Some of the reasons to remain angry are:
- It is a familiar pattern
- It effectively covers up feelings of anxiety
- You can use it to manipulate those around you
- Expectations are lowered – of you and others
Another one came to my attention few weeks ago. We were relaxing with couple of friends at a winery on a Saturday afternoon in Napa Valley. I was discussing how my book, Back in Control, was doing. Although I have witnessed hundreds of patients becoming pain free, many people simply do not want consider looking at any information about chronic pain or a structured care process. A significant obstacle to success is not being open to new ideas and engaging with the tools.
Anger and love
Anger is the common trait that blocks openness and engagement. Frustrated people are not rational. There are no exceptions. Our conversation moved on to the reasons why people want to hang on to their anger, (and pain). One possibility was discussed that I had forgotten about – pain can be connected to love.
Our friend Sheila was standing in the checkout line at a grocery store when she heard a young mother screaming at her young five-year old daughter to put something back on the shelf. She then hauled off and slapped her with a full swing. Almost at the same time the young girl began to cry, she held out her arms and ran to her mother to comfort her. Who else was there around to comfort her? Talk about becoming cross-wired – the girl’s source of pain was also her bastion of love and protection.
My childhood experience with “love”
My mother would fly into rages that would last for two or three days. We never knew what would set them off, although we imagined many possibilities. We thought it was associated with our behavior, but no matter how hard we tried to avoid upsetting her, it just happened. Every time after her tirades she would profusely apologize and tell us how much she loved us. It was quite confusing after a while. What even seems more bizarre in retrospect was that I was convinced that our parents loved us. I recall telling friends of mine in middle school that although my parents had some faults at least I knew they loved us? Really?
The answer really is yes. My mother spent hours driving us around, volunteering at school, and talked about us in glowing terms to anyone that would listen. What I did not know as a young child is how disconnected anger (she also had chronic pain) can make you. She essentially entered a different reality when she became upset. From our perspective this was all a part of parental support and love.
I am not angry
It was so mixed up in my head that I did not even realize that anger was part of my life until I was almost 50 years old. It was just normal for me to become “frustrated” and since I was “right”, I did not have a clue that this was what anger looked like. I don’t think those close to me felt the same way.
A familiar phrase I hear weekly from my patients is, “I am not angry. I just want to get rid of my pain.” My reply is, “Are you happy about your pain?” It only takes a few more questions to un-roof a multitude of things he or she is frustrated with, including me who is not going to be able to immediately get rid of their pain.
“Neurons that fire together wire together” is a phrase that is commonly used amongst neuroscientists. The brain functions by association. It does not perform millions calculations a second like a supercomputer playing chess.
What is your concept of love?
When you are an infant or child your mind is a blank slate being downloaded from your environment. If your symbols of love and protection are combined with mental or physical abuse your concept of love will be much different than someone who was raised in a warm, caring, nurturing, and truly loving environment. In retrospect it is disturbing to me that I was quite verbal about how much my mother loved me in the midst of a violent environment.
Additionally, physical and mental pain is processed essentially in the same area of the brain. What is your interpretation of love? What feels the most familiar to you? Is pain a more comfortable pattern? Do you know anything else? How do treat others close to you with your version of love? Are you creating a home filled with peace and joy or are they a target for your frustrations?
You have a choice to move on to a better life. Do you know how to do so? Do you really want to?