“I am here to make a confession. For the last eighteen plus years I have been angry.” Krystal Baugher takes us along on her journey through an anger reboot.
Each year another layer of anger has built up around me, leaving a solid, nearly impenetrable wall, that not even the toughest, hardest hammer could break through.
It’s an anger more like a slow boiling pot of water, constant, hot, but not necessarily unruly. It almost unnoticeable, which is perhaps why I’ve had such a hard time recognizing it and an even harder time dealing with it.
This anger seems to manifest itself in many ways, most of which are exhibited in passive aggressive behavior: sarcasm, withholding of both praise and intimacy, being critical, not doing something I’m told to do because I’m told to do it, etc.
Here’s just a short list of things that make me angry:
- Other drivers (specifically those who do not use their turn signals).
- People, usually in groups, who fail to share the sidewalk.
- Our neighbors walking so hard it makes the television cut out.
- The internet: in between cute videos of dogs get massaged there are fb posts with whiny people whining next to major issues of major concern happening in the world (like people getting shot for no reason, or entire groups of people dying of a disease no one cares to find a cure for etc.)
- Every ism: racism, sexism, capitalism, ageism, etc.
- Not being able to walk down the street without getting harassed.
- Being treated like an object for the male gaze.
- Men thinking that they can fuck me just because that’s what men and women are supposed to do.
- Car alarms.
- Fundamentalists of all kinds.
- People who use the term “real woman,” or “real man.”
- Pick up artists.
- Student loan debt.
- The post office.
- Breaking a nail while away from home.
- People, any person, who tells me what to do.
Though it seems impossible, there is something all of these things have in common.
Every thing on this list is something I cannot control.
My anger is rooted in this deep-seated feeling of helplessness.
Every year my anger built up because every year there were more issues I realized needed to change, and even with my idealism, I knew that they probably wouldn’t.
I had no power.
Of course my romantic relationships got the worst of it.
One day when I was bickering about something irrelevant to my boyfriend I stopped for a moment—it was one of those out-of-body experiences where I could see myself from afar and I was acting like a total dick. Our relationship was basically pure suck all on account of me and it would never get better unless I learned to stop—at that moment I knew that I could no longer continue to behave that way.
I needed to change.
A friend said to me recently that to change, the stress of staying the same has to be greater than the stress of doing the transformative work.
I was under-employed, fighting constantly with my boyfriend, drinking too much, apathetically smoking, spending way too much time on the couch watching Netflix, basically not giving a fuck.
I realized that I had been living a pattern, my anger turns to nihilism and nihilism turns to this deep dark gray world of depression. I often times could snap out of it long enough for it to not become a serious problem, like I didn’t need to be committed yet. Then I realized that the pattern itself was the serious problem and I needed to find a way to break the pattern, to fall out of the habit, and to start a new, improved, positive pattern. I did not want to live the rest of my life cycling through anger, nihilism, depression. No thanks.
It was time for me to reprogram my anger.
I read a book a couple of years ago called the Power of Habit and it talks about being able to start or stop a habit within thirty days. I feel like I picked the most challenging of habits, because stopping my anger and passive aggressiveness was like stopping a major part of who I am. It wasn’t like quitting cigarettes, which can be a tough task in itself, but also comes with a physical reminder every time you light one up.
One of the ideas is to figure out what you actually need at the moment, so if you for example smoke cigarettes, do you need the chemical element of the cigarette, to step away from whatever task your working on, or a moment of socialization with friends? If what you really need is to step away, than you could potentially replace the cigarette with a cup of tea or a walk around the block.
So when I get angry what do I really need?
How do I stop the anger from turning into passive aggressive responses?
I decided to track my progress in a journal.
Here’s what went down.
Week 1: The Woman in the Mirror
The first step I took was to reflect on the past and present situations where anger arose. What were my triggers? How did I react when triggered?
“When I get short with others my brain is in the “don’t fuck with me” mode. And “don’t fuck with me,” basically means that I don’t want anyone to talk to me, unless they are somehow capable of snapping me out of the funk —which they won’t be—so they should just leave me alone. The problem is that my shortness often comes when we’re out in public and I have no way of getting out of the situation; I have little control.”
So what could I control? Just like with the habit formation concept, I needed to replace my feelings of helplessness with feelings of my own personal power. Everything that was out of my control I had to learn to let go, everything within my control I had to work on making it the best it could be.
“I can control what I do with my body via food, beverages, sex, exercise etc.
I can control what I do with my day.
I can control who I spend time with.
I can control how I react.”
So. I became aware. “Aware” was just first step of realizing how shitty of a person I was/am.
Week 2: The River Called Denial
When I was in junior high I had incredibly bad acne; I got on Accutane, which is like the strongest medication invented for it, the doctor informed me that the medication would cause my skin to get much worse before it got better. It was like a fucking volcano had erupted all over my face. That’s pretty much what happened the second week of my journey. My boyfriend and I went back to see my family in Kansas; the trip could have gone better.
