Grumpy about emotional violence

I’m still obsessing about violence. I’ve got to get on to other issues, like the laundry and my dirty bathrooms, but the problem is, writing about this kind of thing memorializes all my inconsistencies and ill-formed thoughts–

I’m dying here. I just typed “ill” EIGHT times (including the one here in quotes) because my iPhone keeps changing it to “I’ll”, and my right thumb keeps twitching wrong so I’m space-barring instead of x-clicking on the autocorrect suggestion. Fricking autocorrect nazi lives in my phone, I just want to throw it at the wall and then crush it viciously into a thousand pieces with my boot heel and feed them to Nick’s 14-inch Schleich T Rex.

I’ll be back when I have a chance to turn on the computer.

It’s 8 hours later. All better. So what I’ve been obsessing on is that two days ago I actually thought I’m not a violent person, and even worse I wrote that down. It’s crazy talk. The fact that I couldn’t kill innocent baby mice to save them from suffering had nothing to do with my inner peacenik. I just wasn’t motivated enough, probably because I didn’t feel threatened by them. Maybe I don’t beat on people with fists and sticks, but I’ve spent more than three years following Jesse to therapy and working on controlling my emotional violence and verbal meanness. I may not have fists of fury, but I definitely have feelings of fury and a bad habit of letting them vent.

My mom was a spectacular role model on this front. When the mood was right, she was held in thrall by her rage. I once saw her chase my dad around the house with an empty wine glass, trying to break it over his head. He was a full foot taller and at least a hundred pounds heavier than her. She got close enough to make the slam, and as he put up his arms to defend himself against the blow, she was knocked over. The moment she went down my dad was filled with remorse and concern over whether he had hurt her. She was just fine, but even from the floor she kept trying to land a blow with that blessed wine glass until Dad took it out of her hand.

Dad was a big grumpy teddy bear, who never laid a hand on us in anger as far as I can remember. Mom, on the other hand, was unrestrained. Her anger was always self-assured. At her tallest she was 4-foot-11 and pretty slight, so she couldn’t really do any damage, but she was scary anyway. I once witnessed her chasing my brother Eric with a house slipper, trying to whack on him with it and screaming all the while. This was when he was a junior or senior in high school.  He was an all-Nor-Cal linebacker, 5-10 or 5-11, somewhere around 200 pounds, thick and lean and mean. I tell you, he was terrified by Mom. We all were. If she got going, she would lash out at anything in her path, and she had the wit and insight to make the blows that fell out of her mouth count.

I inherited Mom’s furies and passion, an instinct born of genes and childhood experiences. I guess there’s something positive about having strong feelings — actually, no, there’s nothing good about raging out at people you love. But Anthony tolerated my moods pretty patiently in our early years together. Fighting for us amounted to me yelling at Anthony, and then Anthony staring at me and saying almost nothing. Once I screamed at him in frustration, “WHY AREN’T YOU SAYING ANYTHING?? YOU SHOULD BE SAYING SOMETHING!!!” He answered me quietly, staring me straight in the eye. “I can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t just be mean.”

Anthony doesn’t fight fair. Some time in our mid-20’s, when I still thought I was a rational, sane person, we had a big fight over something that must have been nothing. After my hot head had cooled down, Anthony looked at me with that appraising way that he has, like he was thinking carefully about what would happen when he spoke and deciding to say it anyway. “You know, Carla,” he started, “ever since I met you, I thought I was a complete dickhead about once a month. But it turns out, it’s not me. It’s you.”

Gah. It was a clean and accurate blow. I’ve never really recovered from it.

When we decided to have kids, I said I would never, ever yell at them, the way my mom used to yell at me and my brothers. It was the one true promise I made to myself. As if. Jesse puts everyone’s self-control to the test, but since I already had so little self-control, I failed the test early and often. I don’t know how much I’ve harmed her and Nick with my outbursts and cruel words, but I hope I can make it up to them in the years to come.

And I guess that’s what therapy’s for. I’m certainly doing a lot better than I was a couple years ago. I still yell at the kids sometimes, but now it’s usually not in a head-spinning, crazed, endless shriek. When I do lose it, I know better than to offer any justification for my failure. There’s nothing for it but to apologize and to ask my family to forgive me, over and over again until I can get it right someday. So far, they’re sticking with me, which is probably a good sign.

I have a solid handful of tools these days to help control my out-of-control feelings. One of the most important is admitting every day that I’m just naturally grumpy, the same way I’m five-one, half-Korean, brown-eyed. It’s my birthright. Knowing I’m grumpy means knowing that my anger at the world starts inside me, not inside my husband or my kids or the traffic. Almost every day now, at some point I announce to Nick or Jesse that I’m feeling grumpy. They seem to get it. Somehow, just saying the words deflates the bile I feel rising. Instead of feeling self-righteous, indignant, justified, I feel the fool. It’s refreshing. I’d rather be a grumpy fool than a screaming banshee.

2 thoughts on “Grumpy about emotional violence

  1. In our family, we talk openly about being grumpy or “having a bad day,” as our naturally occurring euphemism has it. When I was growing up, no one was ever allowed to yell or speak their mind clearly if angry−anger was not really an emotion you were supposed to have−and so cruel digs were made and snide remarks bandied about, usually to a second person who could be trusted to pass it on. We have all been working hard to stop being passive-agressive (I have 4 siblings). The problem with never admitting to anger is that, afterwards, you can’t apologize because ostensibly nothing happened.

    I used to get so mad at the boys when they were toddlers especially, in that toddler-chaos state, and being so mad confused me because I was not “supposed” to feel mad! I had no idea how to be mad without it careening out of control. Now, when I vent my anger, I can apologize afterwards. And that is the absolute best (actually the only good) thing about it. And when the boys get mad, I try not to put a damper on their anger. (It was a huge a-ha moment for me when I realized that you have to let people have their anger and not pretend it away. Sounds so corny and simple, but it was big.) So the phrase “I’m having a bad day” aka “I’m grumpy” is used a lot in our house. The best thing about it is that each of us can sympathize with that, and the anger then totally deflates. Sometimes this magic little trick happens wherein we collectively end up “consoling” the grumpy person. And nothing makes the grumpy person feel better than all that positive attention.

    Note: When No. 2 Son is waking up from nap or inl hypoglycemic state of emergency immediately after school, all bets are off.

    • MJ, I tried to reply to this a couple times back when you wrote it. Each time I accidentally deleted after a lot of typing (slip of the finger, as dangerous as a slip of the tongue), so I figured the universe was telling me to shut up. Anyway, I think about your situation all the time. It slays me that we come from such different backgrounds – my family was emotionally out of control, a bunch of screamers – and have ended up with such similar issues in anger management. It’s both heartening and depressing. And comic, really. It’s good to know someone else is working on improving the crazies.

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