Tag Archives: emotion

Weather, emotion and pathetic fallacies

‘Pathetic Fallacy’ is one of those terms you run into sooner or later if you study literature. Proper definition here http://literarydevices.net/pathetic-fallacy/ but the gist of it is the mapping of human emotions onto non-human things to get the point across. The classic example would be a story with rain at a funeral. The trouble with funerals in stories is that a bit of them has to happen outside, and therefore there has to be weather, and it impacts on the experience. I remember the weather at every funeral I’ve attended, and as they were all in England, grey and damp has been the norm. The one in torrential rain was interesting because the woman we were burying loved the rain. It felt more like a blessing than an expression of grief, as a consequence. I have a lot of problems with how we put weather into stories, so bear with me while I grumble because how we relate weather and emotion is, I think, rather important.

I type this on a cold, wet day in late July. I’m of somewhat depressed mood. I do not mention the weather because it conveniently expresses something about my feelings, but because it’s influencing them. If today was sunny and dry and I could sit out for a few hours reading and watching the birds, I would be happier. Not as a poetic device, but as a direct consequence of being cheered up by sitting in the sun. It’s not a human foible, this. Most mammals are cheery when they can lounge about and be warm, and sad when they are cold and wet.

There’s a big cause and effect issue here, and a lot depends on which you think causes what. Do we only notice the weather when it speaks to us of ourselves? For me, the weather is a big contributor to mood. Too many wet grey days in a row and I’ve no chance. My being depressed can be wholly separate from the weather, but isn’t immune to it – the sun lifts me, no matter what else is going on.

Inevitably there’s an overlap, because most of us aren’t trained in the use of precise meteorological language, and so are unlikely to talk about low fronts, wind speeds, and the number of centimetres of rain falling in a month. If the weather impacts on us, it does so as an immediate experience. I think because it’s emotionally affecting, we are more likely to frame it in emotional language. Thus a fast wind can seem angry, vengeful, violent simply because of what it does (tearing things and throwing them about) and how it affects us. I do not need to be experiencing inner rage or violence to find the wind threatening simply because of what it can do. If it drops a tree on me, I’m in trouble.

Warm, sunny days seem benevolent, and again I don’t think that’s about imposing a human sentiment onto the world. Sun powers the growth of plants and is the driving force of most ecosystems and life on earth. It seems reasonable to experience it as something benevolent. Rain after drought can also seem benevolent – and is equally life restoring, while torrential rain and flooding are literal threats and easily represented by more aggressive language.

I spend a lot of time watching whirlwinds. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I live in a place that gets them regularly. Tiny whirlwinds a foot or two across that play with the leaf litter. I can see a dozen in a week and it not be unusual. They fascinate me, and regardless of my mood, I see them as playful. If I am full of misery and the world seems a cruel and hostile place, the sun is still benevolent, and the whirlwinds are still playful. My sense of their emotional impact has nothing to do with my inner state, which is a big part of why I question the logic of the pathetic fallacy. I think the deliberate use of, and the inferring of the pathetic fallacy can be about a dislocation from lived experiences of weather and a failure to recognise that all fictional characters need to inhabit places with climates in order to be fully functioning people. They are an opportunity to explore the impact of weather on the psyche, but doing so should not automatically cast weather as reflections of an inner life. It can be deliberately used that way, but I don’t like it as either a strategy or an inference.

(This is a slightly unusual blog post in that it is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, that started over an as-yet unpublished novel of mine, in which there is a lot of rain. The relationship between rain and the inner lives of the characters is important to me, but for me this is not about weather as reflection of inner landscape. John, as ever, thank you for the prompts to go further and think more about things.)

Sitting with anger

My normal response to anger is to crush it down, denying the feelings and giving them no space. If it does manifest, depression, or the more immediate tears of frustration are likely. I’ve lived in spaces where everything was dependably my fault, and also learned how to work that out for myself – it saved a lot of time and stress, where expressing anger would lead to a lengthy, miserable browbeating and the same sorry outcome.

Other people work differently with anger. I have been on the receiving end of anger as justification for action. I’ve been shouted at because I had ‘made people angry’ and I’ve been hit in that context, too. I’ve felt physically very threatened by other people’s anger. What happens here is that the feeling of anger is identified as being caused by the other person, which justifies anything you do to them in response. I never want to do that, so what does that leave me in terms of handling rage when it erupts within me?

