Did you know you don’t have to act mad when you feel mad? Feeling and acting are two different things. To feel is to have an emotional response. To act is to behave in a certain way. To illustrate how acting mad can have hurtful and painful consequences I will share a story.
Several years ago I had the privilege of working with teenage girls from our church. Every other Sunday one of the girls would lead our lesson. On the day this story comes from, it was Sefra’s turn to teach.
Sefra took us out into the parking lot and she gave us a dish that she had purchased from the thrift store. She said “okay, you get to smash the dish but the only thing is that you have to pick up all the pieces. So, the harder you smash it the more likely the pieces are going to scatter further and you have to pick up E V E R Y P I E C E !”
I thought, “this is amazing” because I’d never smashed a dish on purpose (I have smashed many dishes by accident). I originally didn’t think I would smash the dish super hard but then I couldn’t help myself. I lifted up that dish and whammed it down to the ground with so much force.
Oh, it felt powerful until I remembered that I had to pick up every piece of dish shard. There were pieces all over the place. I had to reach under cars to grab pieces. Collecting them piece by piece I found myself wishing I hadn’t thrown the dish with so much gusto.
Can you see how this story relates to what happens when we act mad? When we react in mad ways initially it does feel weirdly good because of that power but it wears off pretty fast as we start to see the emotional pieces of damage we have created. Remember the puffer fish analogy from this post?
What can you do to avoid metaphorically smashing the dish on the floor in your life?
Ask yourself –
When I feel mad, or someone has upset me, rubs me the wrong way, makes my blood boil, how do I act?
I remember early on in my marriage. My husband Ben was working as a CPA. He worked long hours which meant I was at home alone with our children for long hours. When he would come home from work and I just wanted to check out and be done for a couple hours.
Every now and then Ben would ask to go fishing to reset after a crazy week at work. On the outside I’d say “oh okay…” but on the inside, I would feel so mad. I would think of thoughts like “what the heck!” “You have got to be away from the crying children for weeks” “you get to be with adults all of the time while I’m here dealing with the loud crying.” “I am cleaning up messes, changing diapers, and running after the dog!”
All of these thoughts that would spiral me up into a place of feeling and acting out of control; it was maddening. On the inside, I was slowly burning away with these thoughts. These thoughts were NOT serving me. Then one day BOOM I’d explode!
I was getting ready to go to Utah. The boys and I had gone to drop Reagan our dog off at the kennels before officially leaving town. Driving back my kids started screaming at each other, the car was filled with so much noise and drama. For weeks I had been squishing down my maddening feelings and thoughts. I had let them fester and fester and fester and then BOOM the eruption happened.
I screamed at my children. I was driving and I lost it. My kids started crying more… imagine that! I pulled off the highway, went up a country road, and came to a stop. I closed the door and walked up about 50 feet because I knew that I had to cool down. Just then my mum called me just to see how the morning was going and I lied through my teeth and said, “ah it’s fine, I just dropped Reagan off and blah blah blah blah blah…”
Thankfully, I was able to calm down, pull myself together, and then go on with our day but I didn’t process my emotions. I didn’t do the work to realize what was going on or address all my messy thoughts and feelings. What do you think happened a few weeks later? A few weeks later it happened again and then again.
I did not put in the work to become emotionally healthy, to articulate and communicate my thoughts and feelings to myself and to my spouse. Instead, I was slowly burning until I’d periodically erupt. I was an active and dangerous volcano.
Elsa had a confusing power, it frightens her. The thoughts she has about her power lead her to push everyone else away. At the ball, Anna confronts her by yelling ”What is wrong with you? What are you so afraid of?” At that moment Elsa erupts (similar to me) and she turns towards the guest and Anna, throws her hand towards them, and shards of icicles explode blocking everyone from her.
Elsa didn’t ask for help. Elsa stayed stuck in her head. Elsa let her thoughts and feelings spiral around each other to create a lonely prison. The result is her experiencing more loneliness, more suffering, and more pain and pushing those who could help away.
In my story, I felt lonely being at home with kids all day. I felt insecure as a mother; I didn’t think I was very good at it but I wasn’t willing to say those things out loud. Instead, I clung to those thoughts about being mad until they exploded out of me.
Answer the following questions to better understand how you can better naviagate your mad feelings