The expression of anger

Even when Ravi first began dating Tania, he instinctually felt that she was very emotional. She would get angry easily and when she did, she screamed loudly. Her demeanour would look menacing, she didn’t mince words and the foul language she used was deplorable. It didn’t matter who was at the receiving end. Nor did it matter, if they were with friends or had company or were at a party or at a family gathering. When he brought it up with her she said, “I don’t like to bury my emotions. If something upsets me, I’d rather express it and get it out of my system. It means that I don’t carry any baggage.”

Initially, Ravi tried to accept her justification as she calmed down as quickly as she got angry. But soon he began to feel uncomfortable. He found himself pre-empting her every reaction and felt a compulsion to try and remove the cause of her anger as much as he possibly could. He was always alert and stressed. It wasn’t so much her angry outbursts but the shrillness of her voice that often made him cringe. He did enjoy her company, but he couldn’t help feeling as if everyone was whispering behind their back about her bouts of anger.

He didn’t know how to deal with it or make her understand his discomfort. So he began to avoid her. Did she make him feel embarrassed? Or was he simply trying to protect himself from public ridicule?

His behaviour upset Tania greatly as she really liked him. She didn’t unnecessarily get angry; there was always a valid reason for her outburst. Ravi had to accept her as she was. She had never pretended in front of him so why was he acting prudish? She confronted him, rather as Ravi said, he felt ‘cornered!’ As they argued and her temper rose, the boundaries of civility broke between them. Ravi desperately tried to explain his feelings but she just wouldn’t listen. She felt wronged.

Soon after, they broke up.

Its evident here that sometimes what makes us angry is less important than what we do with it. Although Ravi understood that her anger was at times justified, what he couldn’t fathom was the intensity of the outburst. He felt that most often, she responded inappropriately.

Anger is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild irritation and frustration to rage leading to various complex responses.

While growing up, parents teach children to express their emotions the ‘right’ way. Their ‘righteousness’ of course, is defined by their own personal values, belief systems, perceptions and judgements. Sometimes though, they forget that how they express these emotions in front of their children, however unintentional, are lessons that children learn as efficiently.

In addition, how the children are made to feel in such situations and in turn how they respond or how acceptable their reactions are, reflect the qualities they begin to attribute to these emotions growing up. Each child uses their own mechanisms to adapt, adopt and react to such situations. This could either lead to constructive or destructive behaviour in adulthood.

Some homes, on the other hand, do not allow children to express certain emotions openly and anger outbursts are one of them. Unresolved anger and / or anger that children don’t learn to express, in adulthood, can often lead to violent behaviour, depression, irritability, feelings of being disconnected or alienated. Minor discrepancies upset them, they can become defensive and feel pressurised to justify and constantly explain their behaviour.

angerAccording to Ravi, Tania was unable to distinguish between situations and always responded with the same intensity. Generally, different situations warrant differing expressions of anger. The intensity of the expression is mostly based on how it makes an individual feel personally. At the outset, it might look as if the situation is the culprit but delving deeper, it is in fact, a reflection of how the situation makes them feel about themselves – either insecure, inferior, disrespected, vulnerable, taken for granted, unimportant or worthless.

Both Ravi and Tania had different ways of expressing their anger. Ravi was unable to recognise the actual trigger within an unpleasant situation that made her angry. While Tania couldn’t look beyond feeling ‘wronged’ and so responded to Ravi the same way she’d learned to behave whenever she felt upset.

 

I depend on…ME!

As relationships form and grow, various kinds of relational dependencies develop. These could be emotional, financial, social, and sexual amongst many others. How partners respond and react to such dependencies and the balance they are able to create, are predictors of how mutually satisfying their relationship will be.

In emotional terms, sometimes, it’s simply the knowledge that someone is there for you or the belief that your partner will stand by you, always and forever, no matter the situation. When you’re in need, your partner might lend support while at other times, you might be the strength for your partner to lean on. Or it could also mean that you’re depending solely on your partner for your own happiness and fulfilment of your needs. Therefore, trouble arises whenever there is a mismatch in this underlying belief or expectation between partners.