I’ve been trying a thing. I get myself some space as quickly as I can, while the anger is still boiling and fresh. I sit with it, and I listen to where it’s coming from, and I ask questions. Why, exactly, am I angry? The mostly likely answer is that I feel threatened and vulnerable, my anger an attempt at defence. I may feel ignored, put upon or mildly mistreated. I might be reacting to injustice. It’s entirely possible that someone has pushed an old button for me, and done so in all innocence. Like a small child, I keep asking why. Why does that hurt? Why does that threaten me? Why am I offended?

By this means, if I am trying to defend wounded pride or justify being in the wrong, I eventually face up to this without savaging anyone else, first. If I am dealing with a triggering of history, I spot it, and do not swipe back at someone who, from their perspective, really wasn’t intending any harm. Last but by no means least, if my careful reflection identifies someone who really was taking the piss, I firm up my boundaries and calmly work out exactly how best to deal with it. On the whole this is getting me results I am happy with.

Anger denied and anger not permitted makes a person vulnerable. If you can’t fend off what isn’t welcome, you are settling into a victim role and are easily mistreated. It’s not a way to live. Anger denied has, for me, largely transformed into self hatred, and I’ve carried destructive levels of self-loathing for a long time. Maybe I don’t have to be that person any more. When I let myself get angry for the right reasons, think it through and take non-violent and productive action, I feel better in myself. I feel stronger, safer, more capable. With time I think I could stop carrying this internalised violence towards myself that has come from swallowing other people’s aggression. Worth a shot at any rate.

(Previous ponders of anger are here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/anger-management/ and here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/angry-druid/ )

Being useful

I need to feel useful. I have been told off a number of times for this, because my saying that I need to feel useful can be taken as meaning that I feel everyone should only be valued in terms of their use. That conflation isn’t helpful, nor is it true. “I need to feel useful” is a personal statement. What anyone else needs to feel is their own business, but I think most people prefer to feel valued on some basis or another, and this is mine.

What happens when I’m told I shouldn’t feel this way? Does it magically enable me to develop a sense of self-esteem that has nothing to do with utility and external validation? No, it does not. I’ve tried. I’ve poked this issue repeatedly. Having taken on board that I *should* have a sense of self worth not dependent on utility, I have done all the things in the books that *should* lead to this, and they do not. It’s a bit like being told your body should be able to do the things an appendix does (storing useful bacteria, apparently) when you do not have an appendix.

So, not only do I get to feel useless when there’s a lack of external validation, I get to feel doubly useless for being the kind of person who needed to feel useful in the first place. I don’t find that terribly helpful, and I’m prepared to bet this isn’t just a ‘me’ thing and that others will have comparable experiences.

One of the most basic things that enables self esteem, and lets us feel like proper people, is being entitled to our own emotional responses. Some of us have emotional responses that do not make much sense to other people or are not, apparently, how we are “supposed” to feel. However, the moment you tell me that my feelings are wrong, or invalid, you take something away from me. You are not helping me build towards a better, healthier state of mind (although I bet you think you are). What you’re doing is crushing me further, undermining what sense of self I have, invalidating my responses and making me feel even more of a person-fail then I did at the start. Please stop doing this!

No emotional response is wrong. It may be problematic, it may be based on faulty thinking, it may be counterproductive, but it is still the emotional response that I’ve got right now, and I need to start from where I am. Being told I should not feel a thing in a certain way is destructive. If I am not entitled to feel how I feel, I am not entitled to be a person. It may be inconvenient for you. It may make you feel uncomfortable. You may not like it. This is fine, and you are entitled to all those responses, and to walk away from me if needs be, but you are not entitled to tell me that my emotions are wrong.

Telling someone they are not entitled to feel a certain way does not lead to healing. It does not open them up to better and happier ways of being. It does not cure, or restore or uplift or inspire. It crushes and demoralises and dehumanises and will make them shut up about how they were feeling. If it’s just that you didn’t like what you were hearing and want to make the problem go away, making the afflicted person shut up may strike you as being a win. From the perspective of the other person, it is a lose, and a big one.

I need to feel useful. I am not going to apologise for this anymore. I need to feel useful in order to function as a person. I have very little need for manifest utility in the people around me, but if you are interested in playing a useful role in my life, the best thing, the most generous thing you could do would be to accept me as I am, and help me find the things that let me function, rather than telling me I should not feel like this in the first place.

