Earlier this week, I got into an argument with one of my man-children, Steven.
We're at this interesting stage where he is an adult, still living at home, and I am now home a lot more than I used to be. So there is the usual head-butting that goes on at this time in his life but it's combined with some pretty big changes in the day to day living dynamics at home. Among these is the fact that we're spending a lot more time together than we were used to.
The thing is, that no matter how well you get along with someone, normally, sometimes life circumstances really just mess with that. Steven and I normally get along pretty well, especially for a 19 year old man-kid and his step-mother! But, we also have a heck of a lot in common. Among the traits we seem to share is stubbornness.
I'm sure you can imagine, then, that when we both get our stubborn faces on and dig in our heels, things can get interesting.
I don't even really remember what started this argument except that we were both convinced we were right and the other person was wrong. Isn't that how most arguments begin?
But, as is often the case with arguments - it got out of hand. Pretty soon, I was trying to make him listen to me no matter what as I explained (a bit TOO thoroughly) why I was right. And this led to some inevitable frustration and he ended up losing his temper and yelling at me.
Fast forward about ten minutes and we were BOTH in tears and feeling like it was all our fault. Because another trait we have in common is our tendency to self-blame.
Thankfully, my wife was able to offer us both some much needed perspective. She wisely reminded us both that everyone has things about themselves - habits, patterns, and general "stuff" that comes up sometimes when we get disconnected during an argument. She validated us both by reminding us that we're allowed to be angry. Sure, we could have both handled our frustration and anger better but the feelings were valid.
This is still something I'm really working on... the idea that it's okay to be angry.
Whenever I get frustrated or angry, there is a degree of anxiety - partly because it doesn't feel like it's allowed. This adds a whole new level of tension to the experience of being angry.
One of the things I've been working on is the process of allowing or surrendering to the feeling of being angry. Not necessarily acting on it but, in a way, revelling in it. Because when I embrace the feeling of anger (or frustration, disappointment, or sadness), I find that the feeling only lasts a few minutes.
I read somewhere once, a long time ago, that our emotions are like clouds in the sky. The natural state of our mind and emotions is calm and clear but over top of that are the clouds of our feelings and emotions. But the interesting thing about clouds is that they are never still. They are always on the move. If you lie on your back and stare up at a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, you'll notice that the clouds you're gazing at twenty minutes from when you begin are totally different ones!
Why is that so significant?
Because, it means that no matter how angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, or upset you feel right now, that feeling is already in the process of moving along in the sky of your mind. If you resist it, pretend it's not there, or try to stuff it down it's more likely to stick around longer. But if you allow the cloud to float across the sky at it's normal pace, you'll find it gone before you know it.
This isn't just woo-woo stuff, you guys, I promise! I've done this and it does work. I remember one time I experimented with this very much on purpose. My wife, Peggy, had done something to annoy me and I got mad. But instead of trying to fix it or address it or make it go away the "traditional" way, I just dove directly into the anger (silently). As we went about our grocery shopping, I intentionally focused on HOW mad I was at her. I let the anger just fill me right up. It must have been less than five minutes later when no matter how hard I tried, the anger was still dissipating. In fact, it became so hard to hold onto that letting it go was the only option available to me.
Afterwards, I felt great because instead of telling myself I wasn't allowed to feel that way or, perhaps worse, projecting my feelings onto my wife, I allowed my feelings to be there - to be accepted.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's way easier said than done. But it's a practice I am definitely continuing to work on because it makes such a huge difference in how I'm able to handle difficult situations when they arise. In the recent argument with my son, I didn't dive into the feelings - instead I tried to force a resolution which resulted in an unpleasant outcome. But afterwards, Steven and I were both able to admit that we could have handled things better while still validating each other's right to feel the way we felt.
Everyone gets angry. We're all entitled to our feelings. Sometimes giving ourselves the permission to FEEL our feelings is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.