Building Your Spiritual Home

Getting Comfortable with Anger

When I look at myself now, it is hard to believe that I came from the scared, timid child I was. In prep school, I was shy, lonely and picked on and above all, frightened by the meanness that seemed to dominate the school. At football, I prayed not to get hurt tackling.

By contrast, in my 50’s, my wife and I were driving into town and saw a man dragging a woman down the middle of the street, screaming at her, pushing her down: lots of people watching, paralyzed. I jumped out of the car, went right up to him. “What’s the problem?” said I, and engaged him enough to know that they were both drunk and he was fed up with her. I offered to take her off his hands, and eventually got him on his way and got the police to come and take her home. What shocked me was that I felt no fear. He could have had a gun, beaten me up, but that never seemed real. I knew something in me had changed.

This change begin in therapy at age 28. I was, as always, a “good boy” who took off my shoes before lying on the couch, and prepared to leave three minutes before the end of the session, so that my analyst didn’t have to tell me to go. I began to get angry at her for her distance and apparent dislike of me. I realized she was littler and older. I began to think I could pick up her potted philodendron and throw it at her, and there was no way she could stop me. I began to worry that maybe I would do that. I started visualizing my awful anger and how I could become a monster. One day, I imagined my anger boiling up and bursting out, splitting me open and destroying the whole universe. I stayed with that vision, and sure enough, something seemed to press its way out of my belly. But to my amazement, it was a balloon followed by a little teddy bear. It was cute and not at all frightening. Maybe my anger wasn’t so bad. In fact, I did not want to attack my poor analyst with her plant. The room felt safe.

This change had strange consequences. That spring, a fellow resident wanted me to play tennis with him. I knew he was a California state champion in his adolescence. And I knew that I had managed, despite lots of lessons and a graceful swing, to lose every match I ever played. He was desperate for a partner, and I finally agreed. We played and I beat him!!!! At least the first set. It was amazing.

As I felt stronger and more confident, I gradually developed a different fear. If I ever confronted someone with my rage, they would be destroyed. Or I would splatter from the internal pressure. As usual, I was in therapy, this time with a very trusting and loving therapist who seemed much less worried about this whole subject. We decided that I should try a growth experience. I went to an “Opening the Heart” workshop.

One of the exercises paired me up with a guy of similar stature. We were to put our hands on each other’s shoulders and prepare to push. We were to look each other in the eyes. We were to shout “Get out of my way” and push as hard as we could. I pitied the poor slob. I was determined to pulverize him. At “go”, I pushed. Not much happened! He pushed back. I kept pushing, some reassured. We each kept pushing our very hardest, but in about three minutes, he looked as tired and desperate as I was starting to feel. It was like a moment of truth, and an end to my fantasies of being an overwhelming, awesome force.

I could see that my fear of my own anger was related to my life mission to take care of my fragile mother. I had to protect her from me, and that meant sitting on my own anger and assertiveness. It took a lot of therapy and a lot of experimenting to finally feel safe around my own aggression. My focus of concern had shifted from “them” to “me” as the source of danger. At last, I realized that I was hardly a danger at all. I did a high ropes course, and noted that my fear of altitudes had vanished. I began flying a plane, and, even as a student, I was happy to fly in bad conditions, even when experienced pilots stayed on the ground. In my child guidance center, there was an abusive father who brought a gun to his appointment. His therapist was terrified. I had no hesitation about seeing him and explaining that he had to take his gun home.

These changes occurred as a result of therapy. Psychotherapy is a great way to confront and correct the crazy beliefs and ideas that develop in our childhood. I didn’t decide to start therapy; it was a condition of my training as a psychiatrist. But I have continued for years as a patient because therapy has been an important part of my personal growth.

1) What has been the hardest issue for you to deal with- anger, closeness, dependency, fear, passivity etc.?
2) Are your efforts succeeding?
3) Have you discussed this issue with others- spouse, friends, therapists?
4) What have you learned from dealing with this issue?

 

CHAPTERS

GET A LIFE
THE JOY OF A DEPRESSED MOTHER
OPENING MANY DOORS
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH ANGER
THE PATH OF MEDITATION
GIVING UP CONTROL
MARRIAGE AS A CHANGE AGENT
STRUCTURES THAT SUPPORT LIFE
VERMONT AND NATURE
TO HELL WITH DIGNITY
COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD
DOUBLE VISION
WHAT SHAPES LIFE
DISMANTLING SELF
TOLERATING GOD’S LOVE
MAKING FRIENDS WITH GOD

 

 

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