I am having an especially bad morning. I am not sure why exactly. I feel a bit sick–just achy and sinusy. Nothing much. But sometimes that sets something off, and it becomes hard to cope

I was reading the dismissive types have more passive-aggressive anger. I haven’t found that to be the case. The Girl is very anxious in her attachment style. She expresses a lot of anger both directly and indirectly. She plays in ways that hurt other people or animals. The Boy is hurtful too, but his is about power. He wants to be better than others so that no one can hurt him and he can be safe. She wants revenge. I don’t know why it feels different to me or why I see those recurring motivations in them, but I do.

I think anxiously attached people are more likely to be angry in any form. The form it takes depends on your family’s beliefs about anger, who can express it and how. There is a different underlying belief which supports the anger, because we feel angry when it seems as though we may win in a conflict. We feel we can win when right is on our side. So anxiously attached people feel hurt, but because they have sometimes been nurtured, it seems to them as though the nurturing ought to be there: it’s right and proper for them to be nurtured.

A dismissive person does not expect to be nurtured. They don’t try to receive nurturing or really even to communicate much, because there is no hope of it. So dismissive people feel much more sadness than anger in the same situations.

That’s my opinion.

What dismissive people do expect is to be able to take care of themselves and pursue their own interests. They may also have an expectation that people are likely to interfere with this, and see others as an impediment to pursuing their goals or hobbies. They may express a lot of impatience with someone who demands their attention or wants comfort when they are busy trying to get some reward and satisfaction from their activities. Those are the times when dismissive/avoidant people feel angry.

The times when C was very angry with me I think were times like these. She had goals and plans which I seemed to be interfering with or might be expected to interfere with–a primary goal was to avoid activating attachment anxiety so that her trauma would not assert itself. I certainly interfered with that. I was exacerbating the anxiety so it was likely to overcome her self-control and cause her to reach out, which would activate her implicit memories of how her efforts to be nurtured have played out in the past.


That she…

I wake up angry.

It is not Vivianne’s frightening, overwhelming rage, but Katya’s childish, ineffective anger.

I am angry at Natalya.

I am angry at Natalya for things that are not her fault.

I tell myself that it will not hurt her for me to be angry, that anger is a part of the process of grief, that I can feel this way and nothing will happen.

I am angry at her for being unable to protect me. I am angry at her helplessness.

I am angry that she loved me, but she could not refuse to hurt me.

I am angry that she hurt me so much.

I am angry, more than anything, that she left me.

A red haze

The afternoon is a red haze.

Today should be my “happy day.” I teach only three periods and for the rest of the time I am free to work on other things. Which is good, because there are so many things I’ve fallen behind on.

But my second to last class of the day is horrible and I leave hating them again. They were fine yesterday, if I remember right, but today it is as if most of the boys and a few of the girls spent the whole of lunch getting off their ass stoned. Which I highly suspect they did.

I am so angry, I don’t calm down. I get some work done, but after it is done, I still hate them. I still want never to see them again and not to teach them. And I have to teach them the last period of the day.

I need to come to terms with anger, which for me is sometimes an absolute rage. I don’t take this out on people, at least not more than most people do. I don’t want to hurt anyone, even if I am angry. At least not kids, and the people I’m close to. I don’t really stew either.

I just find myself in a red haze. It’s like there is a thing inside me and it stays there and I have to go on trying to control it and control it and control it until it finally goes away on its own.

I walked around the campus for a while—this helped—but after I had finished a chunk of work, I remembered my anger again and all of it came back.

I think it’s a problem. I think it’s a problem in part because I feel so very, very tired now, after being angry for much of the last two hours. And I also think there are more productive things I could do with my anger than what I am doing. Because mostly I don’t do anything except control it. However, anger is supposed to tell you something. It’s supposed to galvanize you to act, and I don’t act, or I act, but not much. I restrain acting because the anger is too great. It seems too intense, and so I feel if I acted I would not just punish the students, but murder them.

And it’s that fear that I will do something far beyond what I ought to do that holds me back.

