I have an absurd fear of anger. Maybe this was born into me, given to me by my genetics and DNA. Maybe this is something I learned, as I am very much a pleaser. Maybe it is the knowledge of what my anger feels like when I am out of control and can’t control even the smallest amount of my temper. I can be mean in my own anger, and I often wonder if that is the cause of my fear.
If someone approaches me in anger, I freeze. I mean I go into a catatonic state. It’s like being a gazelle surrounded by a pack of lions waiting to see which step I take next. It is embarrassing to me that thirty minutes after someone yells at me I can come up with a ton of rejoinders, but in the moment, I simply remain blank. A couple of years ago, a woman confronted me in a parking lot and proceeded to scream and threaten me in front of my daughter. I had the presence of mind to make sure my daughter was behind me, but I still couldn’t find words to defend myself or find a way out. She blocked my exit and I had to sit there and just admit defeat and despair. I knew that she was wrong. I knew that this particular situation was her fault, but still I cowered. I will feel shame about that for the rest of my life. Not because I was frozen in front of this woman, but because my daughter watched as I failed.
My own anger, when it appears, is often directed at people who I can trust not to physically harm me. But it doesn’t make that right. My temper when engaged is like that old image of a freight train barreling past that can not be stopped. It rises within me at a rate that makes it impossible to control and it finds outlets in the most innocent of people. Thankfully, it’s a rare occasion. Thankfully, it is not my norm. My norm is to shut down.
As I keep going on this journey of growing up, I find it difficult to reconcile how to be angry in certain situations without falling prey to being frozen in time and space that happens when someone responds. I find it difficult to get my point across, especially when I am wronged in a very real way, and still fight for what is right. I am not a person who has ever stood up for herself. I have taken the good and the bad and simply decided long ago that it was all my due. But as I get older, I have begun to understand that some of this really isn’t my due. It years of people being able to get away with treating me horribly and me taking it over and over again.
Since I turned forty I will admit that there have been occasions where I could softly, without anger and disappointment, get points across. To show others that I can’t be treated unfairly just because they aren’t getting their own way. I begun to see the injustices and the torment in ways that I wasn’t prepared to see for the first half of my life. And even though I rarely react to these injustices, I imagine the first steps are seeing it for what it is.
I have always believed that parents should love their children without barriers. I have always believed that there is something sacred in family. I have always believed that despite the fact that those I know can’t know me, they could respect me. I have been deluding myself my whole life. Family drama, friend’s own selfishness, trumps these age old rules of civility and kindness.
In my life there are many manipulative people. I always tell my therapists that if I were to go to the Super Bowl one year I would be the only one seated beside a negative person; we would literally attract one another like magnets. It has been this way for years. And while I could always understand teenage hormones during high school and that petty drama, and I could even understand that sometimes so-called friends who don’t know me could use me to scream at, I have never understood a parent’s desire to hurt me. I doubt my parents do it completely on purpose, I think it is rather that they have gotten away with hurting me for so long, they don’t know they are doing it. My father making negative comments about my looks and making me feel guilty about not being the perfect being he wants when he wants it. And my mother, who often chooses others over me; others who are more fun I suppose. Others with better money I suppose. My father is a narcist, and my mother is a woman who most of the time can’t see beyond the person in front of her to think about something so simple as her child.
The story I have to write about in this post is a long one, so I will try to shorten it. Basically my father found out I would be near him while on vacation with my mother (they are divorced) and demanded that I make time to see him. Never mind that my mother paid for the whole expensive trip. Never mind that I didn’t have the time or the ability to control any of my movements on this trip (they have scheduled it to a tee). Never mind that he was asking me to betray my mother and probably her last vacation to spend time with him. When he asked none of those things would have been considered. You see, my narcistic father left twenty-five years ago, and he never really came back. He wasn’t there much in my youth, but I knew occasionally he would show up, somewhere. But when he was freed from the confines of my mother and his children, he left on his own adventures. I learned to handle only seeing him once a year. I learned to deal with the knowledge that I wasn’t his priority. I learned to love him despite his many faults. As I kid, I adored him. As I adult, I learned to live with and without him. And it took some therapy to get to that point.
So I stood up to him for the first time in my life when he demanded that I spend time with him. I told him that he had made his choice twenty-five years ago and I couldn’t pivot just to make him happy. My father rarely yells at me, instead he chooses to act like a sulking little boy who didn’t get his own way. I feared that he would get angry. I feared that my mother would get angry. I feared that those who have no business in my relationship with my father would not only have their say, but I would be forced to listen to it. I stood up for myself for the first time with my father, and the accomplishment wasn’t the standing, but rather that for one of the few times in my life, I was ready for the anger. I still would have stood their like a gazelle, but I took the risk anyways.
I think my father was surprised by my push back. Much like my mother when she doesn’t have a clue how to handle me. I should take the time to state that I don’t get angry often, I don’t like the feeling. Rather, I think on it, weigh my options, try to imagine eventual outcomes and usually stick my head in the sand and hope it passes. But this is the second time I have stood up to my parents. In more decades than I will admit to, I have only stood up against my parents twice, and I can remember in detail each time. You know how when you see your teacher in the grocery store and you have to remind yourself that they too have a life. The same goes for parents. You have to learn through life that the golden gods they once were in your mind are a figment of that mind. They are human. They can be unforgivingly cruel, mean, and disappointing. And while they are my parents and I will respect them, I am learning to like them less and less.
This learning to like them less and less frightens me. Not because I am worried about repairing any damage to my relationship with my parents, but because I don’t want my children to one day feel the same about me. I don’t want my children to ever be put in the corners as I have all my life. I don’t want my children to have late night conversations with their spouses about how to handle me. I don’t want to hurt them in my own selfish quest to have things the way I believe they should be. Children, as they grow up and leave the house, should always know there is a safe place for them to land, but that they are loved and wanted no matter how they turn out to be.
I could spend years writing about my parents, and I imagine there will be more posts on them. They are a font of great topics for this blog. Do they love me? In their own ways. They love how only they can love. They don’t love me they way I need them to, but it would be unfair to say that this is anything but a silent clash of personalities. They love me they way they love me. And at this point in all our lives that is the way it’s going to be. Looking for a safe haven with my parents isn’t possible. Maybe it is because I am bipolar and they don’t have any interest in learning about how the disease affects me. Maybe it is because they have their own lives and they look down upon my own choices. No one wants their child to grow up to be me; especially not the talented, ego-centric, and determined human beings who gave birth to a child who rather stand in the corner than get eaten by lions. It is sad to end this post with a conclusion that my parents will rarely put me first, and often only when it serves their interests. But I could fight and feel their anger from the safety of some dark corner, or I could simply take it and try to find the haven in my own pitiful self. There really isn’t much of a choice. I am not a fighter. I am a gazelle.