It’s the summer of 1969, a bright, sunny day at the packed local pool. I’m next in the long line at the diving board. The boy ahead of me yells at the top of his lungs, “CONNIE IS A FATTY!”, dives off the board and disappears into the water.
In a flash, I see red, feel my jaw tighten and hear blood pumping in my ears. It’s true, I’m an overweight kid. But I’m also a strong swimmer. Clearly, he doesn’t know who he’s messin’ with! Instantly, before the required time goes by to safely let divers reach the ladder, I jump off the board with all my might and crash land on him in the water.
(Okay, this is not me, by the way. But it was kinda like that.)
Down, down to the drain we go. That skinny kid writhes and thrashes, bug eyes and bubbles everywhere, but he’s no match for this big girl. And after all, I’ve got time…I took a big breath.
I wait long enough to scare him, then push off the bottom and head to the top. I break the surface to the sound of the lifeguard’s shrill whistle and angry voice. “OUTA THE POOL!” Skinny Boy cries and sputters. As I head to the designated “time out” spot for rule-breakers, I scoff, laugh and shout over my shoulder, “It was worth it!” The line at the diving board cheers. End of story.
Or is it?
What was going on behind all that anger, bravura, and so-called “laughing it off”?
How about embarrassment. Shame. Humiliation. Hurt.
These emotions don’t feel very powerful. In fact, they feel tender and vulnerable.
What my ten year old brain didn’t understand at the time (and what many adults have a hard time understanding as well) is this: we often prefer the feeling of anger because it feels powerful and protects us from what’s at the root of our tender emotions. In other words:
Anger artificially helps us feel in control when we’re feeling out-of-control and falsely helps us feel powerful when we feel powerless.
Get to the Root When John and I moved into our home eleven years ago, the edge of our backyard was completely smothered in ivy. (Hang with me…there’s a reason I’m telling you this!)
For weeks, every Saturday morning, he was on hands and knees, digging down and pulling it up by the roots. It was painstakingly slow, but when he finished, there wasn’t one sprig of ivy where it wasn’t supposed to be.
Eleven years later, this is what it still looks like.
Had it been my job to clear the ivy, it would’ve looked like this (after eleven days!).
John got to the root of the problem. He wasn’t interested in a quick fix with the weed eater, no sir. Oh, that would’ve looked great for a few weeks. But he knew that the hard work of getting the root (not just the top of the plant) would be worth it in the long run. He was willing to dig deep so he wouldn’t have to keep dealing with the problem over and over.
When it comes to anger, many of us use the approach I did with the ivy. Instead of dealing with the root reason for the anger, we skim over the process and try to just “control our temper”. Or like me on the diving board, we vent our emotions in destructive ways. But if we don’t get to the root of our angry feelings, they’ll just keep sprouting up and eventually choke out the beauty and love in our lives.
So how can we get to the root of our anger? When we feel angry we need to ask ourselves, “Why am I feeling this way?”
While I’m delighted to report I no longer jump on people and nearly drown them, I long to learn how to best express my anger in ways that are appropriate and constructive. If you’re a fellow struggler, join me next Tuesday as we explore specific emotions that often fuel our anger and a practical 3 step process for expressing your anger in ways that build, rather than tear down, relationships.
I’d love to hear from you as we learn together!
In the meantime, be careful who you call “Fatty”. It could be hazardous to your health!
Blending music, humor and inspiration, bestselling “Georgia Author of the Year” Connie Carey helps audiences view their challenges from a renewed perspective…all while enjoying a good belly laugh! Learn more about her book, “Falling UP”. For booking info, call 478.250.1177.