I have been told the anger is so great because I am also angry about other things. I am angry about far more serious matters than a class acting stoned for 40 minutes. This could be true. It ought to be true.

So maybe I ought to think about the other things I might be angry about. There are certainly enough. And I think, yes, I am so very angry. I am so very angry about everything, about all of it. I am so angry at all of them.

I am so angry at each and every one who hurt me that I want them all to die. I want them to die horrible, painful, brutal deaths where they are robbed of not just their lives but of their humanity. And then I am reminded of seeing that kind of death. The anger short-circuits and I can’t think beyond that. I am just sad.

The wisdom of indignation

auntyWhen I’m angry or in a bad mood or just frustrated, I smile more. It cheers me up. I crack jokes. I crib in a way that makes people laugh. I think about something else. I count my blessings. I explain to myself what has happened. I see things from the other person’s point of view. I go for a walk. I buy my favourite chips. I make a fresh pot of tea.

In my emotional backpocket, I have a million and one tricks to cheer myself up. But today I don’t feel like using them. I just want to be angry.

Other people are angry who have fewer things to resent than I do. Why shouldn’t I be?

They're very cute when they'te not peeing on things. And then all of a sudden they start looking like Satan to me.
They’re very cute when they’te not peeing on things. And then all of a sudden they start looking like Satan to me.

Like Angry Aunty, the Neighbor across the Lane is angry about something every day—usually the same thing. The other white dog I mentioned, that’s her obsession. The other white dog relieves herself in front of her house. The other white dog barks. No one is taking care of the other white dog properly. Someone took her in and then dumped her. (Which is true, and which is wrong. However, cribbing about it all on a daily basis doesn’t seem to be helping.)

But I’ve also realized the Neighbor across the Lane sounds angry even when she isn’t. It’s just that she’s angry so much of the time that ranting has become her normal speaking voice.

I want to be angry too, although perhaps not so much. Perhaps not so much that anger becomes a habit. Still, there is a sense of deprivation for me, like the rest of the world has gotten candy or some other nice thing and I didn’t get any.

Anger isn’t so nice really. But my backpocket tricks are work. They take effort. They are difficult. What the rest of the world is getting that I’m not getting is a break from exercising so much self control.

I should probably go back and explain a bit. It was a fine morning. Nothing wrong with it. I slept soundly. Woke up on time. It rained last night, but stopped by morning, so what we were left with was this gloomy, gloomy fall feeling that’s not really natural for this part of the world. All nice.

Then the dog came into my room for a minute. I’m trying to teach it not to do that, but when someone’s talking to me, I’m too distracted to make it mind. And people do that. They come to my room because they want something or other. They’re talking to me about that thing they want—whatever it is–so I’m listening to them and the dog comes rushing in. Actually, both of them, because Priya has been letting the other white dog come inside. I tried to explain to her that wasn’t a good idea, because the dog is not housebroken. She’s been an outside dog her whole life, and she doesn’t understand about not peeing inside. But Priya doesn’t think about the future.

ChintuAnyway, so Priya was talking to me, the dogs rushed in, and her dog immediately went to the window and peed on the drapes. She gave me newspaper to put over it and told me the maid would clean it when she came in a few hours.

So, I was angry. First at the dog, just because. But mostly at her. Because the dog is hers and she has neither taught it any manners nor does she clean up after it. I really should not have to clean up dog urine in my room when I don’t have a dog. Nor should I have to wait a few hours for someone else to clean it.

Indignant might, in fact, be the better word.

There is a wisdom in indignation. Indignation says I know I have rights, I know what they are or at least think I know what they are, and so I also recognize when they have been violated. That wisdom is the reason behind my two tight slaps. And indignation also says, “I can correct that. I can defend my rights against violation.”

Now, some of us get confused about what our rights are. We get it wrong sometimes. The world does not, in fact, owe us convenience, fulfillment, or pleasure. And you probably cannot come to a country over-run by stray dogs, rent a house, and expect to never have to come across dog doo. That’s probably unrealistic. But I may be wrong about that.