Emotional Honesty

One of the things that matters to me is space in which I can be present to and authentic around my own emotional responses. Interestingly, I gather I can come across as a bit ‘heart on sleeve’ with this blog. That troubles me slightly, because this is so such a construct. What goes here is not the raw experience of the moment, but something I’ve had time to process, reflect on and squeeze into some kind of shape. My actual emotionality is a lot more immediate, but I’m a big fan of thinking about feeling and seeking to understand the currents of my own emotions.

There are many situations in which emotional honesty may not seem appropriate. Work situations would be an obvious example. Nonetheless, I’ve watched over the last few months how my emotional state impacts on my ability to work well. When I feel happy, am engaged with the work, feel emotionally secure and emotionally rewarded, I get a lot more done and the quality of my output is better. On the other hand, if workspaces are triggery and I feel that people are trying to control me, I can kick off into anxiety and my productivity decreases. I took the choice last week to be honest about this with someone I work with, and I think it’s going to help, but it was nonetheless an unnerving decision to contemplate. At work, we are not supposed to feel.

There are many human interactions that do not prompt strong emotional responses in me at all. I quite enjoy the fleeting contact I get with people who I feel neutral about. It can be easy and pleasant. I know it’s not providing what I most need, but the emotional connections are often difficult, and as risky as they are rewarding.

It is the human contact rooted in things that matter to me that tends to be the most emotionally affecting. I’ve always formed deep bonds with people I share music with. There’s a level of engagement in shared music that can transcend normal interaction and become very much an emotional dialogue. There used to be a few people in my life with whom I had that level of intensity and openness when we were playing together, and I’ve missed it. People with the technical skill and the open heart are not many, but there are some on my radar and I wait to see what happens.

My creative collaborations have always engendered a high degree of exposure of self and soul. Tom was my artist long before he was my lover, and it was the intensity of the shared working that drew us together. Other collaborations have brought deep friendship and potent connections. Where there is flow and trust, where no one needs to be in control and there is respect between participants, creative collaborations are wonderful things.

The trouble is, it doesn’t always go like that, and until you get in and try, it’s not obvious which way things might go. Creative partners can also turn out to be possessive, resentful of other people’s successes, jealous of the skills of their creative significant other. Co-creators can be paranoid, or control freaks, or both. It can turn out that one of them is aiming to ride on the coat tails of the other. That stuff hurts. It makes it harder to trust anyone, and harder to trust your judgement about who might be equal to those deeper, more involved connections.

I started last summer with my soul just beneath the surface of my skin, with my heart open, ready to trust and to try. I did not place that trust very well, and I’ve had to step back. It may well be that the people I should have chosen to work with have suffered as a consequence. I messed up. I put my faith in the wrong people, and it left me needing to retreat and regroup, to lick wounds, consider the bruising and try to work out what I actually want.

I do want those creative connections. I want people in my life I can trust and share with, where there is flow and connection, trust, respect and good things happen. I want those magical moments of finding myself on exactly the same wavelength as the person I’m with, where the ideas are streaming along. My two regular creative partners, Tom and Paul, have simply weathered my falling apart these last few months and supported me. I do not need to be cautious with them, and I will go back to those spaces, open hearted and ready to make stuff. I’ve had time to reflect, and have decided I’ll take the bruises and setbacks rather than protecting myself by not risking it. I’ll try to pick more carefully. What I want are people who see the heart on the sleeve and dare to show me theirs, rather than reaching for something to cut mine with.

The dark side

We were walking, and I mentioned to my companion that he is one of the few people I really trust. He warned me, half-jokingly, that there is a much darker side to his nature, one that isn’t usually visible. I knew this. I asked him if he had considered the possibility that I trust him because I can see that in him.

We all have threads of darkness in our psyches. We all have impulses towards all manner of things that aren’t socially acceptable, aren’t good for us, or safe, tame, or clever. What I’ve found along the way is that a lot of people are totally in denial about this. It’s natural enough to want to present to the world as something made of goodness and loveliness, but the denial of the dark side tends to result in problems. I think much of the hypocrisy we see in both religious and secular hierarchies can be blamed on this refusal to recognise the dark.

When you don’t admit to those troubling impulses, they do not magically go away. What can happen instead, is layers of denial, justification, warping your view of the world to make it possible to keep believing that you are good and right. A person intent on denying the darkness within themselves can be tremendously damaging to encounter.

