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Showing posts with label reality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reality. Show all posts

Monday, January 20, 2020

Placing Sadness in the Anger Bin

According to, the Five Stages of Grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.   The idea is that you first deny the reality of that which grieves you; you are angry about what seems unfair or not right; you 'bargain' with your higher power that you'll do better if only you wake up and this horrible nightmare is over; you fall into a depression when you realize that no matter how much you wish it weren't so, there is nothing you can do to change that which grieves you and of course you accept that which you and move forward.

What I've learned along the way is the practice of 'medicine' is as much of an art as it is a science.  I believe this to be the case with psychology as well.  I believe that some models of human behavior, interactions and thought are better than others, that there is no one-sized, fits all model.  Each model has its flaws and exceptions as well as its accuracy and strengths, but I digress.  I believe the "Five Stages of Grief" model has a lot of value to it.  However, I believe the progression of grief doesn't always follow that model and frankly sometimes people never quite reach the acceptance stage.   From what I've seen some people never make it through the depression stage.  It's like they deny the loss, are angry about it, try to bargain the loss away, and hit the sadness or depression stage and struggle to handle it.

I called this post, "Placing Sadness in the Anger Bin", because essentially, the griever is at a point in which he or she should be working through the sadness, but for whatever reason, is struggling to.  What should manifest itself as Sadness or Depression instead comes out in Anger.  The sadness exists, but the griever is not processing or allowing it to fully express itself.  In my own life, this circumstance manifest itself with my brother's suicide, written in Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother,

Due to the circumstances and timing in which he was found, the family was never allowed to see him after he was found.  As I worked through his belongings in his apartment that in the week that followed, a part of me expected him to walk in and gripe about what were we doing with his belongings.  It was surreal and was obviously the denial stage.  Gradually, it gave away to anger.  I knew he was struggling and did what I could to help him, but I felt the family overall had let him down.  He would 'disappear' from time to time and it seemed as if few in the family did anything more than to ask about him (from my perspective).  Had dealt with the same type of sexual abuse that I did as a kid and the struggles that come from growing up in a dysfunctional family which was unnecessarily poor and led by an alcoholic dad.  He struggled to find acceptance and had cried out for help in his teens with an overdoes on Tylenol.  From my perspective, he was largely abandoned and left to his own devices by the family.   I was angry and humiliated that as a family that we let him down.  I was angry at God I'm sure.  I was angry at myself.   I knew he was struggling and I dropped away for a little bit.  I didn't care that I was dealing with my own failing marriage, depression and unemployment.  I told myself I knew better and let him down.

In some ways, I'd wake up for a bit and just hope that this was just a bad dream and he'd show up and hoped there was a way that that could happen.  But, at my age, the 'bargain' stage didn't last too long as I am a realist.  At this point, having gotten over the shock, having worked through some anger and realized that bargaining was fruitless, I was was struggling with the sadness/depression.  Why should I have to deal with this?  Why should I have to feel this bad?   Why was I the one who was the last one in the family to attempt to be there for him?   I bounced back and forth between sadness and anger.  Eventually, I worked through the sadness and came to accept the reality of never seeing him again, but it wasn't a clean, linear five step progression.

As with the story above, I have come to realize in my life, a phenomenon.  I have seen in the life of others, especially, but not limited to kids and younger people that same phenomenon: Sadness hiding behind Anger.  That is Anger being Sadness's spokesperson, instead of Sadness speaking for itself.

  • The sadness hurts. Why should I have to feel this hurt or loss?  
  • The sadness leads to unexpected/uncontrolled expression sobbing or crying.  Why should we have to deal with something that makes us feel 'weak' or 'unsafe'?
    • It can make us feel vulnerable or 'weak'.   Anger tells us we should be able to better deal.
    • It can feel humiliating.  Crying, while healthy, is best done in a safe place.  If not done in a safe place, it can lead to humiliation.  Anger hates humiliation.
  • The sadness seems never-ending.  Why won't this stage ever end?  Why can't I just move on?  Anger hates an unresolved endless repeat of the same painful story.

Anyway, from what I see, Anger serves two purposes, not necessarily healthy, but nonetheless two purposes.

