“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” – James Russell Lowell, poet
“Visually, they were an exercise in contrasts, so very different.”
Derek sent me an email asking me if he could get an appointment for himself and his wife of 16 years, Daisy. Derek said his wife has serious anger issues which seem to have surfaced since their two children, Delbert, age 13 and Daphne, age 15, became teenagers. He said it was so bad it was affecting their marriage.
We scheduled for the following week and they arrived punctually at my office. Visually, they were an exercise in contrasts, so very different. Derek was a big, gruff fellow who was a little scary to look at due to his size, well over six feet, his long, black beard and his unkempt appearance accentuated with a wrinkled, worn and well washed wardrobe.
Daphne, on the other hand was quite petite in size, barely breaking the 5 foot mark, of delicate stature, fine features like a ballerina who could do Swan Lake well, and dressed for town with carefully chosen clothes, hairstyle and jewelled nails polished, like she‘d come directly from the beauty salon.
We had exchanged pleasantries and I collected a brief history from each of them. Since Derek had contacted me, I asked him what had happened that instigated his call.
“… Daisy threw a coffee cup at him…”
Derek said Daisy has always had a mind of her own and over their years together, have often had disagreements. But, until recently they had been able to resolve their differences to their mutual satisfaction. Sometimes, he said, they would just agree to disagree on some subjects like parenting, specific relatives, movies, politics, religion and so on.
Last week however, it shifted to an alarming difference when Daisy threw a coffee cup at him during an argument over the children and their curfews. It was then I noticed the small bandage high on the left side of his forehead, just at the edge of his hairline. As he told me this, his hand reached up and gently touched the injury in an unconscious gesture, as if he was still shocked by the event happening to him.
Daisy was sitting quietly in her chair with a blank stare plastered to her face, as if her husband was talking about somebody else. It seemed her attention was somewhere else. She showed no guilt or remorse that I could detect. But there was also no anger or denial in her manner.
“I’m not really sure what happened that night.”
I turned to Daisy and said to her, “Daisy, would you tell me what happened from your perspective during that argument with Derek?”
When she heard her name, it seemed to wake her from her self induced stupor. She looked over to me and replied,
“I’m not really sure what happened that night. I remember we were arguing about what time Daphne’s curfew should be, now that she had turned fifteen in June. He was saying it should be extended and I was against that. I remember him saying I was being overprotective and unreasonable. And, I was arguing he was being naive and trying to be Daphne’s friend instead of her father.”
“And, how did you end up throwing the coffee cup, Daisy?” I asked wondering where this would lead.
“Ken, I’m not really sure. I remember we were arguing back and forth while we were doing the supper dishes. The kids were downstairs watching TV. And, I think we were both upset. But, suddenly I just whipped the cup at him. I was so frustrated. I don’t think I‘ve ever done that before, at least not that I remember. And, when it hit him and cut his head, I think I was as shocked that I threw it as he was at being cut by it. I think I scared us both, but in different ways.”
“A wonderful emotion to get things moving when one is stuck is anger. It was anger more than anything else that had set me off, roused me into productivity and creativity.”
– Mary Garden, musician
“… three most insulting words you can say to anyone are, ‘I know You!’”
“How do you mean, Daisy,…’scared us both in different ways?’”
“Well, I think Derek is afraid of me now…afraid it could happen, again. And, it scares me that I would do that to someone I love!” she said, with remorse and confusion filling her voice and face for the first time.
Turning to Derek, I said, “Is that true, are you fearful of her now?”
Derek said, “Well, sorta! But, not afraid of her physically so much, but rather afraid of it happening again or happening to our kids or someone else. I guess I’m afraid that I really don’t know Daisy, when I thought I did!”
“It’s been said that the three most insulting words you can say to anyone are, ‘I know You!’ And, I actually agree! Since we are continuous learning organisms, we never stop learning, and so, never stop changing. So it is really impossible for anyone to know us…they can only guess.”
“Are you saying, I shouldn’t expect to know Daisy, even though I live with her every day?” Derek asked in surprise.
“So, I shouldn’t try to know Daisy!”
“Let me offer an example. I have been hanging around my spouse about 55 years and she is not the person she was yesterday, last week, last month, last year, 10 years ago or 40 years ago. She’s an evolving person and her job is to learn to know herself. And that’s really everyone’s task in life.”
“So, I shouldn’t try to know Daisy! What should I do then?” he asked confused.
“Just love her…that will be a full time task!” I replied with a soft smile.
Then I added turning toward her, “Daisy, how do you make sense of what happened?”
She was thoughtful for a few moments and as the silence built, I noticed Derek waiting in anticipation. She looked toward me, “I’ve run it over and over in my head trying to figure out what happened…but it seems to elude me in some way…yet, there is a part of me saying I should know what happened, what triggered my violent outburst…”
“Daisy, what were the last things you remember Derek saying to you just before you threw the cup?”