“Well, my parents, particularly my mother, did a great job this weekend of pointing out what an asshole I am. It appears that my main issue is that I can never be wrong. Like I have to have a come back no matter what. There were a few times though, when I let something go or I admitted that I didn’t know; I didn’t die, so that’s a start.”
My boyfriend and I ended up getting in one of our biggest fights on the drive back to Denver. Luckily it didn’t start until we were about 40 minutes away, but it was still complete hell. Imagine being stuck in a car with someone for 10 hours just annoyed to no end by them. Then imagine that person yelling and punching himself in the thighs trying to make his point, while you just stare out the window thinking about how pretty that abandoned shed is with the sunset bouncing light off of the aged wood.
Lava flowing madly.
Finally, as we pulled off of I-25 into the city, I couldn’t take the screaming anymore. All that had been calmly bottled up inside of me came out in one simple “shut the fuck up!” shout. It was a rare gem. I have always let other people get carried away with their emotional responses while I analyzed the circumstances as if I wasn’t actually a part of them. I had finally gotten myself involved in the storm. It felt scary shouting back, but it also felt good to be able to stop the furthering of a bad situation.
There was calm in the slow flow of silence.
I told him he could help or he could take the road out, I’d understand either. We didn’t come to any sort of consensus; we were both too tired, too angry.
“I think today I forgot the whole, “control what you can control,” thing. I was so sad at work a Coldplay song nearly had me in tears and I hate Coldplay. I think I have to end it. I think it’s the only way. We fight every other day and the more I reflect the more I see how shitty I am to him and I don’t think I can recover from that.”
Two days later it was over.
“I’m sad but I’m also avoiding my feelings. . . . The worst part was identifying and coming to terms with the fact that I can be emotionally abusive. I mean, what can I do with that? How awful. It has to stem from not being secure with myself and how can I not be secure with myself? Where’s my self-worth, my self-esteem? How can I not have that yet still show signs of narcissism and the grandiose? I’m not very happy with my life overall right now. I think that’s why I’ve avoided thinking about it, once I start I see how everything is shit. At least the big things. Sure, I can find beauty in the every day, in the small things, but can that be enough?”
If I could control what I did with my day, who I spent my time with and how I reacted to all that was happening around me then I could stop the madness by ending an unhealthy relationship and focusing of bettering myself. I was torn because a part of me thought that the only way I could figure out how to have a healthy relationship was by being in one and working on it, but then the other part thought maybe it couldn’t be healthy until I was.
Week 3: The Rinse and Repeat
So there I was alone, just me, myself and my anger. I started reading an excessive amount of articles on happiness; I started working out every day, I cut back on the drinking—which was shocking given the break-up. I tried to be more conscious of when I was being negative and counter it was at least two positive thoughts. Theoretically I understood the concept that everyone has their own issues, stories, situations they’re working through and so I should be empathetic. I knew that a little kindness could go far to improve the quality of our connections and community. It’s still much harder to do than to think.
Mostly face to face with people I was fine. The internet and I were still frenemies and I was still yelling at cars who went too slow or forgot to use their blinkers. I decided that when I could get control of my road rage that I’d finally have complete control over my anger issues.
I hooked back up with my ex.
There’s this concept that a break-up hurts because a part of one’s identity goes away and there is a thirst to get it back.
Maybe I was a little dehydrated. I was definitely selfish and immature about the whole thing.
“I told him that I wanted him right now, but not forever. He obviously likes the now enough. But how long can we keep doing this? Once the break-up banging loses its luster we’ll be back to basics and the fighting will start all over again.
How to prevent it?
It’s unpreventable regardless.
So maybe I couldn’t quite control whom I spent my time with. I could choose it, yes, but I could also still make unnecessary mistakes. Understanding and knowing my flaws and weaknesses doesn’t fix them. Recognizing them is a step in the right direction, but recovering and transforming them takes much more conscious work.
It was like I was taking one step in the right direction and then one step back, but at least there was movement.
Week 4: The Go with the Flow or Just Go
I knew from the beginning that a month might not be long enough for this kind of intense reprogramming. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere; probably because I was hiding from it.
“Mainly we’re getting along more because we’re spending less time together and I’m avoiding certain situations. Maybe avoidance is a phase that people overcoming passive aggressive anger go through. . . .”
Avoidance may have actually been more of a stepping-back to analyze and reflect than an attempt not to deal with the issues. By not being in the center of the problems I could see how they were irrelevant to my overall wellbeing. The boyfriend fighting, the slow moving cars, the fundamentalists, the ice bucket challenges… these were just things that were happening around me. I could like them or not like them, I could move on or dwell on them; I could speak my mind or bury my opinions.
But only when I got control over my reactions would I be able to break free of the pattern that for so long has dragged me down.
I came up with a simple solution.
First when I could feel my brain and body shifting modes during a particular situation, I’d ask myself:
“Can I do anything about it?”
If so, do it.
“No? Then let it go.”
It’s at least leading me in the right direction. I am being more proactive and positive. The layers are starting to peel; the slow boiling pot of water is cooling down. I am on a clearer, healthier path. And I am ready to keep traveling.