Leena grew up in a nuclear family – happy but a lonely child. Her hard working parents were mostly busy and with no extended family or siblings for company and support, she always had to depend on herself for most of her needs. She made friends in school and later on had a group of close girlfriends with whom she had fun, shared her life and knew she could depend on them to cheer her up when need be. From her side too, she was always there to support them and stand by them, but her need to be strong for herself was so deeply ingrained within, it ensured that she could never truly be herself, even amongst ‘close friends.’

She was opinionated but not overtly insensitive. She only followed the rules she made for herself. If a situation bothered her, or she didn’t like someone, she simply walked away. At work she was committed, hard working and meticulous. Things had to be done her way. She rarely allowed others to change the way she operated since she felt that it was not only the right way to work but the only way to get things done correctly. In reality, it meant that she was in control!

But she wasn’t angry with life and her circumstances. She simply believed that when life threw a curveball, the only one who could help was she, herself. So she came first and most of her life decisions were based on what was important to her, what mattered to her and how the situation was going to make her feel and impact her life.

Many of her relationships with the opposite sex often led to the men running away from her. According to them, either she came on too strong and they couldn’t handle it while others felt that she was too demanding. She did try to act coy at times but failed miserably! For some others though, it was easier to walk away than deal with her forever vacillating stance – ‘I need you but I don’t or I don’t need you but I do!’

Only Mahesh, one of her many boyfriends stood by her – he made every effort to try and understand her insecurities and accept her as she truly was. He could read her like a book and managed her and her different moods with ease. He adapted and adjusted himself so well within her life and world, that she became comfortable being herself. Every one of her friends knew that he was for keeps.

Yet after a three year relationship he decided to walk away from her. He loved her but didn’t want to continue feeling like he was pushing her to commit simply because he needed her in his life.

Why? He knew her so well, understood her insecurities and also knew exactly how to handle her. Then why did he want to walk away? Was he getting tired of continuously trying? On the other hand, she was most comfortable in his presence then why was she pushing him away?

I wondered.

Was she actually scared that he was truly for keeps (like her friends’ kept telling her) and therefore would stick around? Did that make her uncomfortable? Was she afraid that it meant she would have to make the extra effort to unlearn her usual responses? She would have to learn to depend on him (sometimes) more than herself. Or perhaps more importantly she would have to learn to trust someone other than herself! She would have to let go. Sometimes, she would need to allow someone else to take control. Her decision making would now need to be made not only for her own good but their collective good. She would have to stop protecting herself and let herself be open to hurt. Was she feeling threatened by how vulnerable this new arrangement would make her feel? Was pushing him away therefore easier as she could then go back to being who she was, comfortable in her own skin?

She was angry and hurt that Mahesh wanted to call it quits. No matter how much her friends pleaded on his behalf, his wanting to walk away was a reaffirmation that one could never depend on anyone else but one’s own self. Unfortunately, she was equally afraid to fight for him to stay as breaking the boundary of her deeply ingrained comfort zone was as pressurising. Simultaneously, knowing that he was always the one to compromise, understand, accept, and adjust to suit her needs was making her feel miserable. But she just didn’t know how to show e6edcf14481980d983fe14c4a9d73f5eor let him know that she cared enough to want him to stay. She could emote her affection and dependency only to a certain extent as beyond that, it bordered on making her vulnerable and anxious. And she was terrified of letting anyone get a glimpse of this weakness.

Their situation also made me wonder if walking away was actually a stance for Mahesh to make her experience life without him and then perhaps feel the need – the strong need that she needed him as much in her life to want him to stay. Perhaps this was the only way he knew how to make her react, to make her want to take that step, to get her attention.

Maybe, for him, a part of loving her was to learn to let go. For her, though, it was a struggle between wanting him to stay and protecting her own self.

Comfortably bored

After a tiring day at work as Mahi began packing to leave, her colleague asked, ‘so, what exciting plans for the weekend?’

