A river of rage flows through me and I never even realized it was there. A body of unexplored emotion, silently simmering on the edge of a rapid boil. I’ve always considered myself to be above emotional outbursts. Better than those who get swept into arguments culminating in screaming and slamming and crying and yelling. But I now know that I’m not. I see my river. I can feel it flowing just below my surface. And I can honestly say that if I could find the right switch, I would turn off the burner that heats it.
There haven’t been many times in my life when I have been truly surprised. Too perceptive for my own good, I usually see most things coming. So when I listened to the results of my Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis that I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t expect to hear anything I wasn’t already aware of. I was wrong. I was surprised. And it has taken me a long time to accept the truth.
Two of the personality traits that the Taylor-Johnson test measures are dominant/submissive and hostile/tolerant. I knew (or so I thought) exactly where I would end up. As a person who shapes themselves according to what others need and expect, I was sure to be submissive. And I have always considered myself to be tolerant. I have liberal views. I’m in favor of gay marriage, I love diversity and I don’t expect others to be just like me….or do I? Because I sure didn’t score in the submissive and tolerant traits.
If you were to ask me, my husband is a perfect example of a dominant and hostile individual. A true leader, people surround him as if magnetized. Without even trying he usually becomes the one others look to for an answer. And he makes no bones about what he thinks the answer is. Even if it hurts someone’s feelings. As a fireman, he’s earned the nickname ‘the kitchen nazi’, for his ‘my kitchen, my way’ demeanor during dinner preparation. And when I took our test, my answers reflected it all.
As our clergyman went through our analysis, showing us where we fell on the graph, I wasn’t surprised to see that my dear husband fell into mid range of these traits. What did surprise me was that I was perched higher into them than even he was. There I sat; mouth agape; staring at the chart. All I could think was that it must somehow be wrong. I even said it. “It’s a mistake” I mumbled.
Our pastor paused. He said “Carolyn, how could you be with this strong dominant man and yet not be dominated without being a dominant person yourself? How could you tolerate his hostility without being hostile yourself?” I wasn’t convinced. I nodded but didn’t concede. I didn’t think that was me. But from then on I did pay closer attention to myself. And in the end it was me who did the convincing.
For I have since learned something about anger. It doesn’t always look the same. My associations of shouting, abrasiveness, the typical ‘short fuse’ and belligerence don’t always apply. Sometimes it’s quieter. More calculated. And that’s me. The quiet, calculated rageaholic. You see, my rage isn’t displayed through a loud voice. It comes out through a sneer or an eye roll; a back handed compliment or bitter sarcasm. And when it actually gets to that rapid boil, I never waste my time on theatrics like waving my fists or kicking at cans. No. I launch a much more lethal attack directed squarely at you. Your character, your values; nothing is off limits to me. And once my rage shows up for the fight, it doesn’t come to lose. I demean, belittle and overpower – dominant and hostile.
And yet I count myself lucky. I have quite a strong choke-hold over my flowing body of ire. I can walk away from my children before it comes after them. My husband hasn’t always been so lucky. In public, it is generally only let loose in the defense of others. I’ve tried to use it for good. But I find that using it for good still doesn’t make it right. Still doesn’t make it a positive character trait. I’m going to need to find that switch.
While my son and I were next in line at a checkout in a store, the woman working the register treated the customers in front of us inexcusably. A young couple weighed down with purchases from their previous shopping excursions, were now buying some glass bake-ware. The woman was pregnant. The checkout lady handed them the item without putting it in a bag telling them it was too heavy and would fall through. They tried to ask her for a bag anyway, so as to put one of their previous purchases in and place this one in a stronger bag. They struggled to explain; English being their second language but the employee wouldn’t budge. She kept repeating to them that she wasn’t allowed to ‘just give away bags’.
I exploded. My rage spewing from me and this poor woman behind the register didn’t have a chance. I berated her. I beat her verbally until she conceded that her behavior was atrocious. The couple was gone. I was doing them no good. But I still felt the need to make this woman feel worse than she could have ever made them. I never used any profanity. I never raised my voice. But I abused her just the same. All in front of my son.
But I felt good. I had exacted my justice. I ran into the couple shortly after in the parking lot and told them what I had done on their behalf. They were thankful. They had even gone back into the store only to find this woman running towards them with the bag she had earlier been so unwilling to part with. I used it as a teaching moment with my son. I recounted everything I had done right. Reviewed with him how I didn’t raise my voice or use my hands even though I was so angry. All in all I was confident that my rage had done it’s good deed.
But had it? What lesson did I really teach that day to everyone involved? Because later that night while lying in bed and recounting the incident, I started to see things more clearly. Free from the haze of my anger. If I had really wanted to teach a good lesson; really wanted to provide justice, I should have done it differently. It could have been so easy and nobody had to get hurt. I could have asked the couple to wait just one moment, and after my purchase given them my bag. I could have been the hero, without being the punisher. I didn’t need rage to make it right. And now I know for sure. I’m really going to have to find that switch.