  • Anger can serve as seemingly less draining than working through the sadness.  
    • Anger doesn't require the level of introspection and processing of sadness.  It is a raw unfiltered emotion.  Let's face it, if you don't feel like you should have to deal with sadness, anger seems to be a good option.
  • Anger can serve as a way to block the sadness (at least for a time).   
    • In a way, it can be seen as the emotional version of cutting.  My understanding is that the raw physical sensation of cutting serves as a distraction for emotional pain of sadness.  If you are focused on the acute physical sensation of cutting* and all it involves, for a time, the emotional hurt is overridden.  Anger can be raw and intense, and in a similar way to cutting it can overwhelm sadness the emotional hurt of sadness.

I think most people have seen instances, either portrayed in the movies or somewhere in their own lives or those around them an angry person who is lovingly embraced and proceeds to break down and cry.  While I wouldn't categorically endorse that technique in dealing with angry people, it does emphasize a point: that sadness is often underlying anger.  

I guess my takeaway is this: Before you write off someone who has anger issues at least consider that there may be more than just meets the eye.  It isn't always just some jerk who decides that hating is an acceptable way of life.  It isn't always necessarily some psychopath who has predatory anger.  Sometimes, an 'angry' person is simply a person who is trying to avoid dealing with sadness.  So, instead of placing their Sadness in the Sadness Bin, they feel more comfortable placing it in the Anger Bin.  So, before you condemn an angry person, consider that there may be a sad person inside who just needs some understanding.**

Just my thoughts,

* I understand there are other reasons behind cutting as the Mayo Clinic details.  I've known people who cut, but I never began to understand why they cut themselves UNTIL one day when I chewed a fingernail too far down on the nail bed.  I'd done this before where it caused an uncomfortable, acute pain.  But, I had found that pressing down on that fingernail until it turned white for a while would lessen or block the pain in the nail bed.  I believe my higher power gave me an insight that day.  What I was doing was substituting one pain for another less intense pain.  In other words, I was blocking pain with pain.  I realized that day that people often cut for the same reason.  They are blocking an (emotional) pain with a less intense physical one.  I realize now that perhaps anger is just another form of pain displacement.

**But don't be so foolish as to try to hug and angry person with a knife or to ignore the symptoms of 'psychotic anger'.   Personal safety comes first.  ;-)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boxing others into our expectations

I'm not sure if I wrote on this previously.  If I have, please forgive me.  But, a number of years ago, I was upset and even angry with a family member.  I expected this person to empathize with me or take my side as it related to the end of a relationship.  In other words, "be family" as I saw it.   As often is the case, in hindsight, my side of the (relationship) story was just that--my side.  In other words, I wasn't completely in the right, but wasn't completely in the wrong either.  In any case, at the time I didn't need a pious lecture from family, but instead a supportive ear.  That is to say, I wasn't in the best place at the time.   I could have used the support (or at least lack of explicit criticism).  Just a weak "I hear you" would have been sufficient.  However, the family member was too obtuse to what I needed or was still too sore at a bad interaction that we'd had previously to "be family".

I believe when we are open to it, time and life experience can give us a better perspective on people and relationships.  The situation I described above is an example of that.  I realized that I had expectations of "how family should be" and realized that I was boxing the family member into that expectation.   In other words, expecting the family member to show a side to personality which had never evidenced itself or been implied.   In short, based on previous interactions with the member,  I had an unrealistic expectation for what I saw to be 'support'.  In a way, it didn't matter if it was fair or not for the family member to have not provided 'support'.  What mattered was my expectations.  My expectations were inconsistent with the personality of the family member.

Instead of getting angry and 'punishing' the family member for not meeting my (unrealistic) expectations, I came to understand that I needed to get my expectations more in line with reality.  Once I accepted the nature of the person, I could decide how to proceed with them without being let down, disappointed, upset or angered.  My expectations were getting in the way of how the relationship could or should be.  Anyway, after consideration, I decided to exercise caution when engaging that family member.  In other words, put myself out there or open up to that person to the extent that would be safe given the limitations of our relationship.  This allowed me to continue the relationship free of anger or resentment.  Now perhaps I was disappointed in realizing the limitations of the relationship, but I was also happy to realize serenity to in the matter.

