Monday, May 31, 2010

What Do You Do With Anger?

In Shakespeare's The Tempest, Caliban hates Prospero. Caliban, born savage and deformed by the witch who used to inhabit the island, is now a slave to Prospero, the new ruler and severe taskmaker. In this soliloquy Caliban holds nothing back:

All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall,
and make him
By inch-meal a disease!

This is anger, in all its graphic, metaphoric brilliance. While we may not be as expressive as Shakespeare, illness can make us damn angry.

The ill partner can get rabidly angry at the illness that has so constricted her life. She can get angry at her well partner for still being able to go out into the world, unfettered by pain or weakness. She may also get exasperated at her well partner for making her wait until he finishes watching the baseball game to bring her food or help her to get to the bathroom. She may be silently enraged at him for all the things he can still do that she cannot.

The well partner may be furious at his ill partner for changing the relationship contract without prior approval by him. He didn't sign up for years of caretaking and even less for losing the strong woman he hoped to travel the world with.

Both partners are bound to get angry at the health care system for all the ways it makes them wait or feel insignificant or suffer unnecessary complications. This form of anger can become a full time job. Rage at the system can easily overwhelm the more fragile tenderness that both partners yearn for from each other.

How can both ill and well partner deal with these forms of anger, and others? Squashing or denying it doesn't make it disappear. It only condenses it into rock hard pellets that lodge deeper down inside the body and slip out unexpectedly to cause more piercing damage. Giving free reign to anger is like unleashing a perpetual tornado. For a moment it can seem magnificent, but it will ultimately destroy everything you value.

So, what is the middle ground between silence and vengeance? When you are in the grip of anger, all you want is to unleash it, maybe even to cause some damage to the person you feel has been damaging you. Or silence it with a heavy hand. But this will not get you what you want. What you want is validation, acceptance, understanding, and reparations. To get even some of that, you need to see your anger not as a lightening bolt you hurl at your partner, or as a fire that burns you from within, but as a bridge that needs to be rebuilt between the two of you. Something broke, and it needs to be mended, by both of you, together.

In the next post I will share some of the options I use.

What do you do with your anger?


Patrick@Caregivingly Yours said...

Obviously anger must have been a part over our 20 years of a caregving relationship but reading this I just could not pull up a pivotal moment. I suspect episodes were more flash and burn and over, so don't bottle it up would be wise.

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

Barbara K. said...

Thanks for your thought Patrick. And I think your advice - don't bottle anger up - is essential.

Richard W said...

Oooooooo. Great picture! Great quote!