Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Temper, temper

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.


Anonymous said...

rage, anger, pity even joy like all things their magic is best found in moderation. I believe life is best lived in balance no one thing should take over the rest and rule. As that great nanny, we all wish we had, Mary Poppins said "enough is as good as a feast".

By the way remind me to never piss you off and if you ever decide to run a writing class sign me up.

mouse said...

Oh yes. I can so relate to this. In many ways when I was "Alpha" I was not allowed to be angry. The rage started finding its way out after his death in often the strangest situations. In the beginning I was shocked to see it, and it became like a drug to me. I enjoyed the cathartic release it allowed me to have.

I was blind to it though. I didn't see it but it was difficult for others to watch it consume me. Over time, I kinda learned to temper it, instead of hiding it and pretending it didn't exist.

With Omega I am learning even more to hand it over to him, not in a way that diminishes me but puts me (emotionally) in a much better place. That said, I can take it back whenever I want, but I'm a lot more careful now about when I do.


Gillette said...

Ooh..interesting, Selkie. Good stuff to ponder.

For me, I see that rage, grief and all pain can result in two poles for us (and probably gradations in between, but I generally see the poles when I look around).

We all, ALL get to experience troubles and grief, each in our own ways.

What I see happening is that pain, grief and despair lead us to either contract and harden OR to open and soften. The hardening leads to bitterness the other way cracks us open to more understandings, compassion (for ourselves and others), and love.

We become lighter emotionaly...there is more twinkle to our eyes and more flow from our hearts. The pains are never forgotten but put in a poignant context.

It is my sincere desire that I continue to open further and further, sometimes embracing that rage again, but always coming back to a more cracked open heart.

cutesypah said...

and your post is a wonderful explanation to my statement that moderation is my foe, and friend. For me, it is so difficult to find that place where I can acknowledge, feel, and voice my anger without allowing it to become a rage which can consume my soul and everyone who dares to look upon its countenance.

Not a pretty way to live. It does however, make some very interesting scars, and provide some very dramatic stories of what NOT to do in a relationship.

Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn, or anger, particularly when it's been smouldering for years....


Vesta said...

selkie: I think this post may have been a cathartic one for you and it certainly helped me to understand your personality and your life.

You reminded me of something important. Like you, my husband has (a hint) of red hair and yours and his anchestors don't live too far from one another either. He is passionate, intense, easily frustrated and can be very angry; not just about something in our lives, but about something out there in the universe. I've become so used to it I barely notice it. But, when he is seething, he is too upset to be externally angry. It is a white anger that burns inside him and at those moments I realize that I would take the wild outbursts any day to that.

So, yes, the temper may well have saved you from internal combustion and that's an important thing.

And, you probably should not know this actually, but my husband's doctor told him to keep doing it. He said that his intensity needed to be expressed and not to hold back.

As we established a day or two ago, there are various personalities. I prefer to feel in control. Alternatively, you and he prefer to express yourselves.
So be it.

selkie said...

Sir J- thank you! you flatter me vis-a-vis the writing! and while I agree in the overall scheme, there must be balance, sometimes it takes an excess to achieve that balance.

mouse – almost without exception people get uncomfortable around strong emotions period – I think it provokes anxiety or something. Certainly rage frightens, but I truly do keep control of my anger and direct it where it is intended; I try to not let the excess spill over into places it shouldn’t.

Gillette, rage and anger handled properly are indeed cathartic AND empowering; I agree one has to guard against allowing them to corrupt and control every other emotion.

CP – the long-held, unexpressed and justified rage is a frightening thing indeed. But like any fire, careful control is essential or it destroys its owner.

Vesta – you’re right you know – it DID save me from internally combusting. and a ‘white anger’ is a good metaphor. I also agree with your husband’s doctor LOL – perhaps I can tell d. and the kids next time that it is “doctor’s orders” LOL. And while my temper is hot, one of the benchmarks of my personality oddly, IS control – so I make sure that it may be incandescent but it is an incandescence that I CONTROL.

Raheretic said...

selkie,I have referred this post to swan for her reading. It is so resonant of her, that it seems as sometthing she might well have written herself.

In that your strong interests and aspirations for exploration are so congruent with the areas we've recently posted about on our Blog under " What is it That You Guys Do?", I suggest, if it would ever be of interest, that we love hosting friends for visits whether for pure socialization or to participate in more intimate explorations as (if) we all consent. It would be an option for you both, or you, should that ever fit.

As I write this I hope I am not overstepping protocl in terms of any D/s or power exchange you may be engaged in. I really find I too feel uninformed as to "what it is that you guys do?":) Anyway that is always an option we could explore. Or perhaps better put,
"That is always an option....... We could explore:)"

Thank you for the insightful questions on our Blog. They help inform and drive the conversation there. I'll respond on The Herons Transforming this weekend.

All the best,


Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.

selkie said...

Tom, thank YOU for your kind words. Swan knows that I often relate very strongly to a lot of what she writes and I think you're right in that we have many things in common.

And thank you also for your kind invitation and will reply to that privately.

Insofar as my endless questions, thank YOU and Yours for the patience and kindness you've shown me in answering all my queries! I enjoy all of your writings very much.

swan said...

Selkie --
As Master already wrote here, I was "directed" to come look at this because He felt that you and I shared similar emotional inclinations or proclivities. I find that intriguing.

I am not convinced that I have ever had to endure the sort of relational pain that you have -- as far as I understand that in your life. The repudiation and rejection that you seem to have experienced in a sudden and catastrophic burst feels way more extreme than the slow strangulation that I suffered at the hands of my ex. For me, that endless expanse of intimate aridity engendered an aching hunger and a smouldering anger that found its target in my own self as often as it ever was turned on him.

I think that inward turn resulted from the years and years of training that drilled the rules for being "nice" and "polite" into my awareness, my subconscious, my reactions. I hobbled through a good part of my adult life without the sort of sharp and informed instincts that a woman needs to survive and thrive in the emotional wilds.

As I consider the road I've traveled in these years with Master and T, that is one of the real points of growth and strength for me. I've learned, in the security and acceptance of this love, that it is right and good to experience and value the full range of my emotional and intellectual repertoire. It is good to be able to be angry, silly, ecstatic, frustrated, grief-stricken, delighted, frightened, aroused... All the passionate, lively, juicy, and firey emanations of soul and heart and body and mind are part of what makes life good and strong.

I am glad that you have found your path to loving all the parts of who you are -- dark and light. It really is powerful to embrace all those elements in the whole of who we are.

All the best,