On the other hand, someone like my aforementioned friend, who knows their darkness, can be a lot safer to be round. They won’t be acting out of repressed impulses. Furthermore, if a person who owns their darkness messes up, it can be talked about, because they aren’t afraid to admit their capacity for that which is a problem. That way lies solutions.

I know my darkness. I’m obsessive. I have a huge capacity for rage and anger, which can manifest in really destructive ways. For the greater part, that tends to be turned against me, because that seems safer and more appropriate than unleashing it on the people who inspire it. I’ve mostly healed from what I did to myself the last time that happened. It is ok so long as I can keep it secret and hidden, but the problem with that method, is that if someone who cares for me sees the very literal damage my rage inflicts, that too is painful for them. There are no easy answers.

I know how to cause pain. I have an absolute knack for working out exactly where a person is vulnerable and where to hit them for maximum effect. I can hold resentment for years. I also have a dark and twisted imagination, allowing me to envisage hideous things. The inside of my head is full of monsters.

All of these things, if buried and left to fester would make me an absolute nightmare of a person. If I tried to pretend I did not do them, I could not guard against them or manage them. In owning them, I am able to work with them. Obsession can be unhealthy, but it also gives me a lot of power to harness for getting things done. The same is true of the rage, which I’m finding political outlets for. The tools that make a torturer can be used other ways, the desire to cut people up might make you into a good surgeon rather than a psychopath. That I can see how to hurt people can be turned around sometimes, allowing me to also see how to help. And that dark imagination, full of fear and horrors, is useful for being an author. I write stories, and nobody in the real world dies.

The irrational ones

Don’t worry about her; she’s irrational. A bit melodramatic. She tends to over-react, bless her, so you’ve got to take everything she says with a pinch of salt. Over blown. Over emotional. Unstable.

Then, when you find her crying, you won’t take her seriously. If she gets angry, you won’t really listen because hey, she’s a bit over the top, no point adding to it. If she says she is hurt, you’ll know it’s because she’s hypersensitive.

It works the other way too: She’s an ice queen. She’s totally unemotional, cold, hard, logical and manipulative. If she cries, its only because she wants something. If she expresses emotion at all, it is just a ploy to make you do what she wants. And so again, you don’t see and you don’t hear, because you’ve already written her off.

‘Her’ in both cases, would have been me, but undoubtedly not just me. These methods for diminishing a person tend to be entirely deliberate. They serve a purpose. By invalidating a person’s emotional responses, you make it easy to treat as irrelevant anything they are unhappy about. If you want to hurt someone, this makes life a lot easier. It is so important not to buy these stories, because any time you do, the odds are very good that you’ve just enabled an abuser to carry on mistreating their victim.

Along the way I’ve met people with hair trigger responses, to tears and temper alike. I’ve met people who are touchy, moody, easily affected, and while I accept that means their responses may be sudden, unexpected and intense, this does not invalidate them. We all feel things differently. There is nothing wrong with turning out to feel more, or less than the next person does. The odds are there will always be more difference than similarity on this one.

Many abusers are able to get away with what they do precisely because they persuade so many other people to buy into their story. The victim, hearing the same thing on every side ‘you’re just over reacting, it’s no big deal’ learns they cannot trust their own judgement. You stop thinking you can tell, you doubt your own decision-making capacity, and maybe start to feel like you are going mad. You lie there, bruised and sobbing, telling yourself to pull yourself together and stop making such a fuss. It wasn’t that big an insult… just a shove, not really a punch…it was just words… maybe they didn’t mean it that way. And all the time, the abuser sharpens their knives and keeps laughing.

Be careful with other people’s stories, especially stories that invalidate someone’s feelings. They are often not quite what they seem to be.

Talking about love

I’m currently reading Tiziana Stupia’s breathtaking spiritual autobiography, Meeting Shiva. It is a book very much about the interplay between spirituality and love, and it raised a really important issue for me: We don’t talk about relationships much. As a culture, we talk a bit about sex and attraction, usually through the medium of glossy magazines aimed at women. We have romance and erotica genres that are for the greater part, total fantasy, selling us ideas of love and relationship that cannot be lived up to in practice. We also get dramas and soap operas, which give us images of shouty, dysfunctional relationships in a way that tends to normalise unhealthy behaviour.

Much of what we learn about love, we learn in the contexts of our own families. This means that we can absorb all manner of odd and unhelpful things as normal. Hangovers from Victorian ideals about the stiff upper lip, religious impacts on gender relations… habits of control, battles of the sexes, and on it goes. We learn how to be in relationships with other people only by doing it, and often we mess up, which causes a lot of pain.

