. I truly did (at moments) want to make things right with him. I was able to apply what I had written in my blog about anger here and there and felt I was working through it, even if sporadically or slowly.
Of course, there was a part of me that wanted to stay mad and nurture that grudge I was carrying. My distance and coolness for the rest of the day wasn’t really giving “space” and time to breathe – it was self-protective and just allowed me the chance to enhance my own story of having been wronged.
It felt sort of OK, but on a deeper level, not really. I was intent on being right; justifying; telling myself how I had been and was continuing to be the better partner by not being so angry, nor being out of control or devastated by it. I felt I had forgiven, but really I had not let go of my anger.
So I slept on it and noticed my consternation (I love that word!) during the night.
Next morning, when I did my morning mindfulness, I decided to just focus on that residue of anger I had in me. As I meditated, I became aware that here I was really, finally moving through my anger, and truly transforming it into softness and connection.
To just be present to the pain in my heart and mind was to truly transform this experience. I sat with not only the main surface feeling of anger, but also with the myriad of underlying and more painful feelings that my anger held: shame, hurt, vulnerability, disappointment, longing for love.
I felt a cool breeze of soothing and softening flowing over a hot, parched burning landscape of fiery emotions. I felt gentle cool waves lapping over hot sand, bringing such soothing, such relief. I let those cool waves of mindfulness wash over me, again and again. I experienced the depth and the surface of not only my anger and it’s associated feelings, but of my partner’s as well.
After meditating, I totally let go of my anger. I truly and fully felt free of it; no grudge residue left behind. My heart and mind were soothed and I open heartedly approached my partner again. We didn’t even have to hash things out one more time. No more need from either of us to be right.
I was grateful again, for this daily mindfulness practice I have continued because it allowed me to get really close and clear to what I was feeling and in a relatively short time – and move through something unpleasant rather easily.
I’d love to hear from you –… How does it go when you are angry? How long does it take you to heal and repair?
For more information on working through anger and other intense emotions, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
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