Vesta’s comments on my Scars blog got me musing on temper and the usefulness of certain emotions in dealing with the challenges that life throws up for all of us. I think she is correct that emotions such as my rage, for instance, CAN be a destructive and ultimately, self-defeating personality trait if allowed unfettered reign yet, conversely, time and a great deal of insight have shown me that even perceived negative traits such as “temper” can be a positive and liberating factor.
Any emotion in excess, allowed to explode without forethought, control and in circumstances which reflect the need, can be dangerous and ultimately self-destructive.
But as I get older, I am beginning to realize that some emotions have a better rap than others. Seldom do people see excess compassion as an issue – although that can result in someone making some poor choices in terms of their time and the distribution of their finances. Nor do people generally perceive those with empathy as individuals with a personality disorder yet again, an over-developed sense of empathy can hamstring the individual empathising in terms of their ability to cope and make decisions of a rational nature.
The truth of the matter is, any emotion in excess can be problematic.
My entire life, I struggled with what was termed my “bad temper”. I grew up feeling as if I were in some way damaged or emotionally disturbed, that my outburst were unhealthy, destructive and without reason. I was derided for my passion, criticized for my fierceness and admonished daily on “controlling myself”. And overall, I DID learn to control and internalize my anger, to swallow my passion and dampen my certitude of conviction.
I learned to master my tongue and discovered that white-hot rage could effectively derail one’s ability to be taken seriously. That taking that righteous rage and channelling it into action was far more effective. Take the heat, hone it and cool it until like ice it is sharp, glittering and lethal.
Because the reality was, my temper was very seldom based on a capricious sense of outrage. In fact it was usually fuelled by something that provided (in my eyes) a formidably rational basis. My outrage was seldom prompted by petulance or overriding sense of entitlement and was often provoked on behalf of a situation or person unrelated to me, or circumstances wherein I felt SOMEONE had to stand up and be counted.
My rage was my defence as well against prejudice and misogyny when travelling in professional circles then largely controlled by men with little regard for intellect and expertise when in a female guise. It’s icy strength bolstered me during times when life threatened to overwhelm me with demands I felt beyond my ability to handle.
My rage gave me strength and purpose and an iron will when negotiating the shoals of a relationship which threatened to consume me. At the same time, the dynamic of that relationship as it evolved more than anything else taught me to swallow it, to push it down deep into my soul, to lock it up and throw away the key for fear its clean, shining righteousness would wound the one I cared for above all others.
For my rage threatened to the core the ability I had to tolerate his even more formidable rage, clothed as it was in a fiercely passive countenance, against which my rage sizzled and expired. For my rage threatened the fragile balance that we maintained between us, the great yearning abyss of our need for each other. And so I put it away, dampened it and tried to extinguish it.
What I didn’t realize is in so doing I was excising a hugely important part of who I was. By refusing ingress to an integral part of my personality – my fierce, needful HONEST anger, I was slowly and inexorably undermining my very sense of self.
When the crash and burn happened, I was left gasping in a pit so deep I truly thought I would never climb out. Months of relentless pain and despair left me shattered, damaged, I felt beyond repair, a shell of the passionate, caring, intense person I once was. I felt as insubstantial as smoke, as if my very body was thinning and becoming opaque, soon to drift away on the tendrils of lost hope, to dissipate in the frigid breeze of rejection and repudiation.
For a very long time, I huddled shivering and bereft in the Dark Place, the only tether a fragile but unbreakable thread which lead to my children. Slowly, painfully, I began to gather the lost threads of self and with arthritic, clumsy fingers begin to stitch together what I knew to be an approximation of the person I once was… and as I searched among the skeins of wool, the colours muted and subdued in the grey light which drifted though the narrow windows of my soul, my eyes were drawn to the trembling, throbbing scarlet of my rage. Several times, I averted my eyes, for old habits are hard to break and my frozen fingers would weave in a less risible colour into the damaged fabric, but finally, one day I reached and burrowing among the shards of my life, found the hot, tensile strength of rage and wove it into the now.
And in so doing, it was as if the entire prison of my own making brightened. That one thread strengthened the hold I had on life and infused in me a desire and the commensurate strength to reach up. It cleared my mind slowly but surely and grasping its warmth to me, I was able to coax the weak, flickering flame of will into something stronger, something finer and slowly but surely, I began to find my strength once again.
And yes, for some months my rage fuelled a great and terrible anger, all the worse for its icy control and relentless condemnation. I allowed it to burn away the detritus of my despair (although the scars are there forever) and then, knowing that any fire untended can turn on its creator, I banked its bright, clean flames and carefully, grateful but determined, I opened the cupboard and hung it to the side.
It’s there though and I am happy it is there. I recognize that to try to kill a part of yourself does nothing but cause dissonance and an imbalance in soul and heart. My rage, when all is said and done, is merely another part of my complicated psyche and as such, has its place in my world. Like any other emotion, it is a valid and useful tool, there to be used when needed.
In the end, contrary to all the platitudes and the Christian ethics of turning the other cheek, it was embracing and using my rage that gave me strength.