ASK ABDI: HOW DO I DEAL WITH MY RAGE DUE TO CARETAKING?
QUESTION: I’m really trying to wrap my psyche around the rage and anger that I’m feeling around some old as well as ongoing relationships. Intellectually I understand, and sometimes I can feel why these feelings are there, but mostly it's confusing. I am a caretaker in relationships, which always leaves me exhausted, and I know this is the root of the problem.
I had a parental visit where I felt the rage come up in an aggressive desire/compulsion to extract what I feel is “owed”. I think I originally begged for a verbal/energetic acknowledgement and gave up. Next, I begged for them to pay for things: school and later even therapy, when I first started. Eventually, thank God, I stopped because it was a disaster - begging for money because I wanted it to be a form of acknowledgement… You can’t really beg or extract reparation, sort of defeats the purpose.
I feel kind of gross and shameful or guilty about my aggression.
It feels similar, in ways, to the recent conversation I had with an ex. A lot of anger came out and I just basically ended by stating that I probably couldn’t have him in my life if he wasn’t willing to take a look at things and understand the dynamics, if nothing more than just gracing them with his attention, he mentioned he “never thinks about the past”. I felt like that was directing my rage appropriately though, speaking and setting boundaries. Was that enough? I’m confused because I felt the same aggressive compulsion to talk things through.
But with my parents, I can’t really do that. And I would like to let go, which I suppose will happen with time and can crowd them out. There will never be a conversation and I’m never getting parents. And while I get that and keep mourning that, the rage is tricky and it does seem like a piece involved in letting go, and I don’t get it. It all feels fucked up and I’m pretty sure that's not my fault, but I do know that I have to take ownership over the rage, but I’m confused.
Is just feeling/holding the rage and letting go enough? Not that I’m necessarily capable of doing that in such a Zen manner.
ANSWER: When we feel such deep rage towards someone, we have to take responsibility for the feeling. Even if the other person is a master manipulator and has managed to hoodwink us into giving much more than we wanted to give, it is still our responsibility. Hard one to digest, but true. It is our internal wounding that allows vampires in. The healing is always within. Unconsciously, it is so much easier to go on the rage kick than go inside.
I have learned an invaluable lesson riding motorcycles for 40 years: even if someone is drunk and runs a red light or hits me from behind, it is always my responsibility, as I will be the one that is maimed or dead. It might be their fault, but it will be my responsibility. So I ride with a 360-degree awareness of what is happening. I do my best to apply this to relationships.
Becoming aware of the rage is important, but just the first step. Anger is just telling you that you need to give yourself more room, that the dysfunctional relationship became too close for psychic comfort. As much as we want others to see our side at times, after the 100th conversation, we need to pull back. The question one has to ask is: is it more important for my well-being to be loved by another, even though it entails internal psychic pain?
Many of us caretakers tend to keep quiet and take on narcissists until we explode. It becomes so habitual that we do not know we have been dishonoring ourselves, until we are in a state of internal rage. Of course, this is dishonest on our part, as it does not offer a chance for true dialogue or for a remedy in the relationship.
The trick here, after constantly monitoring our internal emotional state, is to know if the other person will be receptive to a dialogue or will be hell-bent on keeping the status quo. Some relationships can be deeply enriched and transformed with some honest sharing. Others were built on such deep false grounds, that they have to be released. One needs to understand, as a codependent person, that one has been incredibly dishonest. Not out of maliciousness, but rather because one was never taught self-care. So what is offered in that instance is one’s perfected mask, instead of truth. We all have been there: the fake smile, nodding patiently as we plan our escape, listening to cutting or false comments without responding. Or the classic unending vomiting of someone’s mental masturbation on us without us getting one word in. Honesty with compassion in relationship is a high art that is a work in process.
So review all of your relationships. Some are good as they are. Some can be redeemed with some uncomfortable discussions. Remember that we are changing the rules we had initially set up unconsciously, so people can be confused. We had started the relationship by begging for love by absorbing whatever was thrown at us. Now we are demanding equal give and take.
With some relationships, it’s not even about discussion; it’s just about keeping distance and understanding internally, as you did with your family, that spending time with them is deadly. So lovingly, but firmly, we step back, without making too much of a scene. Narcissists love scenes! We work on loving them even though we might not like them. This is best done at a distance. And taking responsibility when we choose to be present in them, and knowing the pitfalls and warning signs.
Always remember that being truly honest is one of the most difficult tasks in life. It means constant self and internal awareness. It is a process and not an event, it does not happen overnight. As we choose our self/Self, over begging for our needs in the marketplace, much gets aligned. We don’t do Zen, it happens when we are in the flow. To be in the flow, we have to feel when we are diverted out of it. This is where paying attention to our feelings and being honest comes in.