‘Nothing much, the in-laws are dropping by, need to do some marketing and then probably just laze around,’ Mahi said with a smile. She was slightly taken aback by the deadpan expression on her colleague’s face.

It made her uncomfortable so she quickly added, ‘how about you?’

Her colleague’s face broke into a smile and she replied, ‘I have a hot date. We’re going to the new Sushi restaurant in Bandra. He might pop the question today so I’m really excited.’

On the train ride back home, the deadpan look kept haunting Mahi. She couldn’t shake it off. She was sharing her plans only because she was asked, she wasn’t volunteering information. Why couldn’t her colleague leave her alone? If she wasn’t interested in her life, why bother with the pretence?

Forcing herself to think about something else she began wondering what she would cook for her in-laws this week. Should she cook baigan bharta, both her mother-in-law and husband loved it. No, she had made that only two weeks ago…hmmm…her mind wandered off.

Suddenly she gasped as the realisation dawned – that deadpan expression – it was boredom!

Her colleague had looked bored hearing about her weekend plans. Wait! What plans? Weren’t these things, she did almost every other weekend. Either her in-laws came over from Pune or they visited them. So paying bills, watching tv, shopping for vegetables & groceries or getting some work done at home, screaming at the maid – were just part of her everyday life. Had she even remotely sounded excited when she spoke to her colleague? So perhaps boredom wasn’t just a random expression. Damn! Had she seen it right or was she reading too much into it?

Manoj worked as hard as she did – he was travelling more than ever now but then so was she – they were both making good money – they recently bought a flat – had enjoyed a lovely relaxing holiday in Phuket. They had a good thing going, and she knew it. They had been married for five years. People spoke about the 7 year itch, she wasn’t even close! Suddenly she hated her colleague more than ever!

Why was Mahi worried? Could it mean that unconsciously she saw the exact expression on her colleague’s face that she herself was troubled with at times but didn’t want to acknowledge? And therefore she feared the sinking feeling that she might actually be bored with their relationship or their life together!

Another couple I know are outwardly happy with their usual share of nitpicking! For some time now I noticed a deluge of smiling and happy twosome pictures or family photographs on her social networking page. Initially I didn’t think too much about it but when almost every other news feed had a new picture, I wondered. Could it simply mean that she was making full use of her new tablet or was this her way of telling the world how exciting her life was or perhaps an attempt to cover up for her otherwise mundane life? The more people liked and commented on her pictures the more it fed into the need to keep up the pretence.

In both instances, it wasn’t so much about how their lives were panning out as outwardly none of them had much to complain. It was just the regularity of their everyday lives which was the pressing issue.

Ideally everyone looks for comfort – in their relationships, life, work, pleasure. Yet there is a thin line between being comfortable and getting bored with doing the same things over and over again. So it’s essential to find something new to take our minds off the usual humdrum on a regular basis. The simple act of having friends, family and acquaintances comment on photographs means there is always something new happening. So it isn’t only a reaffirmation that every thing is alright but there is also a feel good factor associated with it – which makes one look forward to it. Just like some people take to exercising to lose weight. There, the need isn’t so much about looking good but to feel good.

How one responds to these moments of boredom varies from person to person but finding something different to do (or doing something we wouldn’t normally do) means less time to worry (about being bored amongst other things) and feeling excited about life again. Travelling, finding a new hobby, starting a side business, visiting old friends, learning a new skill are all interesting options.

The crucial motivating factor here, is to do anything that is novel, refocuses our attention and also provides mental stimulation and excitement to make us feel in control of our lives again!

Are you right for me?

Madhavan and Paro came from differing backgrounds yet fell in love when they met in college. Parents from both sides, were against their relationship. They cried, argued and fought trying to make their parents understand the importance of their relationship. At times, they were also willing to pay heed to their parents’ concern only so they could use the opportunity to reiterate that they were baseless and both of them were perfect for each other. Neither of them were willing to elope since they wanted their parents’ blessings so after six years of bitter battle, their parents finally relented and they were married with much aplomb.