Essentially, I stopped trying to box the family member into my expectations, but chose instead to let the relationship flow naturally.

I call the concept: "Boxing others into our expectations." because the way I see it, when we have expectations of people that don't match the reality of our interaction, there is a tendency to want to fit the person into a box called "Expectations".  This can take two forms:

  • Manipulation
    • This is where we try to force, cajole, bribe, pressure or otherwise squeeze another person into meeting our expectations.
    • Figuratively we are trying to squeeze another person into our box.  
      • We may find a way to force them into our expectations box with enough pressure, but if it is an unnatural fit, the expectations box will not contain them.
        • The relationship will be forced and may be a fraud.
        • The relationship in all likelihood will not withstand too many bumps and when a big enough bump is hit, the relationship will explode out of the box.  When it does explode out of the box it will not be pretty either.
      • The person may not fit into our expectations box.
        • In the process of trying to force them into it we will damage the relationship with them (sometimes permanently).
        • When they we can't put them in our expectations box, we will be subject to disappointment, resentment, anger and possibly despair.
  • Delusion/Denial
    • This is where an objective look at situation would reflect that the other party is NOT meeting our expectations of our relationship.
    • Instead of accepting that the other isn't meeting our expectations, we imagine that they are meeting our expectations.  That is to say, we see our relationship to another as fitting into the expectations box, when in reality it is at best just partially in the box.
      • We see our expectations being met when they aren't or we deny that they aren't being met, when they aren't.
      • An example is when we see someone as a friend because we believe "we have so much in common".  In reality, they might be more of an acquaintance or a 'friend of a friend'.  Due to circumstances we may tend to run into this person a lot and they may be openly 'polite' to or even spend time around us for the sake of the group or circumstance.  However, when outside the group, the person may badmouth us.  We may choose to 'believe' they are our friend if we don't have many friends or if we have a tendency to want to seek approval.
      • One risk here is the other person may use the situation to take advantage of us.  For example, if they see us longing for a friendship where one doesn't exist, they may take advantage of us financially or otherwise in return for declaring to be our friend.
      • Another risk is of humiliation.  We may ultimately find ourselves humiliated by the one taking advantage of us or among others who are observing the one-sided relationship.

So how do we avoid boxing others into our expectations.
  • We make an honest assessment of others.  That is of their personality, of their strengths, of their shortcomings.  We don't to build others into something that they aren't or something that they aren't capable of.
  • We make an honest assessment of ourselves.  That is of our wants, desires and biases.  We don't want any of these getting in the way of assessing our relationship with another. 
  • We realize that our relationship with others is not fully in our control.  While we have some control over what we say, think or do (our side of the street), we ultimately don't have control over what others say, think or do (their side of the street).

So what is the takeaway:
  • It is reasonable to know what you want in a relationship with another.
  • It is reasonable to know your bottom line in a relationship with another.
    • What is healthy for you.
    • What you are willing to 'accept' in return for your participation.
  • Just because you want certain 'benefits' in that relationship, doesn't mean that they will be present.
    • The other party may not know be capable of meeting that 'expectation'.
      • Something in their background makes them deficient--for example, they can't relate to your struggling financially as they never have.
      • They have never learned how to be a 'good friend', 'good parent' or 'good sibling' as they never had a good model/circumstance to learn that.
    • The other party may not be willing to meet that 'expectation'.
      • They may have made a perfectly reasonable assessment and determined that the cost of meeting the expectation is too high.
      • They may be too selfish and be one who looks to take from relationships without giving in return.
  • Be honest about what they can give and what you can give.  Just like you would or should only take what you are comfortable with losing when gambling, it may be wise to have a similar strategy with regard to relationships.
    • Do not try to expect something of another that they can't or won't give.
    • Be willing to give what you are comfortable giving in a relationship with little or no expectations in return.
    • Be willing to give what you are honestly capable of giving with little or no expectation in return.

These are just a few of the principles I've learned and while they may not work for everyone, they work for me.  So, take note of them and use them (or not) as you find beneficial.  The way I see it:

2 Corinthians 9:7English Standard Version (ESV)

 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

If that philosophy or way of life is good enough for my higher power, it is good enough for me in how I handle all my affairs, including relationships.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Life's Illusions: Only just a dream.