Also, indignation is not helpful if you never move forward from it, and by forward I don’t mean “putting it all behind you.” I mean devising a plan.

For example, my indignation was not effective. Although I resented doing it, I cleaned the dog urine up in my room myself. I said nothing when I might have said something. A better plan might have been to tell Priya she could clean up after her own dog for God’s sake, and that I shouldn’t have to wait a few hours for the maid to do it for her. Maybe.

However, this whole indignation business is a bit new to me. I wasn’t sure whether I would like the way I might choose to respond to it. So I did nothing. I just felt it. One thing at a time.

I don’t like you

angry faceOk, not you. I don’t mean you. I don’t like them.

I don’t like the Australian woman who owns the house across the street. I don’t like Soheil. That might be it. My list of people I actively dislike is small. At least at the moment. If I think harder, I might be able to do better than that but it’s morning still. It’s the weekend. I’m not sure I’m up to so much.

Nonetheless, I find it difficult to accept. I was not, somehow, raised that way. That’s the best I can do in explaining it, although how I was raised probably has nothing to do with it. It’s a prejudice. That’s all. A self-imposed prohibition.

Everyone has good qualities: I’m convinced of that, and I usually try to find them. I find it makes my life more pleasant. I am able to enjoy other people more that way and I find myself less irritated that I live neither on an island nor among perfect individuals. (Although if I did they would surely throw me out.)

So understand that this is an idea that I’m struggling with, this disliking thing. I think it’s not really allowed.

Chintu, the puppy who lives in our lane, shits every where. No one cleans it up. Chintu comes into her yard. I know all about Australian Lady’s feelings on Chintu because I hear about them four or five times a day. At full volume. That seems to me that she must believe that’s an effective way to get things done.

But the fact that she’s still shouting about it two days later suggests something else. Like maybe it’s tie to regroup and consider another tactic. But not Australian Lady. She continues.

puppeteerFirstly, I don’t understand how anyone can go on being so angry. Or why, for that matter. Secondly, shouting about the same topic for days on end suggests either a problem with chronic, simmering anger, or a lack of sense. I’m not a fan of either as a character orientation. And that’s why I dislike Australian Lady.

I dislike Soheil for different reasons, although he’s angry too. Unlike Australian Lady, Soheil seems to enjoy winding other people up. “Look,” he seems to say, “I can make everyone dance.” He thinks he’s a puppeteer.

It is calculated. It is heartless. It is also just an unpleasant habit, like picking your belly button in public. No one wants to see that. Certainly, I don’t.

But that isn’t the point really. The point is that I think it’s okay to dislike these people.

“Not everyone’s going to like you,” I sometimes say to my students, and I sometimes say it to myself. But the converse is also true. I don’t have to like everyone.

Why is that so difficult to understand.

Just regulating

Fortunately, I have not taken it this far
Fortunately, I have not taken it this far

I’m having one of those days.

Last night, I had an on-line meeting to attend for the Country X job, but since this is a developing nation and nothing ever works when you really want it to, I was never really able to access the meeting. And then it was over. Naturally, at that point, I was able to login and access the broadband network I am using without any problem. That’s just how things go.

Then I tripped over a pipe on my walk this morning. Breakfast was cold. The puppy who lives across the street has suddenly taken it into his head to start tearing my clothes (and succeeded). So now I need to mend my clothes.

I’m annoyed with all of that. I’m annoyed with myself. Why does it take me so long to get ready in the mornings? What is it with my compulsion to wear things that take time to locate and put on, like necklaces and bangles, eye make-up, even bindi? Can’t I just wash and go? But, no, I have to do all these annoying “lady things” as Nandhini calls them.

And I’m tired, because I persist in waking up at 5:30 in the morning for no discernible reason, but the meeting that I couldn’t attend kept me up until 11.

So I don’t even have my usual patience with life.

Then I realized it’s Halloween. The worst day ever invented.

Photo credit: Prashant Pardeshi
Photo credit: Prashant Pardeshi

There are few reminders of it here. There’s a party shop on the corner that has orange cobwebs and masks hanging in the window. Given that Diwali is Sunday, and that is the biggest party around, I’m not sure why they are bothering. But maybe they feel the Diwali market is already saturated, and it’s old-hat anyway, and it’s time to borrow a different holiday.