But 8 months after marrying with everyone’s blessing and societal approval, they filed for divorce on grounds of incompatibility!

Initially I thought perhaps the parents on either side were at it again and making life difficult for the couple but on close interaction found that it wasn’t the case. Irrespective of the many “I told you so” remarks floating around they broke up solely because they couldn’t live with each other!

Similarly another couple fell in love and married against parental wishes. They probably wouldn’t have married at all if there was a neutral someone who had simply asked them to look inwards in terms of what they truly wanted from each other, from their relationship – someone who nudged them to see that they were not right for each other as was starkly evident to outsiders. Unfortunately, no one did. Today, their every day is enmeshed in bitter arguments and adjustment issues. Even the birth of their child didn’t help matters.

When I began writing this post, I was thinking of discussing parental beliefs and viewpoints – how important these tend to be when deciding if a life partner is right for us. Consciously or otherwise, they are indicative of our future life. However, what I found truly intriguing was the underlying issue of how couples unanimously stood up to the world as one yet were unable to uphold that stance when face to face with each other!

Why?

In these cases, is it because for the longest time, their relationship solely meant adjusting and compromising to their respective families instead of addressing each other’s emotional needs? The battle with their parents took up so much mental space leaving them with hardly any time to talk about their expectations from each other, their personal beliefs, fears and goals, their future together amongst others. These are hardly issues when one is dating as then conversations mostly centre around likes, dislikes, enjoying moments of togetherness and physical intimacy. The physical intimacy phase is also one where the intention is to please rather than being vocal about being pleased or pleasing oneself.

Every person is unique and invariably upbringing, value systems, financial backgrounds, personal internalized conflicts influenced by respective families all determine and play a significant role when choosing a partner. Sometimes people look for partners who are totally different from themselves or their parents or their experiences as they feel that it will help to change their lives. After all, we’re all looking to live different lives. On the other hand sometimes we’re drawn to certain qualities or habits that unconsciously or at deeper insight are actually the kind of relationships we’ve seen growing up simply because we believe that we’re capable of changing them. Our future will be better and we will live different lives!

4cd1adc1775c3ce544bfe2a2612075c2But the irony of the situation is that the constant justifying to parents can take a toll on the personal relationship. I believe that some times having to justify also pressurises couples and puts them in false positions – someone might highlight a valid negative point which the couple might have overlooked or ignored but feels forced to take a side to keep up a front. Some times couples feel defensive if they’ve realised the same yet don’t know how to discuss it with their partner. Yet again something said during these arguments might have hurt the other partner – so although on the face of it things might seem ok but the person might be unable to forgive or forget how it had made them feel. And invariably it finds a way into future discussions and arguments!

It is crucial to try to understand our partners but more importantly we should first get to know ourselves better. If we don’t respect our own wants, needs and desires then we risk having to live someone else’s lives or their expectations. During such times, the power of love takes a backseat and we start regretting marrying the person we love. As seen with the second couple, although they’re not keen to divorce because of their child, that hasn’t meant that they’re civil to one another.

Thomas Merton in No Man Is An Island says “the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Choosing the right partner is such a challenge and much has been written about how to pick them. So perhaps at times, it’s easier to just accept that something didn’t happen SIMPLY because it wasn’t supposed to!

Love that wasn’t meant to be…

Everyone has a story to tell, rub the surface and out tumbles that hidden someone who made a world of a difference to our lives. Yet each of us has accepted the inevitable, that you can’t have it all or have buried the love stories deep below, only to relive them during those lonely moments.

Tom was diligent, hard-working but painfully shy. He met a girl on a flight and for the first time gathered his courage to approach her. She reciprocated and so began a friendship that changed him forever. He enjoyed her company, did things he’d normally never do and slowly transformed from a shy introvert to a confident young man. When their friendship blossomed into love, he proposed. For the first time he was willing to assert his feelings rather than do his parents’ bidding. Unfortunately the girl got cold feet and was incommunicado for the entire duration his parents came visiting to meet her.  A day before leaving, his father confronted him to say that since his choice couldn’t be trusted, he had to agree to marry the girl they had selected. In anger and frustration he agreed. A month after the wedding, his girlfriend got back in touch to apologise and meet his parents. But it was too late. Today he has a good marriage, he respects his wife and is a dutiful husband and father.

