I can be obsessive. If I let my thoughts spin in my head unchecked when I’m angry with someone, those thoughts consume me. The worst time to be alone with them is at night in bed when it’s quiet. With nothing to distract me, I imagine myself confronting the person, who, by this time, has turned into something other than human. I verbally destroy them with the most articulate of arguments, perfectly and succinctly stated.
One would think I’d be able to let it go after such a well-executed mental confrontation. It’s too late to call them, and rehashing the conversation isn’t going to change anything, other than coming up with more ammo to make my point. So why not just go to sleep?
As a certified insomniac, it doesn’t take a lot to keep me awake at night. But when I’m angry with someone, no matter how much I’ve willed myself to let it go, there is a disturbance in the force. It’s an underlying feeling that all is not right with the world, and my brain will hone in on that target with the veracity of a TIE fighter.
If I’ve let my anger get the best of me, it was usually building long before I got to the lose-sleep-over-it phase. An event, like something my kid told me her mom said, or a phone call later in the evening, which supported my suspicions, is just the confirmation my brain was looking for to get my proverbial panties in a wad. Chances are, my panties were already in the pre-wad position to begin with.
While I haven’t perfected my “not my monkeys, not my circus” approach to life completely, I’ve learned a few tools for making it easier to deal with ex’s and enemies.
I know my triggers, which are often fear-based. If I feel someone is taking advantage of me emotionally or financially, it’s usually better to address it sooner than later. Also, it’s important for me to examine why I feel so threatened in those two areas of my life. When we’re angry we tend to lash out, more than look in. Self-introspection lets us examine the root cause of our own emotions first.
I’ve still got a ways to go before perfecting how I handle my ex and my enemies, but I’ve learned some things that are proving to make my life a little more stress-free.
In our angry world of racism, misogyny, and vast array of “phobias,” our brains are primed to name-call. And let’s face it, no matter how kind we appear to other people, when we’re alone in the car and someone cuts us off in traffic, names can flow like water from our lips. Who’s to hear? Who’s to judge?
Name-calling builds an emotional wall between us and the person we’re angry with. That wall makes them seem less than human, and justifies, in our minds, the disrespect and disgust we want to heap on them. Name-calling essentially masks our own feelings of hurt or fear, and dehumanizes the object of our anger.
Teacher or Enemy
OK, I’ll be honest. This one came from my therapist after I kept referring to someone as my “archnemesis.” Though I said it tongue-in-cheek, I found the term fitting. But when challenged to think of what I could learn about myself by seeing this person as a teacher, I felt my demeanor soften. My muscles didn’t feel as tense. Certainly, this person is a challenging force in my life, who impacts me in a host of negative ways. But, by reframing them, I’m better able to distance myself from their negative behavior.
Interact with them
Why in the hell would anyone even suggest this?! You might be thinking. Here’s a quick story.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich became speaker of the house. One of the first things Gingrich did was shorten the workweek, and encourage Congress members to go home on the weekends. Soon, members were not interacting with each other on weekends, or at bipartisan parties, and a historical divide between them began to separate sides like nothing seen before in history. Today, that divide is so wide politicians can barely stand each other, let alone work together.
When there is animosity and no interaction, the only thing we know for sure about our opponent is animosity. Interaction gives us a broader picture of them. It can help us put context around them. Even if we don’t like what they’re doing, it may help us at least understand why.
Learning to see people with compassion, particularly those who are thorns in our sides, is a practice that takes time. But like forgiveness, we don’t always practice compassion for others as much as we do it for ourselves. Hopefully, our vulnerabilities give way to more open communication, compromise, and connection, but that doesn’t always work out. We can only do the best we can with what we’ve got, and live at peace as much as possible.
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