One of the first questions I have, when teaching a new class or working with a father, is “Tell me how you express your feelings. Can you show you are angry, disappointed, frustrated in a healthy way or does it all come out as toxic anger?” Toxic anger is dangerous and greatly inhibits a child’s growth, impedes communication with others, and can lead to abuse and neglect. Understanding how a father deals with his feelings is key to understanding his relationship with his family, friends, and community.
One of the most common responses on how men deal with the feeling of anger is; “I want to hurt someone else. I want another to feel pain. I don’t want to be alone in my suffering.” This can surface in many ways, a bruising hand, a mouth filled with hurtful and caustic words. Other men leave and don’t come back, others come back but never talk about the emotion that erupted like a volcano. A lot of men simply get mad and stop talking, letting their silence oppress everyone who is near them.
Most men have never learned to deal, and healthfully express, their feelings. This is why for most men anger is their default emotion. The saddest part is they pass these traits along to children and the unhealthy cycle starts all over again.
An old Zen proverb says; “To hold on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
True and Real? –
I have many friends who are afraid and angry at the state of the nation. They are from both sides of the political spectrum. Fear is the breeding ground for anger and it seems to be everywhere. A friend of mine posted a controversial post this week which was lauded and hated by the differing sides. Folks are digging in and whatever can be used to prove their perspective is “on the side of angels” is put forth not to engage in conversation but to end the conversation by being right and the other being wrong.
I had an interesting conversation with another friend this week who basically asked me; “Which side is right? Is there a true right and wrong?” After a long pause, I said; “I think there is but I’m not sure we ever discover it.” I went on to tell him we are too impacted by our genetics, our growing up in certain places, the beliefs of those who raised us and imprinted upon us, our environment, where we grew up. Add to these the countless experiences each and every day that we use to solidify our opinions, friendships, and families and the other people who surround us. All of these make us who we are and shape the way we think, believe and live.
I finished up by telling him; “Wisdom teachings tell us that we may not ever be free of these countless influences so that we can find an “objective reality” but if we can become aware of our natural tendencies, biases, and preferences we are one step closer, one person closer, to a world of peace.”
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to think a thought and not necessarily believe it to be true or real.” #Aristotle
Sunday afternoon I picked up some branches from the yard, placed them on the fire pit, and set them ablaze. They burned for a while but not long because there were only a few limbs to feed the flame. With only a scarce amount of smoldering embers left I placed a large piece of wood on them and went inside for the evening. The next morning I took the dog outside and noticed the smell of burning wood and looked at the fire pit. The part of a stump I had placed on the glowing embers had burned all night and the piece of wood was almost gone. There was no flame, a bit of smoke, but the stump was slowly being eaten away. Tuesday evening I placed another large piece of wood on the second piece and this afternoon it’s almost gone. Even though a fire cannot be seen the smoldering ashes are still burning away at whatever’s been placed in the fire pit.
I reflected on the embers today and thought about a wisdom proverb;
“Anger is like a hot coal clenched in the hand, ready to be thrown, but destroying the one who grasps it.”
Anger is an emotion that almost everyone, at times, has trouble handling. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a family member, friend or co-worker, there are people and situations which stoke the embers of anger within. As with every other emotion, anger is not good or bad but rather it’s the reaction to the anger that leads to positive or negative consequences.
When anger is held onto, smoldering, it can destroy us but when expressed in a healthy way can put out the flames, or the embers that burn inside.
It’s not often when you can be outside wearing shorts and standing on your bare feet in the middle of November. Yet last night was one of those rare evenings when I stood in front of our fire pit with no shoes or socks, feeling the warmth of the flames on my toes.
I had gone to the woodshed to grab an old pallet to use as my firestarter. I lit it and sat in an Adirondack chair watching the blaze begin to grow higher and higher. Soon there were big embers floating through the air, many of them, and their flight course took them toward the house. I was becoming concerned. It wasn’t too long before my wife spotted the large fire from the kitchen and came outside to express her anxiety. I watched it closely and soon it burned down enough that I could relax and enjoy the November evening.
Earlier this week a gentleman told me the rage and anger within him, because of hurtful people and events in his past, was an inferno which burned so intensely it’s caused him to do much harm to himself and those he loves. It’s been the main catalyst for his drug and alcohol use vainly hoping they would dampen the flames. However, instead of putting them out the drugs and alcohol only added fuel to his fire. He was being consumed and hurting, not just for himself but for those whom he loves and who’ve also been victims of the flames that burn within him.
Wisdom tells us that unless we have a positive, healthy way to spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically deal with the anger that’s present inside each of us the fire will destroy us and those we hold most dear.
This morning I was running early for my fathers with addictions group so I stopped at the local Hardee’s and studied while enjoying a cup of coffee. I was reading the page (pictured above) when I heard a raised voice coming from the counter. Apparently a man had ordered his breakfast and they never let him know it was ready or he didn’t hear when they announced his ticket number. Either way he was not happy and let the employee know it with a loud and thunderous; “Thank you!” when he received his food, jerked the tray off the serving area and complained boisterously all the way back to his seat.
The above definition states that; “Good mental health is the ability to think things through so that you can adjust to and meet life’s demands in ways that don’t harm you or others.” I had two thoughts as I watched this angry man grumble and wolf down his biscuit. One, there is a lot of wisdom in this definition and it’s applicable to everyone. Two, who we are, especially in crisis and moments of frustration, reveal our character perhaps more than any other time.