Things I'm learning about being angry:
It's been a difficult season in my life. The past 18 months or so have been full of ups and downs - not just the kind we experience everyday, but ones of a much greater scale. The kinds of highs and lows that are life altering, that have an impact on many lives other than just my own. From challenges surrounding a struggling business that required many difficult decisions, to the no brainer decision to marry my best friend and companion. From seemingly unsolvable problems in a challenging business relationship, to the unexpected passing of a business partner and the many challenges that followed. Through this period, I experienced such a potent cocktail of different emotions that for the first time in my life I felt unable to control them. I've typically been pretty level headed and able to keep my cool (thanks, Dad), and have never had much issue with pulling myself quickly out of negative emotions. But these drastic swings left me paralyzed at times. Lacking the ability to simply decide to no longer feel sad or angry, I was forced to sit with these emotions. Not to sulk, but to process. Not to quit seeking solutions to change the things that were making me unhappy, but rather to simply feel and experience those emotions. To recognize them for exactly what they were. To own them.
My little sister, Kelsey, had a favorite book when she was young. Appropriately titled, "I Was So Mad" the book told the story of Little Critter on a day that just wasn't going his way. Each new page introduced something else that was frustrating for Little Critter, to which he'd respond, "I Was So Mad." Finally, he's had enough. He decides to pack his things and run away. Fate would have it that just as he was leaving, Radio-Flyer Wagon packed, he bumps in to friends who were coming to ask him to come to the park. When his mom responds yes to him asking to go, the book concludes with Little Critter deciding, "I'll run away tomorrow, if I'm still so mad."
This book was a fitting favorite for my sweet sister Kelsey, because at the time she wasn't always so sweet. Those toddler years were rough on poor Kelsey, and just like the character in the book, there were a lot of things that made her mad when they didn't go her way.
During this period, more than any other time in my life, there have been times when I just needed to be mad. When circumstances were such that I was feeling angry, or sad, or disappointed, rather than my default behavior of trying to pull myself out of feeling that way as quickly as possible, I instead recognized the emotion and then allowed myself time to feel and experience it. It's honestly been a rewarding experience. It seems counterintuitive - what good could possibly come from letting yourself be angry? What does that even look like? I imagine it's a little different for everyone. It may mean sitting alone in a quiet room for some, or blasting loud punk rock music to someone else. Maybe it's going to the gym or going outside for a run to burn off some steam, or maybe it's just calling someone you care about to vent. For me, it's mostly just time. Time to think. Time to process. Time to heal. I didn't fully understand this about myself until getting married. It took me having to recognize my need, and then learning to communicate that to my wife. My first couple attempts were awkward, uncomfortable. It felt silly to be a grown man explaining to my sweet new wife that I was upset, and that I needed her to let me STAY upset. I didn't want her to try to cheer me up, because I know myself well enough to know that wouldn't help. I just had to learn to communicate clearly that I was feeling a certain emotion and that I needed her to allow me to feel it, while making sure to overemphasize that it had nothing to do with her or our relationship and that I didn't want my sour mood to spill over to affect her. Usually, I'll sleep it off and wake up the next day feeling back to normal. For you it may look different. But I'd like to challenge you to try to recognize your needs, and practice communicating that to someone else. I think it's important to get to know ourselves better as we identify how we process these difficult emotions, and equally important to learn how to explain and communicate our needs to our families, friends, co-workers, or other important people in our lives.
This season has helped me to learn the importance of ALL that life throws at us: the good and the bad; the happy and the sad; the rainy days just as well as the sunny ones. It's kind of like catching a bad cold or the flu - a few days of feeling completely miserable can sure help to extend the depth of our gratitude for good health.
To be clear - I believe there is a fine line between a healthy way of processing these difficult emotions and an unhealthy one. Anger, sadness, or disappointment are certainly not emotions that we're meant to endure forever, and it can quickly lose any opportunity to be a rewarding process when taken too far. I think it takes intention and discipline to identify and recognize these things for what they are, allow ourselves to feel them, and then to move on.
I've gained a new appreciation and understanding for a remarkable quote offered by Teddy Roosevelt, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."