Anger…uh…What is it good for?

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” – unknown (though often attributed to Buddha)

I’m angry. I hate that I’m angry. It doesn’t take a psych degree to know that anger stems from hurt. And my hurt stems from disappointment. And my disappointment stems from unmet expectations…and you know what they say about expectations. But, while I’ve continued to lower the bar of my expectations, I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern growing in my relationships. In my marriage I identified it as give an inch, take a mile. The less I nagged and the more appreciation I showed, the less regard my needs or wants were given. If I expressed gratitude for him doing the dishes one week, he would remind me the next time I asked for something, “but I did the dishes last week.” I kid you not, that really happened.

So, in my effort to be less demanding all together (let’s face it, beggars in crisis can’t be choosers), I’ve noticed that I’ve become the friend and family member who doesn’t really get prioritized. And, even though you’d think no one wants to accommodate a squeaky wheel, it’s common knowledge that it gets the grease. And there’s the rub, who wants the grease anyway? I mean, I’ve considered texting my friend and telling her I think she’s an asshole for not returning my calls and for basically abandoning me in my time of need, but then what? Is she going to want to show up and have a relationship? Or is she going to apologize while she’s flipping me the bird on the other end of the phone?

So,  I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. And, frankly, I’m drinking the poison. I’m angry. Not furious or over the top angry but bitter and sad when I think of how little respect is granted me by so many people in my life just because I’m so understanding. If they don’t call me back for a month, or four years, whatever, I try to focus on letting people do as they please. But, it’s not cool to be a bitter martyr in the end.

What to do? It seems if I express my frustration, I’ll just alienate people more and the sick thing is, when people know you’re having a rough time or “need” them, they tend to take advantage. I say this not to be cynical, it’s just human nature. Or maybe it’s just a dynamic in my dysfunctional family that I osmosed as a kid and attracted more of in my adult life. Regardless, it harms me to feel so incidental in the lives of people who mean so much to me.

To be clearer, anger makes me feel stuck. It makes me feel victimized. It makes me feel alienated and bitter. Those are some serious downsides.

But, the good news is there are a few upsides to anger!

1) Anger is a terrific signal that something is very wrong and needs to change. Sometimes it takes someone eliciting anger to recognize that a line is being crossed and a boundary needs to be set.

2) Anger can motivate. “She wont help me? Screw it, I’ll find another way, I’ll do it on my own!”

3) Anger can teach me what my wounds are and perhaps guide me toward healing them even if it is an arduous and lonely task. I suspect, if I make strides in repairing damage that was done long ago, I may stop attracting the same dynamics into my life.

4) Anger can remind me to breathe and remember that I am responsible for my own life and my own circumstances. I know from experience that when I am thriving and feel good about myself, I don’t sweat the little things and I don’t pay attention to the people who aren’t showing up.

5) Anger can compel me to shift my focus to those who have come through and amazed me with their kindness and generosity.

It’s a tricky leap to get from down and out to back on my game. It’s tough for everyone and one of the toughest parts for me has been that even when I’ve asked for help or expressed need, it’s often gone unheeded, defying the common advice that if you need help, ask for it and you’ll get it. Sometimes you have to do it yourself!

To me, growing up and over 40 has meant abandoning the notion that someone or something is going to save me. I’m learning to stop looking around for someone to do that thing that needs to be done and do it myself. Whether that is changing a lightbulb or discarding the dead rodent my dog dragged in or cheering myself up. It’s on me to get the job done.

Maybe eventually, I’ll know how to do it without being angry about it. Or maybe I’ll just drink a little poison now and then and still be just fine.

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