If I had talked about my experiences during my first marriage, there is every chance someone could have helped me challenge what was happening. One of my big problems was the belief that I deserved how I was being treated. The experience of being treated as a useless, difficult, unreasonable, demanding person eroded my self-esteem. Only when I dared to take that shamed and humiliated sense of self to someone else, did I get the opportunity to hear a different story. I haven’t felt like an unreasonable nuisance for years now.

In the heat of a relationship, working out what is fair and reasonable isn’t always easy. Emotions colour interpretation, the desire to please and to be loved can warp our thinking. Been there, done that. Talking to other people helps improve perspective. Often its easier to think clearly about the less immediate issues of someone else’s love life.

We’re taught to expect happily ever after, to believe that true love is easy and requires no work, and to assume, when things are tricky, that maybe they just weren’t ‘the one’. Some of us are taught that love is owed to us, while others learn that we have to jump through hoops just to be tolerated. We learn a lot of crap, then we take it to each new relationship and wonder why there seems to be a lot of crap in the mix. We learn passive aggressive tricks and ways to manipulate, we keep score, we make contracts, and all of these pretty normal things are destructive.

There are things love needs in order to thrive. These are not the things suggested by rom coms or commercials. Trust. Honesty. Care. Respect. If you don’t have those, you don’t have anything. They won’t fall into place over night, all of them. They have to be earned, built and developed. We have to be willing to be vulnerable with each other, to share the bits of us we are less fond of, and acknowledge they exist. We have to accept that our significant other won’t be perfect, and also that our loving them will not magically change them, or put right everything wrong in their lives. We have to know that they cannot save us, heal us, or wave any other kind of magic wand. The love and support of another person can be tremendously helpful, nurturing and healing, but it won’t do the job for you. No one should expect their partner to change for them or because of them. No one should expect their partner to stay the same forever, either. And yet both expectations are held by many people.

I’m convinced a lot of the problem is that we just don’t air this stuff enough. We need to get away from fantasy stories about love affairs where, once the ridiculous setback is overcome, it all falls neatly into place. We need to stop believing in magical princes destined to kiss all traces of frog out of us, and find some new kinds of stories, or possibly old kinds of stories, that have a bit more reality in them. Happily Ever After is not just a lie, it stops us exploring all the other stories about what happens along the way, how you cope with it, and how to build the good stuff and nurture a relationship.

How we love can be a profound facet of our spiritual lives. Equally, messed up love affairs can be spiritually crushing. So many religions focus on who you are allowed to love and on what terms. Druidry should be much more about doing it well, with soul and integrity.

Too much

One of the things I like about blogging, is that if I prove too much, I don’t have to watch any given individual trying to back away from me. Out here in my actual life, that has always been an issue. I keep the majority of people I know at a careful arm’s length, I’ll give you a light hearted, moderately serious, Nimue, and I may in fact come over as a bit cold, aloof and poker-faced. There have been people in my life who, due to this, thought I was incapable of feeling emotion in the first place. I have a fair capacity for self-control when needs be, but even in that I am often too much.

I was fourteen the first time someone told me I was too much: too serious, not enough fun. It’s been a recurring theme, and in my darker moments, it is often those events that come back to haunt me. The looks on people’s faces, tones of voice, words uttered. I was less cautious as a young human, more willing to risk my heart in the quest to find someone, anyone, who could accept me as I am. By the time I reached my early twenties, I had stopped believing that was even possible, and started learning how to hide it.

I feel everything keenly. I’m not good at casual disinterest, I take everything to heart, and despite more than a decade in the flaying realities of the publishing world, I have never grown a thick skin. Everything gets in. I feel my own shortcomings and mistakes as sharply as razor blades and what I forgive readily enough in other people, I find intolerable in me. That my actual nature causes other people distress is one of the things that has, on more occasions than I care to number, left me wondering if the world would be a happier place were I to absent myself from it. I mention this because I am fairly confident that a couple of the people who read this blog have crawled into similar pits, and might be able to view that differently for hearing it from someone else.

