Anger Wisdom Means Knowing Our Triggers
Here’s the beginning of one of my big anger triggers. When I was eleven, a younger kid who came to our house for violin lessons wanted to feed my little red swordfish. I warned him not to add any flakes because I’d just done it. Then, I went about my business while he apparently dumped a whole, extra-large container of fish food into the bowl and ran. A bit later, I discovered the mess while he was still at the house and I let out a howl that drew my younger siblings, my mother, and her violin student to the scene of a dark green body of water wherein no fish could be seen. What happened next outraged me further. My mother immediately surmised that the culprit was her pupil, yet she directed her complete aggravation at me. Debbie! How could you be so rude!? You interrupted our lesson for this!? And he’s just a little boy! She ordered me to stop my outburst and clean up the mess. No concern for my fish, or for me.
The story sticks with me because it shows a typical anger dynamic from my childhood. I had to keep my anger reactions to myself because I was the oldest, and therefore, above having human feelings or needs. Whatever was going on with me mattered less than what was going on with everybody else. Just suck it up. I grew up with this non-rational belief: I’m not important. No matter what someone does to me, I must maintain a kind demeanor toward them. Adult me knows this is utter bullshit, but pre-adolescent me feels it to her bones.
Triggers Shape How We Deal with Anger
Fast forward: Today I get in situations where I continue to play this role. I become the responsible one who rises above having complaints, even though I seethe inside. I feel that I’m supposed to be there to receive others’ grievances, vulnerabilities, and thoughtlessness, but have none of my own. All the while, I resent everyone else behaving freely without inhibition while I contain myself. My triggers involve less-responsible people making messes. When this happens, I want to scream, Will somebody else please be a grownup here?!? But I don’t.
I could go on a whole day’s rant about this. But I won’t.
For now, I’ll say that we each have our unique anger triggers. Anger-wisdom requires noticing our triggers and allowing ourselves to heal from the early experiences that set them in place. Your triggers differ from mine, but anger triggers define so much about what elicits our anger and how we deal with it. My trigger leads me to repress and contain, although I am letting it out here (Don’t mess with me or you could end up in my next book.). Your trigger leads you to do whatever you do.
Homework: write a story about being angry as a child and share it here. What did your experience teach you?