And there are also references to Halloween on here and in the Facebook updates from my friends. So I can’t entirely forget.

That’s when I remember the somatic marker hypothesis and the ventromedial cortex, and I can tell you I’m nothing less than relieved.

“The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a repository of dispositionally recorded linkages between factual knowledge and bioregulatory states. Structures in ventromedial prefrontal cortex provide the substrate for learning an association between certain classes of complex situation, on the one hand, and the type of bioregulatory state (including emotional state) usually associated with that class of situation in past individual experience.”  Bechara, et al. Emotion, decision making and the orbitofrontal cortex.

This is nothing more complicated than an association between a certain class of complex situation and a bioregulatory state. When I was abused on Halloween, and I was abused especially severely on that occasion, I was angry. So, given that it is Halloween again, I also feel angry.

At some point, this would have been a kind of a time-saver, like knowing your times tables by heart so that you don’t have to add 8 9 times in order to get 72—you just know that’s what it is. It would have allowed me to skip the step of assessing every Halloween anew–I would have just known. Anger was the appropriate response last Halloween. it probably is the appropriate response to this one as well.

So, I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to look deeply into myself to determine what I’m really angry about. I don’t need to try to work through anything. I do know what this is about, what I have felt and thought in the past about this, and what I think and feel now.

I just need to regulate.

Walking on eggshells

Female life expectancy. Source: UNDP Human Development Report, 2009.

Aunty is chronically angry. From time to time, she is relaxed and jolly, but not often. Mostly, she is angry. In fact, she is angry so much of the time that anger seems to be her personality.

At the same time, she also had her 60th birthday this week, and I don’t think she likes getting old. Sixty is not old, but she lives in a country where the mean life expectancy is only a few years away from that. So for her, it is.

She has been a black cloud ever since.

I think I also drive her particularly crazy. Because I refuse to be drawn in. If she doesn’t feel like talking, I don’t talk to her. But otherwise I go about my daily tasks in the same calm and cheerful way. “Good morning, Aunty,” I say with a smile, when she comes into the bedroom where I’m writing in order to start on the laundry. She mumbles something unintelligible back or, if she’s really in a bad mood, scowls in a fixed kind of way–looking, but without making real eye contact. As if you aren’t a person and hadn’t spoken.

I am relentless, in fact, my tone never changing, the smile always there. If I were her, I’d be thinking of murdering me. What right do I have to be so happy? Especially when she is feeling so glum.

You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Life, clearly, is just not fair. I say that with a degree of irony. She grew up pampered and spoiled–“kept in cotton wool” she says. And you know how I did. My happiness was not a gift, handed to me. I fought for it–tooth and nail. That’s one reason I won’t let go of it.

I’m also using the medium chill technique on her: polite, upbeat, steady, distant. And I’m not doing it specifically to yank her chain, but for the benefit of my own sanity.

However, I am also inclined to placate her, to be careful of her preferences, and to do exactly what she says even if I’d rather not or if it makes no logical sense. Now, this is not my house, and my own belief is that you should be able to have things done as you like in your own home. But in addition to that, I’m also aware of the pull to not make things worse, or to try not to make things worse if it’s possible.

The effect is something like walking on eggshells.

Nearly everyone walks on eggshells with her. And this makes me think.

People who are chronically angry tend to exploit others for the benefits they can provide rather than engage in caring, reciprocal relationships. They often see others as objects and use them accordingly, the way you would use a coffee maker or a car. Perhaps their anger makes any other kind of relationship impossible, or perhaps their view of others as objects is what is making them so  angry in the first place–after all, I’d get really frustrated if my coffee maker started making its own decisions about when and how it wanted to make coffee. So I can understand.

But when we tiptoe around difficult people, it make objects out of them a well. It is as if we are saying, “You are not a person, but something like a delicate machine or a rickety bridge–something to be careful of rather than engaged with.” And I wonder about that.