As anger has been the most pressing issue on my mind for the last week or so, I have made a few insights into my own struggle with it. I went home last night to find yet another pile of vomit staining my poor white rug. I was livid. I was distraught. I was angry with my dog, and I was angry at myself for being angry at my dog. When I tried to temper my fury with the idea that this was perhaps a test that the universe was giving to me to help me grow, I even became mad at the universe, despite how ridiculous that sounds.
Eating my dinner grumpily, I realized how unfair it was for me to allow something so trivial to ruin TWO days of my life. How absurd was it that as I ate a delicious, nutritious, freshly made meal, in my warm, well lit house, all I could think about was a vomit stain ruining a $40 rug? Why was it so easy for my mind to ruminate on that irrelevant irritation than on all of the other things that make me more fortunate than the majority of the global population? As I tried to shift my heart into gratitude gear, I realized that I still was overlooking the things that I’m grateful for. Instead I was using those very things as a club to beat myself over the head and invalidate my own emotions.
One of the main things that makes me feel more overwhelmed when I encounter these rather small inconveniences is the fear that if these things can cause me so much distress, how on earth will I be able to handle a true problem, loss, or acute suffering when it inevitably finds me? This thought always compounds my anger and inner suffering. Yet, a moment later, I began to consider that I had faced much greater hardships in the past. Somehow it seems like I’m actually better at handling serious issues than inconsequential ones. And I think I finally understand why.
While losing money or being personally inconvenienced isn’t as big of a problem as losing a loved one or some similar catastrophic life event, there is one significant difference. When it’s a small thing, I make it much worse than it is by berating myself for my reaction. That initial flare of anger or sadness is multiplied and prolonged by my reaction to those emotions. “You are being such a petulant child.” “You are so ungrateful.” “You are so stupid and weak to be crying over this.” “You should be ashamed of yourself.” These are the thoughts that cycle through my head on such occasions. It creates a viscous feedback loop that leaves me reeling for hours if not days at a time.
When the man I believed was my soulmate abruptly abandoned me in 2016, I was calm and collected comparatively. I’ve always been quite proud of the way I handled that earth shattering event. So what was different? The difference was that I was there for myself. My pain was not being magnified by my own self-rejection and harsh inner critic. That’s when I realized that nothing hurts worse than turning your back on yourself. As long as we have our own support, we can get through anything.
When something major occurs, my emotions, no matter how intense, feel justified. I feel no need to try to deny them or push them aside. I allow myself to sit with them. I don’t pile on like I do in other situations. I offer myself compassion and understanding. Strangely enough, these are the moments when I am most loving toward myself. Despite the pain I feel, there is such immense comfort in that. I know that if I can only learn to give myself that same support for smaller things, they will no longer seem so overwhelming. Maybe I do behave like a “petulant child,” but that just means my inner child is suffering and needs to be heard. Learning to see that, I believe, has the potential to be transformative.