DEAR CAROLYN: It seems we are living in an era of “We must all be responsible for our own emotional and verbal reactions to things at all times, regardless of what people say or do to us,” and I do agree with that, for the most part.
However, I also think that mentality has its limits.
I am in a serious relationship, the problems of which have been blamed almost exclusively on my “anger issues.” After months of accepting this as fact and working on myself (going to therapy, etc.), I feel my angry responses never would have occurred in the first place if my partner had even been the least bit friendly, loving, kind or interested in me. I know I’ve been verbally explosive at times, but why should I blame myself for an understandable, human reaction to someone talking to me like a dog when all I said was, “Pass the syrup”?
At what point should we start calling others on their behavior and stop telling ourselves to “be responsible” for every reaction we may have, even when that reaction is perfectly justified?
– Angry Girl
DEAR ANGRY GIRL: Why did you stay with someone who wasn’t “the least bit friendly, loving, kind or interested” in you, and talked to you “like a dog”?
This isn’t an exercise in snarkery or victim-blaming. It’s an opener to proving the unlimited value in being responsible for our own emotions.
You describe a situation in which you were plainly mistreated and you responded with understandable anger. That, to me, is a pretty precise picture of what happens when people do what you suggest and call others on their bad behavior.
Were your partner a better person, s/he might have responded to your anger by feeling contrite and working to be kinder. But as is common with people who mistreat others, your partner responded by blaming you and apparently sending you off to therapy.
That outcome does not speak well of the method that got you there.
Remaining single unless you’re treated well solves the anger, too.
Maybe it would help to think of it this way: Enrage me once, shame on you; enrage me often, shame on me. We are always responsible for our reactions, which includes recognizing that getting angry and expecting others to make things right aren’t the only choices.
There’s also, always, the door.