Why does anger escalate and damage relationships that did not need to be damaged? Why are some relationships stormier than they need to be? Why is it so hard to be happy these days?
The problem is that we all feel vulnerable. Bad things happen to good people. You can be going about your day, then the randomness of life takes over. No matter how big or strong you are, life happens. People die, you get sick, stuff breaks down. No one is immune to it. All of us are vulnerable to the chaos of life. However, by trying to control the threat of vulnerability, you get out of control.
You use anger to protect yourself and hide your feelings of vulnerability in a fog of anger. All the bitter defensiveness and exaggerated hostility is a big smokescreen to fight a perceived threat. Your defenses are building a protective wall around your heart, so you can seal off your emotional pain by lashing out in attack.
Let me tell you about a man named Mike. Below is an example of how his defensiveness surfaces with his girlfriend.
Girlfriend: “Mike you’re late.”
Mine: “I’m not late. You told me to come at 8:00.”
Girlfriend: “No, I didn’t, you’re always making things up.”
Mike: “No I don’t. I’m right on time.”
Girlfriend: “Mike, why can’t you admit you’re wrong?”
Mike: “I didn’t do anything. You’re the liar”
Girlfriend: “Why do you get so defensive?”
Mike: “I’m not getting defensive.”
Girlfriend: “You are defending yourself right now.”
Mike: “No I’m not.”
Many men are like Mike. They are accused and respond with defensiveness. They are predisposed by their past to misperceive a negative, unpleasant situation as if it was an attack on their self worth. Men react by defensiveness to protect themselves from threats of attack. Such a mindless reaction makes the unpleasant anger evoking situation worse for everyone involved. Defensiveness is Mike’s well intentioned, but mistaken method of problem solving based on the following misconceptions:
- Taking a request as an attack on him, which must be defended against.
- The issue is not what time who would be where, it’s about integrity, innocence and worth as a person.
- If he says nothing then he is accepting guilt, fault, blame, and responsibility.
- Mike feels compelled to regain control by defending himself against this perceived attack on his own self-worth.
Like most men, Mike is vulnerable to taking criticisms, slights, accusations, oversights and insults more personally that he needs to take them. When this happens his anger kicks in and he feels attacked. The curious thing is he starts to take his defensive thoughts seriously as if they made sense. He feels honor-bound to assume responsibility for defending his character as if this confrontation was being held in a court of law and he was on trial for his life. The real issue is that Mike is angry. He is angry at his girlfriend for falsely accusing him. His anger is painful and the situation won’t get better until someone understands his pain and provides him with the emotional first aid that the reality of the situation requires.
What has to happen before you can relieve other’s pain? You must first identify and relieve your own. You must give yourself emotional first aid. You must stop your own bleeding before you can begin to think straight. Many men are not used to putting themselves first in their own lives, but it is entirely appropriate to make ourselves a priority under these combat conditions. You are not being selfish. Selfish begins and end with you. You take care of yourself and let everyone else be damned. Self-preservation means I take care of me so I can be there for everyone else.
To be a good husband, father, son, brother, friend, employee; you have to care for your own needs first. Self preservation is like when your on an airplane and they go over the safety instructions. Selfish is only putting your air mask in while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while you choke. Self preservation is putting on your air mask first so you can the help those around you.