Authors: Judy Ford
Copyright © 2001 by Judy Ford
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. For information, contact: Conari Press, 2550 Ninth Street, Suite 101, Berkeley, California 94710-2551.
Conari Press books are distributed by Publishers Group West.
Cover Photography: Images copyright © 1998 and 1999 PhotoDisc, Inc.
Cover Design: Suzanne Albertson
Book Design: Ingrid Owen
Author Photo: Amanda Ford
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ford, Judy, 1944–
Getting over getting mad : positive ways to manage anger in your most important relationships / Judy Ford.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Anger. 2. Interpersonal relations. I. Title.
BF575.A5 F67 2001
Printed in the United States of America on recycled paper.
01 02 03 Data 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”
My grandmother was an old-fashioned grandma. She wore her white hair twisted into two buns, one behind each ear. She was known for her fabulous flower garden, and she made the best graham cracker frosting sandwiches I ever ate. She was a wonderful grandma, but she had an annoying habit that drove my family nuts. Whenever anyone within hearing distance got angry or even slightly annoyed, Grandma would pipe up and recite, over and over, “Only dogs get mad! . . . Only dogs get mad!” You see, Grandma thought that people should not get angry—especially not people in her family. Just feeling angry was a terrible thing. If my brother Jerry, my sister Kathy, or I were in a tiff, as siblings often are, there she'd be, cautioning us in a high-pitched, sing-song voice, “Only dogs get mad!”— which, of course, made us even madder.
Grandma's refrain extended to everyone—my mother, my father, my aunts and uncles. We would try our best to ignore her, but she would chant the phrase loudly enough that we would be compelled to stop our discussion, look at each other, and roll our eyes. This made Grandma especially pleased with herself, believing she had indeed saved us from the terrible sin of getting mad. But we felt worse. Yes, we had stopped our fighting, usually going our separate ways, but nothing was resolved and there was an uneasy distance between us. We were left alone to sort out what had happened. Grandma was happy, but we were confused. I learned only later, after years of being told, “Only dogs get mad,” that I felt guilty whenever I felt angry.
My whole family adopted a policy of “squelching anger.” In psychological terms, the defense mechanisms of “suppression,” “repression,” and “denial” were in full swing. Fighting, disagreeing, arguing, quarreling, clashing, and even mild squabbling were sinful and to be avoided. We had conflicts and differences of opinion, for sure, but we kept them to ourselves. We felt ashamed of ourselves for disagreeing and embarrassed about getting annoyed. We were afraid to express ourselves freely. We were clueless about relating to one another, because we had no tools for resolving the natural conflicts that arise within a family. We were left with migraine headaches, scowls on our faces, and, worst of all, no ability to get close to one another or to know each other well.
Almost all families have similar difficulties. In twenty-five years of counseling families, I've seen how suppressing anger leads to hard feelings and bitterness and ultimately to increased upset, walls of resentment, and long-standing grudges. The inability to express natural anger leads to a growing discontentment with life. Even more detrimental to family life and healthy relationships is unacknowledged anger that comes out in distorted ways. Sarcasm, manipulation, passive-aggressive acts, physical illness, depression, rebellion, and violence all result from the inability to express anger and resolve disputes. Distorted anger damages relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, friends, colleagues at work.
Even at a young age, my grandmother's saying—“Only dogs get mad”—didn't make sense to me. I've heard accounts of rabid dogs attacking people, but I've never actually seen a mad dog myself. Many dogs, if taunted or teased, will walk away. Others are more feisty and may growl, snarl, or snap to let you know that you've gone too far, but seldom does a dog get so agitated that it will lash out and hurt someone. If you respect dogs, they respect you, and you can live peacefully and joyfully together. Though very few of us have been witness to a mad dog attack, almost all of us have seen or experienced the fallout of a mad person in a frenzy. Perhaps, like me, you've heard mad people yelling obscenities from their cars. Perhaps you know adults who are so filled with rage that they've forgotten how to respond responsibly to the present moment or to walk away. You've read newspaper accounts of children so angry they take guns to school and shoot up their classrooms. Far too many people— adults and children—don't know how to communicate their frustrations effectively. They scream, rant, rave, and blame others for what's wrong in
their own lives. They inflict harm on others and violence on themselves. We have all known or heard about a person who was so angry that she went on a rampage. Others literally go mad and have to be locked up.
Aside from escalating violence, the effects of unresolved anger can rule our daily lives. The courts are backed up with people who can't resolve their own disputes. Children are tormented by bullies, coworkers spread rumors about each other, couples separate and don't speak to each other. Divorced parents fight over their children. People bemoan the fact that manners and good sportsmanship seem to be things of the past. When folks work at jobs they don't like, buy things they don't need, and try to compete with their neighbors, everyday life becomes a mad frenzy.
Getting Over Getting Mad aims to help you recognize anger within yourself and toward the important people in your life before the anger turns into a permanent state of madness. By recognizing anger, you can take steps to express yourself clearly rather than dumping on another person. Instead of carrying around a gunnysack of outdated grudges, you can be rid of the unnecessary burden. Your relationships will go more smoothly. You'll be able to clear the air, so that your contacts with other people are full of tenderness instead of strain and tension. With the tools presented in Getting Over Getting Mad, you can relax when your children are arguing, and you can teach them how to resolve their disagreements. When your husband says nothing is wrong but is slamming doors in frustration, when your wife is sarcastic, when your child is having a fit, when your coworker is demanding that you do it her way, Getting Over Getting Mad will show you how to address the underlying issues before irrationality and madness take over.
My hope is that Getting Over Getting Mad will inspire you to resolve your conflicts peacefully, so that you can fully enjoy your relationships. By taking responsibility for your anger, you can clear the way for sweeter connections to the important people in your life. You'll still get mad, because you're human, but you can work through it, get over it, laugh about it, and move on.