My river of rage

by Carolyn on July 16, 2009

what lies beneath

what lies beneath

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.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hardeep July 16, 2009 at 6:56 pm

I think that you are being too hard on yourself, I don’t believe that there was anything wrong with the way that you reacted.


2 Hardeep July 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Atleast you acted on how you felt instead of being like me and saying or doing nothing…a couple of weeks ago Sonya was putting her shoes on infront of her cubby at daycare, this young woman walked thru the door ( I am trying to show sonia to not be shy, I was terribly shy when I was younger) so I as an example try and say hello to people when in certains settings..anyhow I looked at her smiled and said hello..nothing..she just looked at me and kept walking. When she got closer Sonia looked up at her with a great big grin and said hello…the young woman did not respond to Sonia’s hello she didn’t even return the smile just said excuse me to her and walked right by, she then picked up hert child who she was gigling and smiling with and walked out the door. Her actions angered me soo much because her I was trying to teach Sonia to not be shy and to be polite but then I have this adult who totally ignored her, if you want to be a snob to me no prob but don’t be one to my to year old, it broke my heart when Sonia said that the lady did not say hi to me..anyhow my point is that I have been thinking about how I should have said something lik ” how rude” but instead I didn’t do anything. Oh well atleast Sonia has forgotten about it..or has she maybe she won’t be so quick to say hi the next time.


3 Carolyn July 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm

I completely understand Hardeep! I can remember that happening to Nolan too sometimes and I would always be irritated by it. I remember one time while checking out at WalMart, Nolan was monkeying around and telling the checkout lady all about what was for him that I was buying. She completely ignored him! I looked at her and said ‘you can acknowledge him, you know’. She talked back to him after that.

There has to be a middle ground. It’s not okay to do nothing, only to regret it later. It’s also not okay to verbally decimate someone and think it was the right thing to do. We just need to find a comfortable balance between the two. If only it was as easy as that!


4 Urchin July 16, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Wow. On the one hand I have to commend you for standing up for someone, especially if they weren’t there to see it. That’s not an easy task. Maybe the clerk will think about how her actions will affect someone in the future.

Did what you do was exactly right? No. But nothing ever is. That you felt strange about your behavior later says more about you than anything else. Your verbal dressing down was in the right. Perhaps not the best right, but it was in the right. (I think, but then I’ve been the person ignored. I’ve been the person cast aside. I’m “Urchin” for a reason. The unwanted. The unloved. The trash that people pick up and play with from time to time, but always end up throwing away eventually. That’s not why Mo gave me the nickname, but it’s why I’ve kept it. It fits.)

When I was working at Victoria’s Secret, one of my fellow Team Leads had just moved over from Japan. This was her first job in the states and she was incredible. A little difficult to understand sometimes, but she did her job, always, without complaint. Without half-assery. Which was why she was a team-lead too. This woman comes in, and starts throwing a fit, demanding to see a “manager”. Well it’s Yuko and me. That’s it. So I go over. This is what happens:

Me: “Yes ma’am, how may I help you?”

Woman: looking me over with a sneer. “Well. They just let ANYONE work here don’t they?”

Me: a little shocked, a lot hurt, and even angrier. “Yes, we do. However, we don’t let just anyone shop here. Leave.”

Now technically that’s against policy, but the woman was being harassing towards Yuko, down right hateful to me, and I was in NO mood to take it. I later got written up for it, (as per policy, but the manager agreed with my actions.)

Was it the right thing? No. But it sure felt good.


5 Carolyn July 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

What a horrible thing for a customer to say. I agree with what you did also. You have to stand up for yourself and others who are being victimized by rudeness. You were curt and to the point. You asked her to leave and I believe you had every right to. And you were better than I would have probably been, because I probably would have also called her an ugly person who didn’t deserve to get the time of day from me or anyone else. I probably would have insulted her appearance too. But you didn’t. You stopped at just the right place. Good job. That *should* have felt good.


6 Frank July 17, 2009 at 1:29 am

I liked this post a lot, Carolyn, but I can’t say I agree with your need to change. I’m not saying you’re wrong, either, only that there’s a place in this world for creatures of all shapes and sizes.

Yes, you could have handled things differently, but I’m not so sure that you should have. The truth of it is that people do whatever they can get away with. That employee could have been nicer and chose not to and got called on it. No sympathy there.

Unless I’m mistaken, you only held up a mirror. You didn’t fabricate things or resort to petty insults. You pointed out, in painful detail, what the clerk had done wrong. Am I right or wrong? Because I’m not so sure you can take the blame for what they see in that mirror. And like I’ve said before, I don’t have much sympathy for people who do bad things and then get called on them.

I told you in my last post that I was a superhero nut. You should go get yourself a cape and tights. You were somebody’s hero that day. You stood up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves and you set a fine example for your child.

What the world really needs is for people not to behave as the clerk did. In the absence of that, we need people who will call them on it when they do.

I’ve known people in corporate America who cultivate an aura of fear around themselves. They use rage and being short-tempered as a tool to get people in line. That’s not you. You’d be perfectly happy to be a peaceful person all the time.

But if someone walks up behind a wolverine and pokes it in the ass with a sharp stick, who’s to blame for what happens next? The wolverine… or the person holding the stick?


7 Carolyn July 17, 2009 at 9:48 am

Thank you Frank for finding my temper to be valiant. I completely see your point. In fact it’s exactly what I’ve been telling myself for years when things like this have happened. But what I’ve come to is that yes, standing up for others *is* important. And since I have the strength and ability to do that, I always should. But I can stand up for others without beating someone else down in the process. Or at least without completely decimating them.

Because that check out lady conceded that I was right about half way through my attack. I didn’t have to continue. I saw my victory, but it suddenly wasn’t good enough. I didn’t just hold up the mirror, I smashed it into her face. And that’s what I would like to change. I want to be able to stop myself. I keep my anger so well reigned in, but once it gets loose I struggle to regain any control.

But I do completely agree with one thing. “What the world really needs is for people not to behave as the clerk did.” You’re absolutely right. She was being awful to people who were weaker than her. Hopefully she’ll never do that again.


8 Frank July 17, 2009 at 11:18 am

Okay, yes. Showing them the mirror = good. Bashing them in the face with the mirror = less than good. Making them eat the broken glass = very, very bad.

It’s too bad the clerk didn’t have a bar of chocolate on her. It’s like Kryptonite in these situations, I swear.


9 Tammy July 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I think any sweets work on you Carolyn!


10 Carolyn July 17, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Oh you guys know me too well!


11 Tammy July 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

When you learn how to reign in your anger, please share it with the rest of us. I think everyone could used help in that area.
I phone my husband at work to talk to an adult and to vent so I don’t become the “crazy yelling lady” around my children. I don’t know what I would do with out him at those moments.


12 Carolyn July 17, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Venting is helpful. And your husband must be good at letting just get it out without interrupting or giving advice. That’s the key to being the ventee isn’t it?


13 Hardeep July 17, 2009 at 7:00 pm

You do that too Tammy ? It is amazing how much better I feel after I vent to Jim about the situation at the time, I am soo glad that I can reach him while he is working.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: