Anger is often a secondary emotion. So we need to ask: What’s going on below the surface?
We’re wrapping up our emotional maturity series with a look at anger. Yesterday I was talking about how anger is like an iceberg; anger is the emotion that we’re comfortable with others seeing, and that we’re comfortable expressing ourselves. But anger can also be protective; feeling anger allows us to ignore the deeper emotions that are often going on below the surface–insecurity; guilt; fear; shame; rejection. Those emotions are scary, and so we’d rather lash out as an attempt at self-preservation.
It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote:
“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.”
What he was feeling was grief; what he was expressing was anger.
If we want to get emotionally healthy, with ourselves and with others, we need to be willing to go below the surface of our anger and allow ourselves to feel and express what we’re really feeling.
Yesterday in the post I suggested a way to handle a spouse’s anger (or your own) when you want to go below the surface. But as I was writing that, it reminded me of an incident I wrote about from my own life when I just started blogging, back in 2008. The girls were 11 and 13, and here’s what they were like back then:
And here’s the story I told:
Two weeks ago I was really down in the dumps.
I felt like nobody in my family really understood me or supported my speaking ministry.
They loved me, sure. They told me that, they hugged me, they helped me around the house. But they didn’t ask about my speaking, and sort of seemed disappointed every time I had to go (even though I’m home 90% of the time because I homeschool).
Anyway, I ended up talking to them about it, and guess what happened today!
I had to drive 2 1/2 hours this morning to a women’s outreach I was giving, and Keith got up at 6:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. Isn’t that sweet? I’ve never gotten up at 6:00 when he’s had to go to work early. I’m going to have to make it a point to do that sometime soon!
And then when I came home I found out that my 11-year-old had completely cleaned my study. Even my craft closet. She organized my yarn, she shredded all the paper that needed shredding, she moved stuff around so it looks better. It’s wonderful!
So I’m feeling very loved and very silly for my pity party. My family does appreciate me, and I appreciate my family. It was a good day.
But it reminded me of something: There are times when we see the worst in our family members. Often t’s because we simply haven’t communicated to them what we need.
However, the problem may go even deeper than that.
I’ve been wrestling a lot with guilt over my speaking for the last few years. My family comes first, and I’ve always felt a little torn whenever I have to go away overnight. I wonder if this is worth it, if God has really called me to this, or if I’m just pursuing it on my own. I put myself through the wringer on it, and start to accuse myself of all sorts of things. Am I in it for the pride? Do I just want the recognition? Do I think being a mother isn’t enough? And then I can take a different tack: what right do you have to give advice anyway? Do you think you’re better than everyone else?
You know the things we often say to ourselves. You likely say similar things to yourself, too.
The areas in our lives where we are most likely to feel guilty are also those that we are most likely to project onto others.
And that guilt will often come out as anger.
So if I’m feeling guilty about speaking too much, and my family doesn’t gush all over my speaking engagements, I assume they’re mad at me because that’s what I’m feeling. Or maybe you’re feeling guilty about not losing weight, and whenever your husband orders a water instead of a pop at a restaurant you feel like he’s silently judging you.
Do you ever experience that? We tend to assume other people are mad at us for the very things that we struggle with, when in reality those issues may not even be on their radar screens.
I’ve realized is that I need to own my feelings. They are mine. I have to stop attributing these feelings to Keith, or my kids. They are not trying to make me feel guilty; I was doing that just fine on my own.
So ask yourself this: what is the one area where you are most sensitive right now? Is it about your sex life? Your work? Your relationship with your mother? Name it. Often we hide from these things because we don’t want to face our feelings, but name it to yourself.
Now, ask yourself this question: have I been assuming that my husband is mad at me for that, too? Have I been supersensitive to other people about this issue? Have I even erupted in anger when they’ve pushed certain buttons?
Talk to them about it, and try, from now on, to not assume the worst in people. Don’t project your guilt onto them. You’ll find your marriage, and your life, goes so much better!
Can you relate to this? Do you find that there are certain areas of your life where you’re really defensive? What about your spouse? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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