Recently I’ve gotten into a couple of really big arguments with my mother and girlfriend where I have let emotion get the best of me very quickly. I’ve raised my voice, almost shouted in some instances in public places, and allowed my demeanor to shift from cool and collected to an intense fervor or outright anger—something I always justify later as happening because I have an ironclad commitment to truth and a passion for effective, logical communication.
The problem, besides the internal issue of how I’ve dressed up unprocessed anger and emotion as righteous indignation, the problem as it becomes for other people at least, is in how I allow this “righteous indignation” to turn me into an authoritarian of sorts in arguments and conversations—which, on a side note, is ironic and sad because of how liberty-oriented I profess to be in both a socio-political sense and also cosmically in regard to being a creature who has been given freewill by an interpersonal God who loves me immensely and continues to compel me toward truth even as He watches me screw up and pervert truth every single day.
Anyway, as I’ve been justifying my unprocessed anger as righteous indignation in the background, what’s turned me into an authoritarian in the foreground in conversations is that I do not allow people to be wrong, much less let them finish what they are saying if they offer an idea or premise that I take issue with. As soon as they do, I have an awful tendency to stop them right there.
I remember one extremely heated argument I had with my brother last year where I was doing this every few seconds and constantly telling him, in an overbearing and frustrated manner, “I can’t understand what you are trying to say unless you clarify this point first.” Regardless of whether or not what my brother was saying was making any sort of objective sense or whether or not he was even being fair or kind to me, what I’ve thankfully realized through recent introspection is that I am often responding this way out of an obsessive, controlling, deep-seeded fear of failure.
It’s a fear of failure that grows as a limb off of the vice of perfectionism to the virtue in me of doing whatever I do with the utmost possible care, intention, and attention to detail. On one hand, it’s a fear of failure for the other person (brother, girlfriend, etc), that they won’t be able to effectively or logically communicate for my sake in the conversation and for their own in general. But on the other hand, and most importantly because it’s the only thing that’s ultimately within my control, it’s a personal fear of failure stemming from the possibility that if I follow along with listening to a bunch of skewed ideas, particularly flowing from somebody that I otherwise love, respect and trust, that I may not be able to keep the purity of my own lines of reasoning intact. This is not really a fear that I have in discussions of pragmatic issues (philosophy, politics, economics, etc), but it is extremely evident in me when for example I have a disagreement with a loved about the details of something that happened in our past.
In such an instance, my aforementioned personal fear often becomes a deep fear of defilement, a fear of having my memories about, or even worse, my heart for, a past event betrayed—and that is the moment where anger and rage begin to boil over. It’s the idea of having what I perceive as the crystal clear or otherwise peaceful and sequential waters of my mind muddied. Overcoming this has proved to be a massive obstacle for me being someone who is obsessively detail oriented.
Its funny, because the aforementioned brother of mine had clinical OCD as a child, the kind you see in movies, and it often makes him today, for both better or worse, have a sort of tunnel vision about things. The struggle for him in unhealthy times is with irrational fears that if he exposes himself to this or that, that it will necessarily take his attention off of the thing that he is currently laser-focused on or that it will pervert him from some ultimate longterm goal. On a side note, this made him an incredible professional-level athlete at an early age and it also has made him a phenomenal filmmaker today…
Anyway, I say that “it’s funny” because oftentimes in arguments, knowing that this is the way that he operates, I criticize him for not being able to see the other elements at play in the big picture until he shifts his tunnel-vision gaze about—all the while I am simultaneously unable to move forward toward even listening to a complete thought, because I can’t live with the possibility of overlooking a single flawed premise thrown out along the way.
This seems to stem “virtuously” from the idea that big lies often start small, and/or that the devil is in the details. However, it’s extremely hypocritical for a person like me, who thinks and processes out loud (often extensively), to shut down somebody else from doing the same or from simply venting out what is bottled up inside like I didn’t allow my enneagram type 1 girlfriend (for those of you who that is relevant to) to do when she had a flood of unprocessed emotion a few weeks ago.
This is why I say I don’t allow people to be wrong. I mean, in the same sense, I don’t allow myself to be wrong either, or more accurately speaking, I don’t allow myself to leave things short insofar as I have the capacity to prevent that from happening.
In pragmatic conversation, I’m pretty good at upholding the possibility that I could be wrong about something at all times, if for nothing else than just the selfish idea that I could gather some bit of new knowledge to add to my understanding. However in regard to interpersonal matters and emotional conversations with family members, I seem to be the complete opposite. That is, I seem to often apply a parameter of sequential logical reasoning to moments when that is implicitly or explicitly not the mutually understood common denominator of the interaction.
When I come at a given interaction with a loaded idea of “the only way” that it is going to transpire, or much less see through to a productive end, such as I did facing the emotional venting from my girlfriend (who is otherwise one of the most stable-minded, reasonable, and morally upright human beings I’ve ever met), then I don’t even allow for her to in a sense spit out the lies and the truths.
What’s really happening at the core that makes me so angry in these situations is that I am coming up against the hard-knock truth that I don’t have control over the thoughts, actions, or much less the reasoning patterns of even the person I’m closest to.
Furthermore, beyond just simply facing this hard truth, what’s particularly difficult for me is being able to switch my own modus operandi thereafter to something more appropriate than sequential reasoning—to a broader worldview of all the possibilities that could be thrown at me by any human being on any given day, emotional or otherwise, and thereafter to be able to know what’s the most helpful thing to do, even if it’s nothing.
When it’s the end of the week and I’m exhausted from working late nights and I get overwhelmed by a particular conversation when I realize I might not have what it takes to guide the ship to port, if I’m honest with myself, sometimes I’d almost rather sabotage the ship at sea than go through the craziness of sailing around in circles for hours. But this disregards the fact that it’s not always my responsibility to see the ship of a given conversation to a particular shore. Sometimes we’re just suppose to sail with one another. This is where learning how to actually love people when it’s most difficult comes in. And that is what I hope to continue to get better at. 🙂