In the Druid community, I have found there are other people who love and cry and whoop to excess. I’ve found at least the possibility of being acceptable, and sometimes the definite, tested reality of it. In my bloke, I have found someone who will gladly accept what I have to give and who is able to see what I am as a good thing, not a problem. Beauty and the Beast is a story that has always resonated with me, but I never cast myself as the pretty one in that arrangement. The person who can see you as you are, monsters and all, and love that, not in the hopes that it will magically transform you into a Disney prince or princess… that person is a rare and precious find. You exist, you brave and beautiful people who are not horrified by intensity, by passion and dedication and who will not be shocked into running away if I say ‘I love you’. And I do love you, a great deal.

To those of you who howl, and who cry until snot comes out of your nose. To those of you who can laugh so much you end up quite literally rolling about on the floor. To those of you whose happy dance is not a typed comment, but a real, leaping exuberant mania cast into the world to offended the jaded apathy of the many… I salute you. There are days when just knowing that you are out there, mad and chaotic, wild, daring, passionate and not cowed yet, makes it possible to keep going. I’m not going to name check you, but I hope you know who you are and what you mean to me.

Emotional Pain and Sanity

My recent blog about psychological violence elicited a very good point from Robin Herne – namely the way in which more New Agey approaches to life suggest that it’s up to us not to feel hurt or upset. We shouldn’t in this system, need or want to experience pain, and we can let it pass over us, and not be affected. This is an approach that facilitates bullying, and is often deeply unhelpful. Part of the problem is the tendency towards a glib simplicity that isn’t equal to real life situations.

Firstly there’s the issue that being able to cheerfully ignore that which might hurt, is insane, and not something to aspire to. We need negative feedback, it tells us when we are short of the mark, actually wrong, or causing pain to others. There are few things more difficult to deal with than the person who will not hear that they are causing pain and distress. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, to be a sane and functional human being we all need to be able to hear that we’ve messed up. That can hurt. We need to take that pain on the chin, and respond to it. We also need a culture in which is it allowable to make mistakes (and therefore to learn), but that’s a whole other issue. It’s very easy to tune out the negative feedback, maintaining your inner calm through total disinterest in the feelings and needs of the rest of the world. That’s not Druidry.

Then there’s the kind of hurtful stuff that comes as a result of other people’s pain, fear, insecurity and so forth. Fragile egos and wounded souls can inflict hurt, not out of malice, but sometimes because they have no idea how to do better. The ‘do unto others before they can do unto you’ mentality. Responding in kind will further entrench hostility and increase pain all round, which helps no one. Ignoring it certainly isn’t guaranteed to make them go away, and may also reinforce erroneous beliefs. If the flailing person is your partner, parent, colleague… they need dealing with, compassionately. It requires seeing past the spikey surface and finding a way to engage with what is underneath. Think about how you might try and work with an injured wild animal, and take that as a model. Move slowly, make no sudden movements or alarming noises, be patient, expect to get bitten. People who cause hurt out of their own pain can be helped out of that place and it can be well worth the effort and the odd bite. They need to learn that not everyone is going to hurt, attack or humiliate them.

There are hurts that come because someone enjoys causing pain. I think these are often more subtle, so you won’t even notice at the time that you have been reduced. Instead, you’ll be apologising for having got it wrong again, for misunderstanding, for not being good enough, clever enough, patient enough. These are the hurts that don’t (unlike the first set) offer ways to improve. They give you a sense of failure, unworthiness, insufficiency. There’s often no sense that you could do something to fix it, either. You *are* a bad person, a waste of space, a nuisance. You can’t fix that, and they treat you accordingly no matter what you do. The hurt doesn’t necessarily come in the moment of abuse, either. It’s a slow desolation of self. If you are a never good enough child, self-esteem trampled by parents or teachers, you may never even realise there are alternatives, you just internalise how rubbish you are, and that puts spikes on the inside, that will shred you perhaps for the rest of your life. It can happen in workplaces and in relationships too, although there we stand a better chance of spotting it, but not everyone does. You can break a person and them not realise what you have done, which is truly awful.

The only way to respond to the third kind of pain, is to recognise it and get the hell out. The person who will wound you and declare you never good enough, will never be impressed or won round. They may well encourage you to think it’s possible, the eternally dangled and unreachable carrot that allows them to beat you conceptually (and sometimes literally) when they please.

