Belenen (belenen) wrote,

how Hannah taught me to keep compassion in my anger

A world where Hannah and I were never friends is inconceivable for me. But even more so, myself without the changes Hannah has inspired in me; most importantly, how ze taught me to keep compassion in my anger.

My earliest education in how to be angry involved yelling, throwing things, calling names, breaking things, and generally trying to hurt the person one was angry at. Through my first romantic relationship I learned how to refrain from those things, and I thought I was really good at being angry without being a jerk. But then Hannah and I had our first fight. I was very angry and I did not want to hurt Hannah, so I withdrew into coldness and silence, trying to dissolve my anger before interacting. Hannah got very upset with me about this, which baffled me. Here I was, not attacking, restraining myself, trying to avoid being mean, and it wasn't enough? what more could ze possibly want?

We talked about it for some hours, and ze tried to explain to me that one could be angry and compassionate/kind at the same time -- that ze practiced this with zir partner Nick. I didn't even believe zir at first, because in my mind anger was the opposite of love, and they could not coexist. But when I saw how upset ze was, I realized that even though I was trying very hard not to hurt zir, my methods were doing just that. So I opened myself up to the possibility that one could be angry and compassionate at the same time. I asked how ze did it, and I do not remember any more what ze responded -- but it took root, grew and became an inextricable part of me. I didn't even realize this until I found myself getting upset with people for how they treated me when they were angry. In trying to articulate why, I verbalized how it is that I try to act when I am angry.

1) hold off on getting angry; assume good intentions. Most of the time, the anger is coming from a misinterpretation of someone else's behavior; first ASK what their motives are. Don't jump straight from "they did this" to "and that means BAD THINGS." Take a pause in the middle and ask. In my experience, the vast majority of the time people are not trying to hurt me. Most of the time they are missing some key information or understanding that would have prevented my upsetness.

2) treat them as a whole person; don't turn them into a cardboard cut-out labeled "enemy." Don't ignore or discount the good, even if they have been a total shithead for the past day and a half. Remind yourself of previous kindnesses, things that contradict the statement their actions seem to be making to you.

3) listen and empathize. Being understanding of their reasons does not invalidate your own pain. I used to refuse to empathize because I thought if I did, the other person would take that as proof that my suffering wasn't really that bad, or would ignore my suffering because they hurt too. But through practice I learned that it is possible to give compassion AND receive it in a situation of hurt on both sides.

4) don't disconnect. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to stay emotionally connected to someone who is hurting you, but it's a hell of a lot easier to rebuild afterward if you haven't severed bonds. I can understand when people do this because it is instinctual, but I believe it is the more damaging route. For me, at least, it definitely is.

I can't even imagine myself without these practices. Not that I'm always true to them; sometimes I need to be called out on my turning-people-into-cutouts, for sure -- but I do usually manage to follow #1 and avoid anger all together. But they are so much a part of my personhood that without them, I cannot conceive of the kind of person I would be.
Tags: anger, compassion, hannah, lovetech, stepwise processing, the essential belenen collection

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