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How Dangerous Can Dirty Dishes Be? Uncovering the Dirt About Anger
You walk in the door after a long day of work. You see your husband taking a nap on the couch. You notice the dishes are still piled up in the sink from last night's dinner. Something inside of you begins to rumble and your face burns with anger. You feel as if you are on the verge of explosion. Is it normal to get SO upset over a few dirty dishes? Maybe for you it's not dishes, but the toilet seat left up, dirty socks in the corner, a blaring TV, or an over-enthusiasm for spending money on things you find pointless. All of us have our "hot buttons" and those we love the most seem to be the ones who can really set us off. But why?
It's Not About the Dishes
It's not really about the dishes. Sure, a dirty sink can be irritating—but does it have the power to really make one irate? Many of the emotions that we experience can be likened to the visible part of an iceberg. Sure, an iceberg may be large, but compared to the size of what is hidden beneath the water, the visible part is proportionately much smaller. Think of it like a garden. When seeds are planted, they are hidden beneath the ground and over time they grow until eventually, a plant breaks through the ground and is exposed. Anger works the same way. When anger is "exposed" there is often already an "anger plant" growing beneath the surface.
Where Does Anger Come From?
Anger is a clue that there is something else wrong. It is a secondary emotion, meaning that beneath the anger is usually fear, sadness, or frustration. Think of something that makes you angry. Now, ask yourself the question, "Why am I angry?" Let's take the dishes, for example. When I ask myself why I am so angry about dirty dishes, I realize that it is mostly because I am afraid. I grew up in a home where my mom did most of the work around the house and like the energizer bunny, she kept going and going and going. As she was going, my dad was often napping. This greatly angered me as a child. I felt sad that my mom did so much work and frustrated that my dad didn't help out more. So, when I see a pile of dirty dishes, I don't just see the dishes, but I envision my life as me working and my husband napping. This is not an accurate depiction of what life is really like; in fact, my husband does the dishes more than I do! I need to remind myself that my husband and I are not my parents. But in the moment, it feels like I'm reliving the same feelings from my past.
Destroy the Root to Get Rid of the Fruit
If you really want to see a change in the amount of anger you deal with, you need to go after the roots. A gardener would not trim weeds or tuck them away to hide them. Alternately, a gardener cannot just dig up everything and tear the garden apart to get rid of the weeds. The gardener must carefully pull each weed out, one at a time, with care to not damage the healthy plants that surround it. The gardener must dig and dig until the root is exposed and then pull it out. What are the consequences if the gardener ignores the weeds? A slow, choking death to the healthy plants nearby. If left unchecked, weeds can take over and totally destroy a garden.
"You Make Me So Mad!"
Have you ever screamed, "You make me so mad"? I know I have. But the truth is, nobody can make you mad. No matter how much others may provoke you, the choice of how you will respond is yours and yours alone. Am I making you mad by this statement? I know I didn't like it the first time I heard it. Who enjoys taking the blame for negative attitudes? It's easier to blame others for our problems. If it's your fault and not mine, then I don't have to worry about changing. It's more preferable to tell YOU that you have a problem and you better change. Are you convinced yet? Let's take an obvious example. Back to the dishes. Perhaps dirty dishes don't bother you at all. Maybe you could come home to dirty dishes every day and be just fine. But me? That's another story. The dishes are not doing anything to provoke one response from me and another from you. You choose not to be angry when it comes to dirty dishes. If I don't work at it, my automatic response is annoyance and anger. Next time you are feeling angry, try screaming "I make me so mad!"
Five Steps to Effectively Dealing With Anger
1. STOP: Delay Response: Do not do what you used to do that does not work. If you want to cool down, do NOT use this cool-down time to rehearse what made you angry.
2. ASK: Why am I angry? Anger is not a primary emotion but is generally the result of being hurt, frustrated, or afraid. What do I want? Do you really want clean dishes or do you want to know that your husband cares enough to help out around the house?
3. LISTEN: Empathize: Listen to the person or try to understand the situation. Often, the more you get angry, the more you want to speak; most angry people are not good listeners.
4. RETHINK: Renew your mind with truth; step back and look at the whole situation. We often think of anger management as learning how to control anger but the best place to intervene is BEFORE you feel angry. People who regularly experience anger are people who regularly think judgmental, cynical thoughts of other people.
5. GO: Follow-Through and take appropriate action. It can be easy to avoid confrontation when you cool down…anger is a signal for action! Maybe you need to deal with your own distorted thoughts…but maybe you need to have a conversation with the person you are angry with.
Many of the ideas in and the content of this article are inspired by the teachings of John Ortberg's "All About Anger" audio series. The five practical steps are John Ortberg's solutions to how to effectively deal with anger. If you find this article helpful, I suggest you check him out, as his series goes into much more depth on the topic!