“Anger is the winter coat on top of my fear.” – James Altucher http://www.jamesaltucher.com/
My new home is an old brick six-plex in mid-town that was built before World War II. I love the idiosyncrasies of my older home, but sound-proofing was apparently not a big deal when the apartment was built. I can hear quite a bit of noise from my neighbors, but everyone seems to be pretty aware of the thin walls and we all make an effort to be considerate about the noise. However, sometimes life happens and you forget about what noise you may be making.
My neighbors who live across the hall had a huge fight earlier this week. Our kitchens back up to each other, so sounds travel really well between the two kitchens. I was in my kitchen, fixing my breakfast, when the argument began. At first I was just aware of their raised voices. Soon the volume escalated and I could hear both of them yelling and talking over each other. At first I tried not to listen, but then as they kept getting louder, I realized was trying to hear what the fight was about. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I walked into my living room in an effort to try and respect their privacy. As soon as I reached the living room couch, I heard a big crash and then I heard a door slam. At the very least, this round of the argument was over.
Overhearing all that angst and drama reminded me of some of the fights my ex-husband and I used to have. I was 19 and he was 20 when we got married, so to say we were a little immature would be a gross understatement. As we struggled to find our way through the sometimes murky water of marital bliss, we frequently made the bad decision to allow our disagreements to become heated.
I will always remember the time when the sewer backed up and, in his frustration, he became so angry he somehow decided the collapsed sewer pipe was my fault. We used up almost all of our towels trying to soak up the mess, and as I was trying to hang the towels I had used up on the clothes line to dry, he was throwing more sewage soaked towels at my feet. Please note, sewage does splash up when a towel is thrown with enough force.
Unfortunately, I can’t say he was the one that instigated all the drama. On my part, I am not proud to be able to testify that if you slam an unbreakable plate against a door frame enough times the plate will eventually break. I can still remember the exact words I was screaming at him while slamming the plate inches from his head, but I don’t think I want to put that level of profanity into print. Let’s just say it’s not real shocking that the marriage didn’t last.
After moving out of that relationship I tried hard not to replicate the anger in my relationships. While I chose other, equally unhealthy, methods of dealing with problems in a relationship, I have never had a screaming fight with a significant other again. I’ve participated in guilt fests, pouting parties, or indulged in giving the silent treatment, but I have refused to resort to yelling fights.
Instead, I saved my anger for situations that I had no control over. There have been times in my life when I have gotten so angry that men I knew would take a literal step back from me. I don’t mean men who there was even a remote chance I could’ve done physical harm to. I mean large men who had no reason to fear me physically, but who found the intensity of my anger overwhelming. I am not proud of the intensity of my anger, but it was a very comfortable place for me to go.
As I’ve grown older I’ve done a lot of work on my anger. It’s been a challenging journey with plenty of missteps. I wish it were as easy as saying, “I’m not going to get angry anymore.” After being told by a healer that I no longer needed my anger, I went overboard in the other direction. I proceeded to spend years making myself seriously, physically ill because I was holding in my anger. I didn’t think I could be seeking spirituality or enlightenment and still get angry.
It took a lot of years with a lot of searching to make peace with my angry side. I have learned that taken to its root cause, anger is an expression of fear. I now realize that my anger was the shield I threw up to protect myself whenever I felt threatened or scared. When I exploded with anger, people stepped back and respected that anger, making me feel safer. Now, when I catch myself getting angry, I give myself permission to be angry. I no longer scream or yell, but I also no longer swallow my anger in an effort to keep the peace at any cost.
Now, I ask myself why I’m angry and what I’m really afraid of. After I’m able to identify the fear, I’m able to work on what’s causing my reaction. It not an easy task, but I feel better about myself when I’m able to act on the root problem instead of wrapping myself up in anger, or pretending everything’s fine. When I hear other people having loud, angry arguments, I become uncomfortable because I no longer see fighting as an effective way to communicate. We’re all human, and we all have buttons that can be pushed, but I am so grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned about not throwing myself head first into my anger.
It’s been a few days now and I haven’t heard any more arguments from my neighbors. They are a young couple with their future, and a lifetime of lessons, before them. I hope they figure out how to disagree without screaming at each other. I hope they learn they are not each other’s enemy. Most of all, I hope they work things out.