Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anger Management

As to avoid diverging into a theological discussion about nature vs nurture, let's assume for the purposes of this post that both forces play an integral part in shaping us into the people we become. Would I yell and scream and throw temper tantrums if I hadn't observed that behavior somewhere along the line? Perhaps...as there certainly are genetic factors involved. However, it's more likely that my reactions are a conditioned reflex... a learned method of dealing with intense emotion...and a product of my upbringing and environment.

In my particular case, I was described by my parents and siblings as an extremely relaxed infant and toddler. I was mostly pleasant and almost never cried. However, I was raised in an environment of argumentation and confrontation. It was just how things were most days. Someone yelled at someone. There was usually some form of shouting, crying, hitting... something. High stress was just the way of life. It became so normal that we created routines to repeatedly act out. As a random example... My mother was obsessive about the house being clean. It drove everyone insane. She would walk in to the house upon returning home from work and instantly start complaining. No exaggeration... It was instantaneous. "Oh my god this house is FILTHY! It looks like a BOMB hit it!" Her idea of filthy varied greatly from most everyone else's. Suffice to say, it got to the point that it was impossible to relax in the house. The anticipation her coming home and freaking out created anxiety long before the inevitable event occurred. One was afraid to set down a glass or a plate for even a moment. There were rooms that we never even walked into lest we leave some evidence of our trespass.

As a teenager, I began to analyze this behavior and compare it to that of other families. I realized ours was far from an oppressive living environment, yet still not what I would consider normal. I mouthed off to my mother one day and said something along the lines of, "I could spend all afternoon scrubbing this place and you would still find something wrong with it." She disagreed. I decided to back up my words and I began to conduct experiments to satisfy my own morbid curiousity. On several different occasions I came home from school in the afternoon, got high, and started cleaning furiously for the next 3 hours. I found the manual labor to be that much less soul-crushing when I was stoned. I would focus on the kitchen and eating area, which was the entryway to the home from the garage. It was amusing for me to clean everything, and then sit back and observe as my mother would come home and launch into her machinations... only to slowly realize that the house wasn't as "filthy" as she expected/wanted it to be. She could tell that I had obviously cleaned, but invariably she managed to find fault with the "way" I had done it. Maybe I put a pot in the drying rack, instead of toweling it dry... and since it was stainless steel surely there would be water spots, so i would have to do it again. Heaven forbid there be water spots on the outside of a pot while you boiled water in it. Or maybe I had not dusted the curtains before vacuuming...something she would have no way of knowing unless she asked and I answered honestly. If somehow I had managed to mostly get it right she would simply walk through the cleanest areas and into another part of the house until she found something out of place or unclean so she could express her disapproval. Its strange the routines that people choose. Its strange how we can be more comfortable with something to be upset about than when theres nothing amiss... just because we have gotten so used to it being that way. Often enough the timing worked out that my mother would be in full battle mode by the time that my father got home. He would lose his patience quickly (definte genetic influence) and tell her to relax in an irritated and condescending manner. Then the fireworks would begin. It would be very unusual for that not to spill onto the children in some way.

Going forward, the rest of us... my brother, sister, and myself... certainly dealt with irritations, problems, inconveniences, etc. in the same general manner. The procedure when confronted with an obstacle seemed to be 1)Curse and throw or hit something 2)Go about trying to figure out a way to fix it.

Don't get me wrong. We had plenty of good times, and it was certainly not a prison sentence growing up in our household. My parents did a great job. And when everyone did relax, we could have a very fun time. But to be perfectly honest, it was a rare occasion that the entire family could do anything together without at least one major arguement/blowup/dramatic incident. It was just how we operated within the group.

I began to avoid being at home. I would often spend the night at a friend's house on the weekends... and most afternoons were with after school activites, or hanging out with friends either outside or at their homes. Nonetheless, I was at home enough of time for the atmosphere to shape my rapidly changing personality.

Even after I left home for the first time, my already exisisting inclination towards confrontational behavior was only bolstered by my involvment with my college fraternity. Screaming at pledges was normal. Screaming at other members was normal. Freaking out was normal. It was so normal, that one might not think you were passionate about something if you failed to raise your voice or drop in a few F bombs. I became president of that organization and did my fair share of issuing passionate statements. It was basically my job. I was in a position of authority, and people often looked to me for the answers. I had to be emphatic and confident in my decisions. I learned that in order to convey the importance of my message it usually had to have a threatening or menacing tone.

I carried this mentality into the workplace. When things went wrong I started yelling. If people didn't listen to me I just yelled louder. If they still didn't get it I just stopped talking to them altogther. A similar procedure would be used for inanimate objects. If something didnt work right, and I failed to fix it after repeated attempts... I might just smash it to bits. Now its destroyed... gotta get a new one. Problem solved.

Unhealthy? Hell yes.

Before I could even set about modifying my beavior I had to realize there was something wrong with it. That doesn't come as easily as it might sound. It requires a removal of pride, an admission of wrong-doing, and the courage to change. But before any of that can occur, it has to be brought to my attention.

More next time about the people that cared enough to tell me.

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