I seldom get angry. I learned during some stints of assertiveness training and various and sundry sorts of therapy that nobody makes us angry. We choose to react with anger. Whoever made us angry is only responsible for his intent, which may be perfectly innocent. We are responsible for our reactions.
My mother was like a great many southern women. She went through stages of anger. First came annoyance, which was generally when things didn’t go quite her way. Then came martyrdom, in which the rest of the family was making her life difficult. Finally, she would fly apart at the seams and scream, “You made me angry.” That was safe.
It was someone else’s fault. She didn’t have to own her anger or deal with it. And, in the final analysis, she kind of enjoyed it. She was an actress, after all. Like a southern thunderstorm, a lot of thunder and lightning, but short and followed by clear skies.
I don’t enjoy it at all. I try to stop at the annoyance stage and deal with it. Once my thunderstorms start rolling in, I can’t disperse them. They hang over my head like the character in Lil Abner’s own private thundercloud. I worry about what I could have said or done differently, how I could have defused the situation.
I don’t mind saying I’m sorry even if I don’t think I was at fault. People matter a darned sight more than my pride.
Friday evening, I made what I thought of and intended as an innocuous comment. The person to whom I made it flew all over me. In public. My first reaction was surprise. Then I tried to explain. Big mistake. My friend had already gone past that stage to the ‘just shut up’ stage. The people around us stared open mouthed. Me too. I did shut up, but by then I was feeling mightily put upon. I am well aware that I am endowed with the tact of the dancing hippos in Fantasia, but most of my friends understand that I am merely clumsy. After my friend stalked off in high dudgeon, I found out I had come at the end of a horrible, terrible, very bad day—like the new movie.
So I apologized again. Whether it will do any good, I have no idea. At this point, I suspect my friend has to stay angry at me or admit to an overreaction. That’s a pity. And the reason I don’t get angry. The fallout is too difficult to deal with.
Unfortunately, the corollary is that when I do—every ten years or so—actually get angry, Katie can bar the door all the likes. I’ll still go through it like a battering ram. Afterwards, I’m faced with eating a whole bakery full of humble pie. Even I don’t have that big an appetite.
So I try to stay on an even keel. Let’s hope it works.