On Being Mad

Get ready, I'm about to change the way you think about the phrase, "madly in love"...

Get ready, I’m about to change the way you think about the phrase, “madly in love”…

Just go with me on this. Loving someone is all about being mad at them. How it took my 34 years to realize this is beyond me. I’ve always thought that the best way we can love someone is it to be supportive, trusting, intimate, nurturing, forgiving- those kinds of things. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important, vital, even, to sustaining a healthy and loving relationship. But I dare you to take it a step deeper. I dare you to get mad.

Expressing our feelings is hard. No matter who you are. I’m a therapist and even my struggle is real hot mess when it comes to expressing and being in love. There’s a huge element of vulnerability in telling someone that you like them, that you support them, that you care for them, that you have feelings for them. That stuff is hard. But you know what’s even harder? Telling someone that they hurt you.

People hurt people. It happens.

I’m not here to tell you why we do that. If I had that answer there’d probably be a hell of a lot more people following my blog. I have no idea why we do that. Sure, we could forage through psychology and history to get some old dead dude’s ironically accurate take on the whole thing, but honestly, for the purpose of this point, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter why we get angry, it just matters that we do. We all do it. And if you are trying to argue with me that you “don’t get angry”, I’d double dare you to take a good look inside yourself. Because I used to say that too. I used to believe that I was somehow blessedly born void of the anger gene. I liked not getting angry. I found peace in abstaining from conflict. That worked for me. It worked for me until it didn’t.

What I have realized this past year is that anger is innate and essential to living. It has a real purpose, and we all have it. Sorry folks, but we are not immune. How did I learn this? Sorry to all of the old dead dudes that I read about in grad school, but I found this in a kindergarten classroom.

Kindergarten classroom guidance is all about building emotional intelligence and vocabulary. Its about learning to identify how you feel and then putting a word or concept to it so that it can be expressed clearly to others so that you can get your needs met. Sounds simple really. It’s also about helping kids understand that you can have more than one feeling at a time, and that sometimes your feelings get confused. Sometimes you feel sad when you are angry. Sometimes you feel angry when you are sad.

Wait, what? Hold on. 

Let me pause this kindergarten lesson to make sure I understood that right. So if sometimes we confuse sadness with anger, then would that mean that possibly I have been angry I just didn’t realize it? Ding Ding Ding. Thirty four years of life, studying, more studying, therapy and more therapy, and it all it takes is a kindergarten lesson for me to realize that I really do get angry. And so does everyone else. Mind. Blown.

Once I had this grand revelation that I actually do possess the anger gene (if there is such a thing then, sorry to tell ya, we all have it) I had to figure out what part it plays in my life. I learned that it is one of the scariest most terrifying, most loving and peace producing emotions that we can ever experience.

You see, all people get mad at people. I get mad at my friends, they get mad at me. I get mad at my parents, they get mad at me. I get mad at a significant other, and they get mad at me. Its human nature. Its okay to talk about it. Its okay to acknowledge it. And its imperative to express it. Because its there. Period.

Once we know its there we can start to realize the power that lies within our anger. We typically think of this as something that is dangerous- something that needs to be managed or suppressed. Some of us (me speaking) have even been taught to suppress it before we ever got to experience it. Because anger is dangerous. But, my darling, so is love.

Love is extremely dangerous.

Love is so unpredictable that it can at the same time be eerily predictable. Love doesn’t always make sense. Love is explosive. Love is untamed. But when love is real, love is also a haven. An anchor. An answer to chaos. Its a place where nothing makes sense, but that makes complete sense. Its a place where all of your nonsense makes sense and that doesn’t make sense but it totally does. Its a place of trust.

Nothing takes more trust than throwing your emotions in patterns on a screen and trusting that the person watching truly does understand exactly what you mean. (I couldn’t write this post without a T.S. Eliot reference) Love is being able to be mad and knowing that ts okay. Its being able to say that you’re mad. Being able to hear it when someone tells you that they’re mad. Being able to love them more for their trusting ability to say that to you. And being able to know that, because they love you, they can handle it. As can you.

Conveying our anger is an act of love. Pure and simple. Sure, there are both adaptive and maladaptive ways of doing so- some more palatable than others, but expressing our feelings, ANY and ALL of our feelings is being true to ourselves and to the people we love. There is an immense amount of security that comes from being able to tell someone that they hurt you and receiving a loving response. But there is also a tremendous amount of pain that comes from telling someone they hurt you and being invalidated. In fact, that pain is so potentially dreadful and debilitating that we have learned to run from it at all costs. We have learned to forgo the potential security in order to protect us from falling apart. At least that’s what I did.

 It’s all of that.

It takes a strong and vulnerable trust to be able to put yourself out there in that way. To know that you will be heard and respected. But isn’t that what love is anyway? Love is strong, and vulnerable, and heard, and respected. It’s all of that. If we love someone, and we believe that they love us in return, then shielding them from our anger is shortchanging the relationship by not being our true authentic selves. We need to muster the courage to listen to our belief in love and know that we are allowed to express ourselves openly in our relationships.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that we should walk around yelling, screaming, kicking or hitting the people that we love. The ways we go about expressing our anger is a whole different topic for a whole different post. What I am saying is that, getting mad and feeling anger towards the people that you love the most (and expressing it appropriately) is one of the most real, most genuine, most trusting, and most important things that you can do in any relationship. Period

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