Last week, I got really pissed off…like cartoon steam erupting from my ears angry.
When the offending party (okay my husband) noticed my ire, I immediately replied, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” The words came out instantly and out of habit, and I wondered why I had said that. I didn’t feel fine AT ALL. Then, I noticed that the steam that wanted to erupt from my ears turned into tears wanting to fall out of my eyes.
My brain presented me with a 80’s movie-like montage of me handling (or not handling) conflict. Lauren crying because she’s confused, crying because she’s angry, because she’s scared, she’s tired, fed up. There’s all these emotions, but only one response…tears. There’s nothing wrong with crying. I had even made peace with what I thought was some sort of overreaction of my tear-ducts. That was my lot in life. If you wanted to hang with me, you might as well bring some Kleenex because I’m going to need it. In this moment, I realized that the tears weren’t because I was angry, or some water-logged freak of nature. It’s because I said, “It’s fine.”
The tears were my body’s way of saying, “Oh, we can’t be mad today? I guess I’ll go over here in the corner and cry instead.” I had felt the heat of anger, and then I acutely remember how awful it felt to say, “I’m fine,” while choking back tears. Anger felt better than defeated and silenced; so, I made the choice to lean into being pissed off. I breathed through sweaty palms, clenched fists, and a racing pulse to just get out the words (most of them didn’t even have four letters). I noticed that my tears seemingly were sucked back up into my tear ducts, and the anger dissipated. I watched the physical sensation of anger leave me, and it was replaced with exhilaration. I had probably for the first time ever communicated rage to someone in a mature, calm, and accurate manner. The most surprising thing was that it left me feeling more connected to my husband. This whole interaction began and ended within 2 minutes.
I shudder to think what the same situation would have looked like a few years ago. It probably would involve me insisting everything was fine when it wasn’t, choking back tears in a public place, him getting very irritated that I obviously was not fine due to those tears, me holding it in until we got into the car where 1,000,546,342 expletives would be thrown in his general direction along with, “Oh yeah, and pick up those toothpicks you leave lying around.” Then there would be silent treatments, possible slamming of doors (that one is my specialty), and the eventual making up where I would promise yet again to just say how I really feel instead of bottling it up inside.
My whole life I thought communication was this: It was going to be awkward as hell until I exploded, and hopefully we would be able to pick up the pieces after that. It’s taken me a long time to come around to knowing that the way I was accustomed to talking (or not talking at all usually) to people was actually destructive. I expected to be able to say really horrible things (because I was angry), and I also expected the other party should forgive (because that’s what you are supposed to do). Let me tell you: that you have to forgive part, was actually the most destructive part. If I feel you need to forgive and get over it, I’m not taking responsibility for the things I say. It also keeps me stuck in the cycle of spewing vitriol. I get to say what I want, and believing y’all should get the hell over it means I don’t ever have to change and even worse, I expect you to stick around for that non-changing, verbal abuse. And the moment that the other person decides that they indeed will NOT stick around, I can hold onto my “you need to forgive” as an excuse. I can point the finger at you and say, “Look at that non-forgiving, heartless person. I mean yeah, I did just call you a dumb piece of human excrement….but YOU…you need to open your heart!”
I’m just now learning how to address my own anger. That emotion was always scary to me because it seemed like this bottomless pit of unpredictability. People could become violent or say things that could cut you in all the vulnerable places, and despite the expectation that we should all get over it, we will go on carrying those old wounds. We keep telling the big lie, “I’m fine.” It becomes this monotone, robotic mantra, “I’m fine. It’s fine.”
Well, it ain’t fine. It never was fine, and it doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting that way until you can admit that right here and now it’s very far from fine. Every time we repeat, “I’m fine,” we are making a choice. We are saying, “Instead of feeling how I actually feel, let me try to not feel that (but you won’t be able to) and let me add some dishonesty, secrecy, feeling like a fraud, and oh why not, some disempowerment on the side.” No wonder we lash out.
You don’t have to be fine. If you simply choose be present, without judgment, you don’t have to be fine ever again.