“I remember what I said to you, Daisy!”
“I don’t remember, Ken! We were both very upset. I think I called him ‘a self righteous bastard’ and he responded and before I realized it the cup was flying at him! But, I don’t remember how he responded…I don’t remember what he actually said. I should remember that, shouldn’t I?” she asked, a confused look like you see when someone has fallen suddenly not knowing what they tripped on.
Derek said hesitantly, “I remember what I said to you, Daisy!”
I turned to Derek and asked, “How did you respond to her comment, Derek?”
Sheepishly, looking down at his hands in embarrassment, he said in a quiet voice, “I matched and mirrored your insult! Daisy, I called you ‘a self righteous bitch!”
To break through this tense moment, I interjected, “That’s interesting! It sounds like it might have been the trigger that blasted that cup from you hand. Daisy, do those words have any special significance to you”
“… when I would hear him smack her, he would call her a ‘bitch.’”
Daisy’s face had a blank quality to it, like she was somewhere else. Her eyes were wet and her mind seemed far away. Derek and I both waited, as if we intuitively knew that was our role right now. A few quiet moments passed with no one moving, as if honouring something significant, like what happens during the three minutes of silence at the Veterans Day Memorials.
Finally, Daisy spoke in a hushed, distant voice, tears streaming down her face, “When I was a little kid my Mom and Dad argued a lot. And, sometimes Dad even got violent. And, Mom put up with it way too much. I remember, when I would hear him smack her, he would call her a ‘bitch.’ I had forgotten those memories, stuffed them away I guess… until you called me, ‘a self righteous bitch.’”
“Now it all makes sense!” I said.
“How does it all make sense, Ken, I’m not sure I understand what happened!” Derek said, confusion reigning over his face.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
– Mark Twain, author
“It’s never too late to learn or love!”
“It looks like Daisy has been carrying around a traumatic experience, or perhaps a series of them, which she has been trying to avoid by trying to ignore it. I think perhaps those memories caught up with her at the second she heard the word, ‘bitch.’” I said.
Daisy jumped in now, looking at me and saying, “My Mom never talked about it. Eventually, this led to my Dad getting help with his addictions. They worked it out somehow. But, I didn’t, did I?”
“It’s never too late to learn or love!” I replied, smiling.
“Are you saying you can help me get past this, too!” Daisy voiced hopefully.
“If we’re willing to learn, we can learn to deal with anything we have survived…in fact, it is how we have excelled as a species.”
“How do we do that, Ken?” Derek asked mirroring Daisy’s cautious optimism.
“…it requires is a willingness to learn, self honesty and a few hours of your time…”
“The flame of anger, bright and brief, sharpens the barb of love.” – Walter Savage Landor, poet
“Well, Daisy’s task is to uncover the blind spots she has about those memories of hearing her parents fighting. This requires her to understand how it served, both her and her parents, to have had those fights. Once she understands specifically how it helped them learn important knowledge and skills for their future, she will honour those memories and let the emotions surrounding them go.”
“Is that a difficult thing to do?” Daisy asked.
“All it requires is a willingness to learn, self honesty and a few hours of your time, Daisy!”
“And, what about us…what about our relationship? How do we deal with it?” Derek asked.
“Well Derek, it’s a similar journey but you need to do it together. It involves resolving the infatuations and resentments you carry toward each other, and creating a respectful, balanced, healthy, relationship for your future together.”
“And, Derek, I don’t want or need you to change either.”
They both were keen to these ideas. I worked with Daisy individually on her past handicapping memories. And, the three of us worked on creating the kind of relationship they both wanted.
About ten weeks later, near the end of our work, I said to them, “Let’s see how far you have integrated what you have learned. Would you look at each other for a moment and answer this question truthfully, ‘Do you need your partner to change in any way for you to spend your future with your partner?’”
Both were quiet for a few moments, each with their own thoughts.
Derek spoke first, a gentle, warm smile both on his face and in his voice, “I wouldn’t have believed this two months ago, but I don’t need you, Daisy, to do anything but be you. I will be fine and we will be fine!”
Daisy, tears collecting in her eyes as she listened, replied, “And, Derek, I don’t want or need you to change either. And thank you for being who you are! I love you!”
They were done and they knew they were done! They had created the relationship they needed for their future. A relationship that would demand they both challenge and support each other continually so each could evolve in the way they each needed.
“The greatest remedy for anger is understanding!” – King Ayles, writer
Until Next time…
Now you know, you may carry around emotional triggers that can appear at the wrong times in your life. They could be a sound, a smell, a colour, an image…any sense can trigger an intense negative or positive emotion. The smell of a certain food might remind you of a pleasant or unpleasant past experience. Once you find one, uncover its value to you back then, and even now! Then, you will be OK with it, neither a pain nor a pleasure, rather…an appreciation…a moment of gratefulness! And remember, no one knows you…that’s your full time job in life!
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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