A number of years ago, an idea popped into my head.   What happens if the life we think we are leading is all part of someone's complex dream?  In other word's, to myself, I feel I am real and self-aware, but what happens if my reality is really just part of someone's dream?  The Matrix sort of dealt with this idea.

I'm sure I wasn't the first one to ponder this thought and I am sure I won't be the last.   But, I digress.

Years later, after a series of setbacks that started with my mom nearly dying, my life as I knew it unraveled: job loss, marriage breakup, death of my closest brother, house on the way to being lost, loss of full-time parenthood, etc.   By this time, my now ex had moved out and cleaned out much/most of the items of value in the house.  A dear friend of mine walked through the house for the first time with me and noted that the house lost it's soul.  I guess in a way, the house was still standing, but the 'home' had died.  As I walked out back and noticed the patio, grill and backyard and started to walk out into the driveway, a strange feeling came over me.  I had the sense that my marriage had been an illusion.  The life I had known it was an illusion.  It wasn't the most healthy marriage from the beginning in hindsight, but sometimes you don't know these things until much later.

No one is perfect, save one.  In that vein, you bring your strengths and weaknesses or flaws and good points into a relationship.  In hindsight, our flaws clashed heavily.  We went in with a fairy tale of how we'd 'survived' dysfunctional in the past and were past that.  What we didn't realize is how mistaken that was.


This last year was pretty dramatic in the space of about a year. I had a friend, my mom and my dad die--two being unexpected.  In a certain way, this has seemed surreal to me.  It's like a few years ago I had my full nuclear family, now it is almost cut in half.   I'm still getting used to that.


I remember an episode of Married with Children called "Teacher's Pet".  In the episode, poor Bud finally seems to have luck with dating.  He has a date with his substitute teacher and a classmate.  In typical Bundy fashion, this situation crashes.   First he confides in his dad about the dilemma, letting his father know the teacher is 40.   Next day at school he finds out that the substitute teacher ran off with a football player.  The classmate then dumps him as he is thought to be no longer desirable after being dumped by the teacher.   As if it isn't bad enough at that point, his dad alerted the authorities to the inappropriate relationship.  However, the teacher had been replaced by an old woman.   His dad, mistaking the new teacher for the original one, tells her to stay away from his son and rips her telling her the only 40 associated with her was 1840--that being the year she would have been born.   The old woman is then hauled off by the police.  Bud, being humiliated, decides in his mind that this is all a bad dream. He figures that if he drops his pants in front of class it will shock him into waking up.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way and bud finds out it isn't a dream much to his further humiliation.

Bud: I know! I'll prove it's a dream. I'll take down my pants and it'll be so embarrassing, I'll wake up.
[Bud lowers his pants to the shock of entire class]
Bud: I'm even dreaming that I ran out of underwear.

Teacher's pet

The Married with Children episode was funny, but it did underscore a larger point.  When faced with a painful reality, we can either face it head on, pretend it isn't so and/or compound it.  Bud, seemed to pretend it wasn't so and compounded it at the same time, not a small feat.


Life sometimes hums along merrily for a long time and then boom, it changes.  One day we have the car, job, our health and that of loved one and then in what seems like a short time, a major shift occurs.  It seems surreal.   Immediacy and permanence of the change can make us question was what was before real?  I think the answer is yes and no.   Yes it was, but our perception of it being permanent or unchangeable was an illusion.

Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and understand that nothing in this life is forever.  We enjoy the good things when we can, endure the bad thing as they come, mourn the losses when necessary and we hold onto that which never fails.

Psalm 73:25-26New International Version (NIV)

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

In the meantime, we I realized a long time ago that for most this life is full of struggles and if we don't have a Higher Power, a greater calling, a Hope, then it can all seem hard to swallow.  This is why sometimes people seek the unhealthy 'highs'.

I guess if I would give advice to my daughter it would be this:
  • Live your life with the Hope in Jesus.
  • Live a purpose driven life.
  • Enjoy the good times, realizing they that they don't always last.
  • Be brave and face what life throws you knowing you don't have to face it alone. 
  • Be true to yourself.