Subterranean Anger

Subterranean Anger

“I’m nice, but a little bit mean today,” my granddaughter said. In her own way, she was saying that she felt angry.  Laney is two-and-a-half.

Laney with kitty face“It’s okay to feel mad,” I said, stroking her bangs to one side. I reminded her that I felt mad at our dog for not coming when called.  “It’s just not okay to be mean,” I explained, “but you can be mad.” I wondered if she could understand the distinction.

Many years ago, when I was young, I decided to be the good child. Maybe I saw certain advantages in it. My sister had a bolder personality and got in trouble some.

I was a quieter soul, an observer.

I remember being given a small necklace. It had a white marble pendant with a gold band around its center. In fine script, The Golden Rule was engraved on the band. The simple ethical code made a profound impression on me.

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

My family in 1962

My family in 1962

In some ways, trying to be good was connected to a deep love for my father. My dad was and is a safe, wise, and approachable man, and I was quite sure that he’d love me no matter what. Still, being compliant is often about winning approval.

I tried to do everything “right,” but I wasn’t perfect. I had a bit of gumption and remember getting spanked.

You, got spanked?” My husband goaded. “What for? Aren’t you Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way?” A snide comment, said playfully.

“For being obstinate,” I confessed.

He coughed up a hearty laugh. “Oh…I see.”

One time I had to stay at the dinner table long after the meal was over, because I didn’t want to eat my spinach. You gotta eat your spinach, baby.

Even when your noble goal is to be the compliant child, there are days when you want to be “a little bit mean.” I got tired of fitting in quietly, going with the flow. Emotions are normal. The more I stuffed down my frustrations, the more subterranean my anger became…hidden, concealed, simmering, until like a force of nature, my resentments exploded on some poor unsuspecting person.

Marriage has a way of continually provoking that stored up emotion to the surface. An unkind comment or a misunderstanding can trigger something, and out comes anger like toxic waste. You know it’s old rotten stuff because the reactions are far greater than the matter at hand.

I think God designed marriage to be a messy playing field. It’s not because He’s “a little bit mean.” Rather, He wants to disrupt any unhealthy patterns we formed in our development. He wants us to have emotionally “clean” relationships, free from angry outbursts, passive aggression, oversensitivity, and unforgiveness.  In short, He wants us to mature, evolve, and heal.

Even “trying to be good,” can be a survival mode, leading to uglier versions, such as pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism. It’s easy to get critical toward others who aren’t trying as hard. Those who hold themselves to high standards usually have little grace for others—an unfortunate abberation of The Golden Rule.

Laney has also seen parts of Beauty and The Beast. Her mother fast-forwards the “scary” parts. Even so, my granddaughter picked up enough of the storyline to see that the Beast was mean. “But,” she noted, raising a slightly bent forefinger, ”he’s also a little bit nice.”

Laney on boardwalk with flowersI had a smile on my face for a few minutes after that comment. It’s a rich experience to see all things new through a child. If you don’t have a child or a grandchild, you should find one to borrow for a little while.

Even at 2 ½, a child can detect that nice people can be a little bit mean, and some mean people are a little bit nice. Think of the nuances in that observation.

We warm up to the bad guy who stops to help an old lady cross the street. At least there’s something good in him. We have less tolerance for the good person who snipes the checkout lady for giving the wrong change. And like a child, God doesn’t see people in black and white terms either. No matter how good we try to be, He always knows what we’re capable of.

So years ago, God wanted to talk to me about anger management. It’s a touchy topic to bring up with those who are trying hard to be good.

(To be continued next week…)


  1. this is IMPORTANT
    and one of my favorites so far.

    i am thinking of 50 people i want to share this with.

    i love you

    • Please do share with those 50 people!That would mean a lot to me. And thank you for engaging in the conversation.You are such a friend to me!

  2. This is also one of my favorites. I am so glad you are using your gift of writing. What a blessing you are to sooooo many. I can’t wait for next week’s continuation!
    xo, Muns

  3. I think we are pretty similar personalities. I struggle with bitterness from compacted and denied anger produced in my determined efforts to be “good” and “nice.” I was a compliant child and in many ways I still am. I struggle more with honesty than I do with defiance. Marriage has been my undoing. All that subterranean stuff has made me dissolve in the heat of trying to make it work with my husband.

    So inspired by your resilience, willingness to start over and desire to succeed vulnerably saturated in the “real” with God. Thank you for coming all the way to Connecticut!