An acquaintance shared a story with me a number of years ago. He felt a sense of family obligation to help out his younger sister who was terrible with her finances. At her stressed out request, he went over to her house after work to talk to her. She had been generously propped up by their parents for years. Free house to live in, free furniture and almost no utilities to pay. However, as the Queen of Entitlement, she felt that because she needed these things, she was entitled to be given them. He told me she began the conversation by cussin’ out her employer, and then it went downhill from there.
“You know the City pays ripoff wages, and I can’t keep my head above water. I have pets to feed, and I have to eat out sometimes. I’m going crazy! All I know is that if our parents don’t give me enough in their will when they die, I’m going to sue the #$*!ing family!!” With that, he disgustedly walked out of her house. The next day she came over to his house and sheepishly said: “Sweetie? I’m soooooo sorry I get so crazy when I’m broke. I really didn’t mean it! I get so stressed out, ya know?” And with that, she departed.
He related this story ten years after it has taken place, and he was still disgusted. Nowadays, he’s civil with his sister, but something is permanently gone.
What’s the solution to saying mean or just plain stupid things when we’re angry or stressed? Learn that we should always have rules of anger. Parents typically have their own unspoken rules of anger with their children. You’d have to or there would be considerably less children in this world. However, even for men who would never hit a woman, the too common thinking may be: you deserve whatever I’m about to say because you pissed me off. And obviously this work both ways. Some women go verbally thermo-nuclear when they are angry, or sometimes even in a bad mood. And to top it off, with both men and women, they think just because they apologize later, what they had to say is magically erased. We may have been taught forgive and forget, and plenty of folks are gracious enough to forgive, but the forgetting part is not so easy. If you blow your top and call you wife a fat, ugly, poor excuse for a wife, why on earth would anyone think that ashamedly slinking into the house the next day saying: “Sorry honey, I didn’t really mean it” is going to give them amnesia? Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky recipients of the forgiving part, but how about the forgetting part?
So let’s be more specific: here are some time tested Rules of Anger:
Say what you mean. If Hildegard is sittin’ around watching Oprah reruns, eating bonbons and the house is a wreck, you don’t call her fat, you don’t call her worthless, you stick to the subject. “I work my ass off all day and I come back to a filthy house and no food for us. You are watching endless TV and I am starving. If we can’t figure out a solution, I refuse to live like this forever.”
No absurd name calling. Stupid, worthless, piece of sh*t, etc. are just taking out your anger on someone. They don’t address the problem. See the rule above.
Try to refrain from using terms like “always or never”. Stay in the present. Husband cusses too much? “You always use vulgar language” is not the immediate point, even if it’s true. “We are in a restaurant and you have dropped the ‘f-bomb’ three times. You can be overheard, and you are embarrassing me” is to the point, direct and a good confrontation.
Don’t talk crap about someone’s family, even when it’s true. There is a strange psychological paradox about this event. Even when someone is angry/unhappy about someone they are close to, there is a need to defend them when someone else attacks them, even justifiably. Ask any clinician about working with abused women. The victim can bad-mouth the perpetrator all she wants, but when the counselor says something unkind about them, the victim will say something in their defense. Leave out family and friends in your squab with each other.
Although common sense should dictate this rule, keep your anger directed to who you’re mad at. So many people share their feelings on social media, with friends or family, it boggles the mind. In one squab, a husband (for the first and only time) threw a salt shaker against the wall. His wife was both outraged and intimidated by this act. Then she turned to her electronic therapist: Facebook. In a week or so they had some frank and mutually agreed upon rules of proper behavior (along with a sincere apology). However, all of her 952 friends now hate him, including her family. No more family Christmas celebrations with everyone for the foreseeable future. Whoops.
Imagine this ridiculous scenario: Gertrude and Archie are getting heated up about an ensuing argument. They take a quick break to go to the medicine cabinet. They locate the “UltraPissedOff” medication. They take the prescribed dose, wait for the effects to kick in, then they resume their fight. Now the fight is really on. From raised voices to screaming, maybe even some spousal abuse, it’s anger magnified by the drug. You think it’s a bad idea? Pay attention: No arguing when you are consuming alcohol. Save the “debate” for the following day. Why would anyone take a drug that is guaranteed to make things way worse? If it’s a real issue that needs to be resolved, you have to keep from totally screwing up the chances of a resolution due to a drug.
Our lives together should be full of many things: love, kindness, sacrifice, fun, boredom, neutral forgettable days and weeks: the whole nine yards. We will also have stressful, difficult days. It’s when times get lousy that we need to remember who we are, and how to behave properly. Fine tune our responses when we are in a bad way and we minimize damage and increase our self worth.