Emotional pain can be dealt with productively. There’s the sort we learn from to grow and develop. If you can grow and develop by taking onboard something that hurt, then it was useful pain and you benefit from it. There is the pain caused by the suffering of others, and if you spot that and deal with it compassionately, things can improve for both you and the other one, and for people around you, too. The third kind of pain serves no purpose beyond entertaining the sadist who practices it. The only thing to do is recognise them for what they are. If you can never get it right and never be good enough, you are experiencing the kind of pain that needs not only to be ignored, but to be escaped from. The greatest agony in this can be the requirement to recognise that someone whose opinion you have respected, and you have trusted, is actually rather awful. That one hurts, and fear of that pain can keep us prisoners when we should be running away. It can be easier to internalise the blame, than face the hideousness of a corrupt soul. We can fool ourselves into thinking we can save such a person, or that they only do it out of pain, but stay there long enough and you’ll see that nothing changes – you do not become ‘good enough’ to please them and they do not become secure enough to let go of their justifications for abuse. There comes a time when sanity demands saying ‘enough’ and walking away.

The consequences of anger

Plenty of religions (and Yoda) discourage anger, but we don’t talk much beyond vague ‘bad karma’ and ‘god doesn’t like it’ ideas about the consequences of anger. There are times when rage is a good and needful thing, enabling us to change perceptions, change our lives and so forth. There are times when dramatic upheavals and huge responses are called for. The trouble is that the anger lingers on long after the moment has passed. The echoes of historical injustice, the memory of pain, can keep us trapped in a moment that has actually gone. I know because I’ve done it. Then there are the smaller things that people let themselves get angry about, and can still be bringing up years after they happened. I don’t think I do that much, but I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and yes, that makes me angry. It’s so easy to get angry with someone else’s anger, too, and escalate the thing up into something truly hideous.

I feel anger as a physical tension in my body, and there’s a definite relationship between it, and anxiety. A lot of my anxiety has to do with the things I am also angry about. I don’t want them to happen to me again. I don’t want to be a victim. I’m angry because I am afraid, and afraid because I am angry and round it goes. Live there and it will make you very, very ill. My experience of angry people suggests that a significant number (but not all) are angry defensively, trying to protect themselves from wrongs and threats, real and imagined. When the threats are real, the anger can be useful. When the threats are imagined, the anger is as dangerous to the person holding it as to anyone else. Someone who has got into the habit of feeling afraid may no longer be able to tell the difference. There are people who are determined to cast themselves in the victim role so as to justify lashing out in anger against others as well.

There are people who seem to enjoy being angry. It can, after all, feel powerful. And yes, the righteous anger that throws off the chains of slaves and brings down tyrannies is a good kind of power, but that can get addictive. Of course when we are angry we want to believe that we have the moral high ground and are entitled to hit out, with words or fists. We want to feel good about manifesting our rage. Movies are full of examples of ‘heroes’ who do just this, reinforcing our beliefs about how good it is to crush the opposition. Only it isn’t good. It leads to retaliation and feuds. It leads to broken relationships that cannot be fixed. As soon as you get into win/lose scenarios, everyone loses.
It’s not easy stepping away from what you firmly believe to be righteous indignation. That hunger for justice, that need to have your pain recognised, the desire that other people should do something about it… I’ve seen what it does. I’ve yet to see someone come out of the angry place actually happy with the outcome. It’s not about the winning, it’s about what the being angry does to you. It robs you of peace. It keeps you revisiting all the things that hurt. There comes a time to put it behind you, learn what you can and move on. Where that place is will vary depending on person and circumstance of course, it’s not for anyone else to dictate who should be ‘over it’ by now.

I’m alert to signs that people are angry because they are afraid. Sometimes those can be eased with a gentler, more careful approach. I’m not going to be angry with someone because they need me to be more careful with them – that would be pointless, and would entrench the fear. I’ve had people get angry with me on those terms, it achieves nothing good, and creates more misery. If I think someone just enjoys being angry, I’ve learned not to argue because there’s no point, it just makes them worse. Better to walk away and come back if they calm down. I’m not interested in being a whipping post.

My own anger, I am trying to turn into something else. I’m not prepared to let it keep me in an afraid place. Anger can also feed courage. It can be the motivation to stand up and say or do what is necessary – not to strike back, not to lash out or to hurt but to calmly face down and try to fix. The kind of anger that would enable me to calmly support other people who need help, and calmly not escalate things when other people are being bloody stupid. It’s not about supressing the feelings, or not experiencing anger, it’s not letting it run on and not wilfully feeding it to get to some dramatic shouty place, and not enabling the people around me to go their either. Not that I live with anyone shouty anymore, but there’s a whole world out there…