On Anger

I’m a Nice Person. Which means I stick with that “kinder than necessary” adage. Which means I see it as my job to see other people’s feelings when I consider my own. Before I consider my own. Instead of considering my own.

Niceness, one would think, is a good thing. But I will tell you, and I’d imagine other Nice People out there will tell you, that it isn’t always a good thing. You see, Nice People don’t act out of anger. But we still get upset. You just don’t know it, because we won’t tell you. And if (but hopefully WHEN), you sense you did something wrong and apologize to a Nice Person, we’ll say, “Oh, that’s okay.”

Because Nice People? We MAKE it okay for ourselves. We tell ourselves that you meant well when you accepted our invitation, then forgot about it. That you were just being snappy with us because things aren’t going well for you in your life. We tell ourselves that you cut us off in line at the supermarket because you just weren’t thinking.

Sometimes, Nice People get brave. Which means that we really are angry and frustrated, but we’ll try and let you know in our Nice way. We’ll communicate that we’re not totally happy about things, but we’ll try and make sure you feel okay about yourself too.

The problem is, Nice People expect that same treatment in return. And when we don’t get that same treatment, it surprises us. Shocks us. Saddens us. And yes, angers us.

The other day, I got angry. I mean really angry. I mean, I-can’t-believe-I’m-this-upset-and-are-my-hands-actually-shaking?-angry.

Well, I figured it was about time to really BE angry. I figured, I’ve borne the brunt of so many other people’s feelings, insecurities and misgivings. Isn’t it my turn to let somebody else carry that weight? Time to share the wealth.

So I responded in anger. To tell you the truth, if I read the transcript of what I said, it probably wasn’t all that venomous. It’s like the do-gooder who thinks she’s swearing when she says “underwear.” I used my “I-feel” statements. There was no profanity, no name-calling. And it was a sentiment whose time, truly, had come.

Yet I had a pit in my stomach all day long. It felt completely out of character for me, and felt incredibly wrong. If bad behavior from others shocks me, bad behavior from myself shocks me even more.

Here’s the catch. Who’s to say I behaved badly? Who’s to say I was doing anything more than being honest? And who’s to say I’m better off absorbing all that anger and pretending things were still okay?

A Nice Person would apologize. And believe me, I thought about it. After all, I’m a Nice Person. I’m supposed to make things better. Problem is, I’ve BEEN making it better, and I’ve been making it better at a cost to my own well-being.

So guess what? This time, I won’t apologize for airing my feelings, even if things get messy. Even if, in this situation, I don’t feel Nice.

As scary as it sounds, maybe it’s time to redefine Nice.

Are there other Nice People out there always making things okay, but not really? Other Nice People who have found a balance between consideration for others and kindness to self? Any Not-So-Nice, or Mostly-Nice People who see things differently? Have you learned something today, as I have? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Yeah…that would be Nice.

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8 Responses to “On Anger”

  1. Mel Says:

    Sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone is necessary to serve our highest needs. It is messy and what feels like a firestorm for us makes others say, “Well, I guess she’s not thrilled.”
    I once “went to town” on an ex when he called to talk to me. When I finished he laughed his head off and said, “Wow! You’ve been thinking about that for a while haven’t you?” I agreed and hs added, “Well, good for you. You’re right you know.” Then we became friends. Imagine that.
    I say, “Nice job.” :-)

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Yes! Exactly. I think you’re right. What feels like a firestorm for us doesn’t necessarily come across as as such to anyone else. More like “speaking our mind.” It’s also good to know that it can come to a positive end, as well. Thank you!

  2. Shelley Petersen Walker Says:

    Good essay Lainie! You hit the curse of niceness on the head. I now consider myself a somewhat reformed nice person. I am still a “nice” person, but I have realized that my feelings are valid and it’s all right to express other emotions appropriately. If someone does something rude, thoughtless or mean (beyond the little stuff) that bothers me to the point I can’t blow it off, it’s perfectly all right to say something about it.

    I don’t yell or scream or curse at people. I don’t cut them down or be insulting, but I have the right to be treated with courtesy and respect and if I’m not, it’s ok to be unhappy with it and to let people know it (but not to go on and on and whine about it!). If I accidentally hurt someone I definitely want to know about it, because I certainly would never do it on purpose.

    Expressing anger or hurt in a “nice” but clear way is much healthier than suppressing it. The first few times I did it were actually terrifying, I had to work myself up to follow through on my decision to launch the conversation. It’s been a journey of many years, but I’ve improved considerably and am much happier and less stressed for it!

    Cheers for being “nice” and standing up for yourself at the same time!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      I can relate to the idea of expressing feelings as “terrifying.” I’m glad to know that things get better, and perhaps a bit easier as time goes on. Ah, the gifts of time and wisdom. =)

  3. carolynstearns (@carolynstearns) Says:

    Sugar coated medicine doesn’t always cure the ilness sometimes we have to swallow the hard stuff to clear the air ways! Emotion and nice come in that billing. Some things just won’t get better until they have a dose of the hard truth. I get tired of being the welcome mat for others and once in awhile I break out the air clearing reality. Until I was 40 it was really hard. Now it gets easier all the time because I know how precious the time really is!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Exactly. I guess the good news is I’m turning 40 this year. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come. :)

  4. peacevisionary Says:

    The problem with always acting “nice” is that you still get upset about things, everyone does, it’s natural. So when you always pretend that you never get angry and that you’re always in control of your emotions, you can easily turn into a hypocrite. Then your relationships are not authentic; they become dishonest. Nobody really knows where you stand with them. You can walk out on a marriage and shock the hell out of your spouse, who never saw it coming. “Nice” people can be unwittingly quite cruel. Instead of processing their feelings in situations of conflict, they often just avoid the person and withdraw from any interaction.

    Personally, I think it’s important to let it rip when you’re moved by strong emotion. Be a Pele, let the volcano explode. Yes, you’re being destructive! But sometimes that’s what needed to break down the artifice, the false constructions, the lies, the pretense.

    Let your emotions flow organically… that means expressing them. Forget about being nice. It’s just a construction that’s basically been forced upon women to keep them passive and easy to control. The standard of being a nice woman is a great one to manipulate women with and disempower them.

    When people are genuinely being nice, though, I really appreciate it.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Yes! Thank you! These are words of wisdom, and I appreciate your thoughts. I completely agree about niceness putting up a wall around relationships. I don’t know if I am quite ready to let go and be Pele, but I have honestly given myself permission to get snarky and let people know when they’re crossing the line.

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