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We continue to miss the point

We all have certain things - little things we might say, pet peeves we might call them - that consistently frustrate us.

When they come up we get annoyed. We lose our patience.

On the surface, they sometimes seem arbitrary, even petty. We may wonder, why can’t we just let them go? We may get annoyed at ourselves for getting annoyed.

Left unchecked, or when we’re stressed or tired, say, these things can even move us from this mild frustration to full-blown anger. Anger that, even for these perceived little things, can feel like it takes on a life of its own causing words and actions we might otherwise avoid.

One of these for me is having to repeat myself.

It can be as simple as a bad connection on a call and the resulting what and sorry I didn’t hear you said several times over to the especially galling experience of someone asking me the same question I just answered. Whether the underlying reason understandable or not, these instances can quickly send me up a wall. And they have, many times over the years, yanked me almost beyond my will into what I perceived as unwarranted and irrational anger.

Which in turn, has caused me great angst over the years as well given the fallout I often regret.

But as it turns out these seemingly random things, things we might dismiss as little quirks of our personalities, are often rooted in something deeper.

What I have uncovered about my little quirk, for instance, is that it, in fact, triggers an oft-repeated feeling of not being heard, a feeling of being dismissed, which ultimately sends a warning to my psyche that I’m not being valued. So even when this is not always the case, in the hidden parts of my brain, the parts developed to protect my basic needs, this signal is real and entrenched.

Because our basic needs, remember, are more than just the physiological ones we think of like food, shelter, and sleep. We also have other, very real needs that must be met. Things like security and safety; like feeling valued and a sense of belonging.

When we struggle to get any of these needs met, it can trigger in us a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, to which frustration and even anger can be a perfect antidote. Anger is a powerful emotion, after all; it overcomes fear and leads to action.

Now, while I think we can all agree, that my having to start a sentence with as I said earlier is far from an imminent threat to my body or being, in the moment my brain doesn’t make that distinction. It reacts automatically and identically whether the threat is real or perceived and relies on processes that take a little conscious effort to sort things out afterward.

Given all of this then, to which I think we can mostly relate, given anger as a response to such a lack of actual threat, is it such a leap to imagine anger as a response to a very real and very present one?

Imagine what happens over time, for example, when the very people in charge of your safety, the very people entrusted to help you feel like a valued citizen, are actually the people making you feel less safe, feel less valued. That they are even the aggressors.

And imagine that you have tried over and over again to voice the resulting fear and have been met with various forms of dismissing, minimizing, placating, or outright denial. That no matter what you do to be heard your efforts are defeated despite repeated evidence that proves your point.

That your situation just does not change.

Can you imagine that meeting your basic needs then, might feel especially dire?

Can you imagine that you might also feel helpless to meet them?

Can you imagine a more natural and understandable reaction to this than anger?

This truth is right in front of our eyes, yet we seem maddeningly unable or unwilling to see it and we admonish only the action resulting from this trauma rather than the trauma itself.

My goodness. Don’t we just continue to miss the point.

If we can’t learn to look beyond the actions to unearth and address the root causes of them, then we will never get anywhere different.

Anywhere better.


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