Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mind Change Day 10: Issues with Anger

I got stuck on Stage 2, over and over. Of all the writing on mind-body syndrome, the tone and examples and even judgments about anger are the toughest fit for me. It is not that I'm not angry; I am. It's that the experience and expression of anger is often substantially different between men and women.

This isn't as true for other emotions, in my experience. Anxiety, surprise, happiness, sadness--the variance is less. An anxious man and woman can share what's going on inside them, see it in the other's stiffness, and know that the other person is feeling a similar kind of crappiness.

But anger has more gender-specific conduits in our culture, and having a guy tell me what I should feel or do with these emotions--it's like a grating off-key song. And as it turns out, every one of the MBS gurus is male, and they all say the same general thing about anger: that it drives MBS. And I don't dispute this. But the mechanism by which this happens doesn't fit well for me, nor do most of the examples or exercises. They're like men's clothes sizes--I'm a medium in all my clothes but if I picked up a man's medium it wouldn't fit right. I could wear it but it would be baggy and hang wrong.

As it turns out, men also wrote all of the outside reading so far for the DOCC program (i.e. The Talent Code and Feeling Good, both of which thank other men in their introductions for setting them on their path), and designed the Hoffman Process that Dr. Hanscom recommends. Regarding anger (and logic), it makes sense that men would respond to a strong male voice on the subject; a woman's take might sound off-key.

I'll give just one example of what I mean. I worked in psychiatric hospitals for fifteen years, usually in a unit leadership position but also within a clinical team of professionals guiding individual treatment. In both capacities, this is how things typically went:

  • Child A is having extreme behaviors--aggression towards them selves, other kids or staff
  • There's a disagreement within the treatment team about what to do, based on what the person speaking sees as the cause and most likely course if staff choose Intervention X over Y. 
  • The men who feel their viewpoint isn't being given proper weight make angry predictions
  • The women who feel their viewpoint isn't being given proper weight express anxiety over safety
In both situations, the problem faced is the same, along with the threat. And it doesn't matter whether the person speaking is advocating for a more or less restrictive intervention. Listening to hundreds of these discussions, the men on opposite sides of the debate sounded more alike (angry) than they did to women on the same side (who sounded anxious). 

So I went looking outside of the MBS paradigm to think and learn more about anger, looking at gender differences. I found research that found that women do tend to handle anger differently, but if they mask it or suppress it without being aware of it they are as likely as men to develop panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.

I also read different takes on anger one at the PBS This Emotional Life site, where Dr. Robert Altman writes on the connection between stress, anger management and cardiac health, which I think of as more of a "guy take" on anger. Then there are three women and they speak directly to me:

  • Dr, Patience Bloom, writing of her experience with trauma and rage in Columbia, and her observation that anger was not usually the root emotion; it was fear. She also gave an anger management "twist" by addressing it as resentment and putting it into what is clearly recognizable as a more female voice even though the steps are almost identical to the DOCC model: 
Write down who or what your are resentful towards.  Then go through and write down what you’re angry about, how does the resentment affect you and those around you, what does it do FOR you, and then write down what the benefits would be of letting go of those feelings. 

Here’s an example from my own list:

I am resentful at: Sarah (not her real name)
The reason: She said, “Congratulations! I didn’t know you were expecting!” I was actually four-years postpartum. (that outfit has long been retired)
What does the resentment do to me? It makes me irritated because every time I go to my son’s school, I get self-conscious about what I am going to wear. That makes it more difficult to get myself out of the house, which then causes me to rush the kids and bark orders, making me not a very nice mom.
What does holding on to it do FOR me? It helps me feel better than her “Can you believe she said something like that? I would never say something like that.” (Oh, and that makes me a liar as well!)
What are the benefits to myself and those around me of letting this go?  I can move on, have more peace in the household, not be obsessed with my body, feel like I am setting a good example of forgiveness and be more likely to teach my kids how to really get over things by practicing it myself. (and, I’ll feel a little less hypocritical when I give professional advice!)
One of my more disagreeable faults is my irritability. I lose my temper easily; I “speak in a mean voice” as my daughters describe it; I become impatient and act annoyed; I feel anxious about something, so I snap at my family; I feel criticized, so I lash out.
[The red is mine, to show all the words she uses instead of anger, which she later addresses here:]

But sometimes, I’ll be feeling normal enough, and some comment will come flying out of my mouth, with a harsh edge that surprises me as much as anyone. I don’t think I’m repressing huge amounts of rage, I think I’m just irritable. But where does that irritability come from?
In my case, I think that a potent source of anger is my desire for control, or perfectionism. I feel angry when people (like my husband and children) don’t do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it, how I want them to do it. And I feel angry when I don’t have control, or can’t do things perfectly, myself. Even with little things.
But these were just beginner steps. I then went to the library and looked for a book on anger by a woman. No go (all 18 were by men as either the sole or joint author). I then checked Amazon--go ahead, try it yourself. On the first two pages of results there was only one book by a woman, and it was aimed at children. On the third was this book: 

The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace by Marcia Cannon

See the difference?

So, if the DOCC model on anger works for you, then use it. That is by far the easiest course. The entirety of Stage 2 is Dealing with Anger, and I did. Do. Will continue to work on. 

But it doesn't look like the book. 

I'll show you tomorrow.

Love, Lisa

No comments:

Post a Comment