my anger circled back to me
I got a good look at it.
The snake is a common garter snake. It’s not poisonous, it’s not even going to bite unless cornered with no other choice. It wants to bask in the sun and eat bugs and live its life – and leave, when a situation gets ugly.
All my life I’ve experienced exaggerated bug-eyed rage reactions from some people when I express anger, no matter how situationally appropriate. I figured they must seeing something about me I just couldn’t see, that I was a toxic dangerous person. I wasted a lot of my life trying to root out that toxic danger. I did build some skills.
I modeled my behavior on people who I saw expressing anger in considerate, minimal, caring, articulate ways. Clear I statements, clear asks, peaceful disengagement when the conversation isn’t going anywhere. Leaving the door open.
These strategies get concerns heard and validated, for some people. For me they didn’t work.
No matter how diligently I peaced (yes it’s a verb), some people would still flip out when I raised an issue, like I’d produced a lethal weapon and pointed it at their head. I could never be permitted to say or telegraph anger or disapproval. It always had to be felt/sold/expressed as genuine concern, concern that put the other person’s needs first, and completely erased my stake in the situation.
And ok if that really works? But it’s not true so I am suspicious about how that will ripple out. It seems like a way of interacting that supports the very status quo that generated the issue in the first place. And it is just weird that I am somehow not allowed to have anything at stake, anything I need to protect.
It all made no sense, never has and never did, and there was so much gaslighting.
Relationships that are conditional on me not experiencing anger when I am affronted or violated sound like they would be abusive relationships. Some of mine were, and probably still are; I choose to love and work with some messy people. And yet so many solid, apparently mature, mostly-not-messy most-of-the-time people who I have seen respond capably and tolerantly to anger from others have had this flipout reaction to me.
One thing I am clear about: people who have this reaction to me? They really do feel the way they feel. It’s real for them. I express a careful iota of mad and they experience me as scary, dangerous, out of line, inappropriate, irresponsible and destructive. They aren’t faking it.
Sitting with this lifelong hot mess, I finally realized: where have I seen such consistent extreme irrational reactions in other people before? Phobias, like the fear of snakes. Some people can’t help it. It’s just how they are, they have this hardwired fear. And it’s just how I am, that I trigger it.
OK then. If that’s what’s up, I can deal.
But I’ll never hate that innocent snake again.