Dick is a successful young businessman. He had a live in relationship with his long time girlfriend for 6 years. They even adopted a dog to share their every day lives. When they broke up he was devastated yet 3 years hence he still writes to her every day. He connects with her at a level which he hasn’t been able to break free from. It’s just something he does, he needs to do.

Mary, married with two children recently reconnected with her erstwhile boyfriend. He was her first love and although their relationship had only lasted a year, they had shared some great moments together. Today she is happily married while his marriage is going through a rough patch. It had felt good to reconnect but soon their conversations became intimate leaving her completely confused about her life.

Jane is successful, charming and an extrovert who can chat up any person and make them open up to her. She fell in love for the first time 13 years after her marriage with someone who groomed her into the person she is today. He made her see herself in a new light, made her love herself, gave her the confidence to fly and explore the world. As much as they loved each other, they fought bitterly. Somewhere they wanted different things from the relationship and they broke up. Years later, she still yearns to make him see what they could have had together. Somewhere in her sane mind, difficult as it is, she has accepted that the relationship is long over yet during moments of weakness the strong pull he still holds on her heart plays havoc with her life.

Love is such a strange emotion. It can make us or break us, it gives us strength to face life yet can be equally debilitating and make us miserable. Love makes it all worthwhile. Love makes everything alright. And love is the only reason why it is so difficult to forget someone or what they did for us. No matter how much one hurts, somewhere it gives us the ability to always be there for the person when they reach out. Tom did just that when years later his girlfriend reconnected. She needed help and he was there for her.

How we adjust to these experiences of unrequited love varies from person to person. Some yearn for it, continue searching perhaps for a clone while some others try not to awaken those feelings lest they interfere with their every day lives. Some live otherwise ‘happy’ lives yet take time off (even if it is for a few days) to do what their heart truly desires – breaking the boundaries – consciously accepting that they do it because they can or perhaps it is what sustains them as they continue to live their otherwise routine lives.

Some unfortunate souls though are unable to break free from the clutches of this emotion and continue to compare their partners. They are either unable to love as unconditionally or resist any behaviour that remotely resembles that of their past lover. Author Elle Newmark in The Book of Unholy Mischief explains, “unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.”

Everyone inherently wants to be loved, wants to love another and be happy. Yet it can be elusive and slowly everything simply goes awry. Why?

Is it because most often people are unable to deal with the strength of this feeling? Do they require constant reassurances to ‘feel’ loved? Do they feel compelled by the need for the other person’s love to be happy? Does this in-turn overwhelm the partner putting them on a pedestal they are unable to cope with or makes them feel insecure, inferior and incapable of reciprocating? Is love so fragile that it needs kid gloves to blossom?

The practical mind believes that when we know what impacts relationships we can change our behaviour and thereby our responses. But how often is that even possible? Every person is unique and every one reacts differently. In addition our myriad life experiences too moulds our understanding of similar situations differently and thereby how we respond to them. We might want the same things yet how we express it and our partners’ ability to accept and acknowledge that is what makes all the difference.

fb6491aebf7f60d5ad3257bd0de6a957Unrequited love is unattainable. Then how does pining over it help? Isn’t the sense of loss here over something one never actually had? Yet it continues to be attractive. Perhaps because it is untouched by reality. When things go wrong in real life, the heart tends to attribute certain qualities to the unrequited love, thereby glorifying our perception of the individuals and the experiences we shared with them. As author Shannon L Alder says, “the most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.” Maybe this explains why Mary feels confused or why Jane still wants to make him see how their lives could have been different had they been together!

Or is it that holding on to the glimmer of hope, helps us make peace with the turmoil within?

After all, as James Patterson in The Angel Experiment explains “what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”