As summer is ending and many people are getting back from vacations in order to prepare for a hopeful Autumn, I'm prompted to share a bit of updates.
Settling down in a new city has been challenging with the presence of a new character: a partner.
Figuring out how the two lives can be best intertwined isn't the most difficult piece, although it requires some logistical ingenuity and lots of communication.
It's choosing to dig deeper within ourselves and bring whatever comes up -good, bad and ugly - for the sake of a more beautiful relationship. It's as if we need to burn off those psychological deadwoods to sustain the relationship crucible.
I'm learning a lot about how stubborn I am as a person, how much I still do insist on being right and then how much of that doesn't really matter. All thanks to a relationship.
With the many recent conflicts (all of which have been resolved rather well), I'm feeling like I'm on an accelerated learning path just from maneuvering those sharp turns and heated moments.
It made me think about relationship as antifragile - that which gains from disorder. What doesn't kill you indeed make you stronger after a lot of inner garbage processing and letting go.
This week, I'd like to share some of those learnings with you through a real incident that pulls me into another exploration of anger. I hope you find it resonating.
Sharing is sprouting.
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Anger, part 2 [excerpt]
Some head-on can be avoided with compassion.
I recall a recent conflict with someone I hold dear and respect. Something I unskillfully said the day before hurt her.
When she raised her voice, I noticed at first a swelling up in my chest. It was an innate impulse to defend against what I saw as a personal accusation. I felt strong enough to fight back, which would exactly be what my younger self has wished for.
What ended up coming out were not strong words but tears, tears that didn’t seem to stream from my eyes but somewhere much deeper inside. The swelling in my chest deflated, like a defender letting go of his shield, leaving a vulnerable opening.
In that moment, the old story “Oh no… here it is again. I am weak, I am bad, I am a loser” almost crept in. Thankfully, the practice of “feel the feelings, drop the story” has allowed me to sustain this vulnerable state a bit longer.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Victor Frankl
What is different now is that I don’t get angry and blame myself for being weak anymore. In that little opening of spaciousness, I am reminded to honor the commitment to fully accept myself, including its past wounds and old stories.
It is indeed important to rewrite a new personal story, one that accepts responsibility rather than blame and celebrates empowerment rather than victimhood. That is the goal of good therapy.
Yet in closer reflection, I see something more in those intense moments. It is a glimpse of something rather sacred: the pain of being human among other humans.
Even if no one intends to upset anyone, healthy people will grow new edges and rub others in uncomfortable ways. The deeper we are in relationship with each other, be it romantic, business or creative, the more friction there will be.
I know that friction-based anger intimately. It is a notch more than mere irritation. First it starts in the body: face burning, throat drying, chest swelling. Then it comes to our mind in the forms of story. What makes this kind of story tricky is the dissonance it causes. It is often not easily put into good vs evil, friend vs enemy or “I’m right, you go burn in hell”. If it is, the answer would have been obvious: just get stronger and win.
Rather, what is happening is a much subtler but disquieting doubt: “I thought we are on the same side, why are we fighting?”
In interaction with others, it is the frustration with someone who keeps stepping on your boundaries yet doesn’t seem to improve to your expectation. It is the retaliating angst of not being heard that spirals into endless bickering. Within ourselves, it is self-anger and harsh judgment ourselves on why we keep making the same mistakes and upset the people who are close to us.
What can we do about it then?
Before we can have a solution to this problem, perhaps we must accept the sober paradox that we are each other’s utmost joy and pain just the way we are. It is sad but ultimately freeing to realize that no one is at fault: it’s the human condition.
When the heart becomes open, the compassion it generates can neutralize the antagonism of the fire. We fight, but we don’t stop loving. With that fuller acceptance, we could slowly let go of more of who we think we are— to take ourselves even less seriously. Then we can start laughing and loving again. As David Richo writes,
We begin to notice a humorous insubstantiality — like the no-self of Buddhism — in the posturings we devise in the face of conflicts. We cannot substantiate the claim that our positions are quite so nonnegotiable once compassion and wisdom bathe them fully. We look with mild amusement at what once seemed so enormous, and we let go of our seriousness, finally having recognized it as a form of pain. Now pain opens in a new way and leads to compassion and change, not blame and shame.
Btw, I'm also offering a free conversation to chat with me if you feel like you are going through a trying times and need someone to accompany, clarify and keep you encouraged :-) Do reach out, please.