Anger can be intensely damaging to relationships. Cully Perlman shares his account of battling with his own internal rage and its effects within marriage.
I’m not one for therapy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it; to the contrary, I think it probably works.
It just doesn’t work for me. I won’t get into the details here, but when I was younger I went to a therapist and had a bad experience. She didn’t hypnotize me, didn’t have me barking like a dog when someone said the word “Orangutan.” She didn’t have me falling asleep whenever a car horn blared. What the therapist did was break my trust in her, and that was it for me, I was done. No more therapists.
But that doesn’t mean the therapy ended. It doesn’t mean I didn’t, in some way, continue the process she’d started. Or attempted to start. I’ve continued the process, done my best to keep on improving. The results are questionable.
The main problem I’ve had to deal with is my anger, the thing that bubbles up when I’m not paying attention. I’m not the all-out-blind-rage type of guy, the go-crazy-and-break-everything-in-the-house type, bang-my-head-through-the-drywall sort of man. That’s not what I suffer from. I think that sort of anger is a little much, a little dramatic. It’s too serious an issue, and it’s a bit too infantile for me.
My problem is that I have a quick temper. I let things build up, and when they can’t build up any further, I snap. I’m aware it’s coming, but I’m pretty darn helpless to stop it. It’s a fault. It’s damaging. It’s unpleasant. And it’s something I work on every day of my life.
The anger in me builds up throughout the day. Anything can set it off. I don’t know when it’s coming, but it comes. I’m embarrassed to say it: my wife is often the target of my anger. Not because she’s to blame, but by default. By proximity.
It’s not something I’m proud of. I’m disappointed and often sickened by my inability to control my temper.
My wife, however, is the polar opposite of me. My wife is sweet. She’s kind and thoughtful and can pretty much conquer anything in her day that would, without question, set me off. I wish I were like her. Life would be a lot more pleasant if I was, a lot cheerier.
I have rationalizations, sure. I’m a writer. An artist. And other writers, other artists, are even more temperamental than I am. But that’s a copout and I know it. Still, it’s there.
The temper, I believe, is genetic. It comes down from your parents like brown eyes, like black hair. For me, it’s from my father’s side . Not that my mothers’ side doesn’t generate its fair share of attitude — it does. But it’s a different kind of attitude. A more subdued attitude. A quieter fury. It’s more ruminative, less boisterous. Not so my father’s side.
On my father’s side, at far as I can tell, it’s sprinkled among us men. It runs like electricity through our pores, our nerve endings. It dictates—to an extent—who we are. Like a good roux, anger, in various forms and at various levels, serves as the thickening agent, the base of our personalities. It’s not who we are, but it’s an active ingredient, it’s the aftertaste of saccharine, the bitter, persistent finish of an old and bad glass of red wine.
I don’t know if it’s always been there for me or if I learned it—I can’t remember. But at this stage in my life it’s been my companion for so long that it just doesn’t matter. I know it’s there; I just need to learn how to better control it. How to manage the ugly.
Earlier in life, when I was in my teens and twenties, my anger got me into a lot of street fights. I don’t know how many, but when I say a lot, I mean a lot. In New York, Miami, Colorado. In Spain. Yes, Spain. Pathetic, I know. Who goes to Spain to fight? Apparently I do. I can’t tell you how ridiculous I feel it makes me look—I’m embarrassed just admitting it. But I need to confess it, because that’s part of my therapy. It’s part of how I make sense of what I’ve done, of who I am.
In my defense, for the most part, I didn’t look for the fights. Fights came to me.
My memory of early childhood is hazy, but I do remember my first fight. I remember where it took place, and who it involved. I didn’t win. It’s easy to say there are no winners ever in fights, but it’s true. No one wins a fight. In a fight, there are only losers. In that particular fight, I was the bigger loser.
I was ten, eleven. I got my ass handed to me, as much as a ten-year-old’s ass can be handed to him by someone two years older. I don’t remember what the fight was about. It doesn’t matter. It’s the fight that’s burned into my brain, not the reason for it. There is never a reason to fight, excluding, of course, when you’re defending yourself.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is anger, and okay, maybe a little rage. What I’m referring to here are irrational responses to ordinary situations. Yelling when something doesn’t go your way, or annoys you, or you let your frustration get the best of you. What I’m talking about is anger for anger’s sake. To prove a point. To not feel wronged or slighted or, in some way, victimized.
That’s where the anger and the physical aspect of fighting, the inflicting of damage to another, came together for me. That’s where the two collided. It’s what created the drama in my life, the injuries, the perilous path that could have potentially led to my incarceration. It didn’t, but it could have. And it would have meant never meeting my wife, never having my daughter, never being a part of the two greatest things in my life that I had direct responsibility for.
In my youth I fought for silly, childish reasons. Reasons most people can’t fathom. If you bumped into me on the street and didn’t apologize, I fought you. If you stared at me for a second too long, we threw down. You were not allowed to question my manhood even mildly. I fought you if you spilled a drink on me and didn’t apologize profusely, didn’t try to make it right to the standard I believed appropriate. And all these times I fought, I lost. Not because I was beaten, but because I couldn’t win. You can’t win.
You lose your dignity.
You lose a piece of your humanity.
You lose the moral compass that your parents, if they were good parents, set for you.
Having a temper is no excuse for my fighting, no excuse for tearing down the people I love, however infrequently, no matter how much I apologize afterwards. With my wife, there’s occasional yelling. Sometimes doors slam. From time to time, there’s silences that go on for days. I doubt my wife believes I’m sincere when I apologize, and I don’t blame her. It’s happened a lot over the years we’ve been together, and anger gets old. Living on pins and needles gets trying.
And therapy, well, what is there to say about it? It’s not a magic pill. It’s not a concrete series of steps. It’s a series of things you—I—try out. Some of the things work, but others fail miserably. Yet if you have loved ones like I do, you make the attempt. You put forward your best foot, because it’s important to you. You do it because you have to. Because you want to. Because it’s worth it.
You do it because you’re human. That’s what I try to be every day: I try to be human. For my wife. For my daughter. For my family. There’s nothing more important than that. Is there?
Image Credit: L’Orso Sul Monociclo/Flickr