About six months ago I wrote a story entitled A Journey Begins.* If you read it you may remember that I lost my temper with a neighbor and had to face the fact that I had some big anger issues. The soul searching that followed made me realize I needed professional help to find out why I was so angry and what I could do to feel less so. I had just begun counseling when I wrote that story; today I’ll share an update on my progress so far.
I feel incredibly grateful to have been matched with my counselor, Angie, because I’ve come to view her as a trusted friend. When I arrive at her cozy little office each week, she says, “Where are we starting today?” I begin talking about whatever is on my mind at the moment. She listens carefully, then asks me questions designed to help me understand why certain things upset me. During our conversations, she frequently directs my attention back to something I told her about at our very first meeting.
It was an event that took place when I was 4 years old, on a regrettable day when my dad made a serious parenting mistake. We were having a nice afternoon together until I did something, in innocence, that he considered to be dishonest. He corrected me in a way that was inappropriate for a child of my age. He didn’t hit me, he didn’t even yell at me—and he absolutely wasn’t trying to hurt me, but he did. His overreaction wounded me deeply. It made me feel misunderstood, ashamed and unloved—and it permanently ruined my relationship with him.
Through counseling I’ve been able to see how the pain I experienced that day has negatively affected me every day since. It has distorted the way I view myself and it has made relationships difficult. Counseling is helping me accept that what happened wasn’t my fault and that I don’t have to let it keep hurting me. (Believe me—I am so ready for it to stop!)
I don’t understand how the process of counseling works, how talking about the pain of the past, giving it its “day in court” so to speak, somehow—little-by-little—is taking the sting out of it.
But it is.
Has it fixed my anger issues?
No. Not completely. Not yet.
But I’m finding I’m better able to figure out why certain things make me angry, and that is a huge step forward. When I have an occasional angry melt-down, I ask myself the kind of questions I think Angie would ask me. I’m learning to connect the dots back to things that hurt me in the past. I’m learning to be my own counselor, which is empowering.
I didn’t plan to include the following story (it’s kind of humiliating), but in the spirit of full disclosure, here goes.
It happened one day earlier this week. The weather was rainy and dismal and I’d started the day feeling a bit depressed. I decided to go to the gym to get some exercise, which always makes me feel better. I was enjoying a brisk walk on a treadmill, listening to upbeat music. My endorphins were working their magic on my mood and I was feeling happier. Then a young woman got on the treadmill next to mine. She began walking—and talking—carrying on a phone conversation via a headset. Even with ear buds in and music playing, I could hear her conversation. It was distracting and it was taking the pleasure out of my workout. I tried to ignore it, hoping she’d hang up. But after ten minutes I paused my machine and turned and asked her if she planned on talking the whole time she was exercising. I didn’t mean to sound angry, however, it’s hard not to sound angry when you are angry! She did not respond well to my question. After we exchanged a few heated words, she stopped her walk and moved to a treadmill on the other side of the room.
I felt miserable.
I was even angrier with myself than I had been with her.
As I finished my walk, which wasn’t feeling very uplifting any more, I tried to understand why I had become so angry. I considered the fact that by talking on the phone she had been breaking a rule. (There are signs all over the building stating that cell phone conversations are prohibited in the workout area.) It occurred to me that my anger is often triggered by rule-breakers. And then I had a true “aha!” moment: the day my dad and I had our falling out, he punished me for breaking a rule I didn’t understand and didn’t even know existed. Since I was punished for breaking a rule—and it hurt me so badly—it makes sense that I see it as unfair when other people get away with breaking rules.
(I can’t wait to tell Angie!)
Normally, I’d be mad at myself for several days after an incident like the one at the gym, but cracking the code on why I got so upset proved to me that I’m making progress—that I’m closer to getting victory over my anger issues. I did feel bad about it for a few hours, but then I was able to let it go because counseling is teaching me that there is no merit in feeling ashamed and berating myself because I’ve had a setback will never help me.
But understanding will.
And I’m getting there.
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