I'm still enjoying Dead Ice, the latest offering in the Anita Blake series by the inimitable Laurell K. Hamilton. As always, Ms. Hamilton provides a ton of material for my blog. One of Anita's most endearing qualities is her willingness to examine her own stuff and to strive to improve. She has been one of my most insightful teachers because she is willing to look at the ugliness most of us like to avoid. Granted, she can get all up in her head to an annoying degree, but how else can we learn, if not through genuine introspection? There is some utility to navel-gazing. As we've discussed recently, Anita has killed a lot of bad guys and seen a lot of bad shit. And it's all left its mark on her, both physically and emotionally. She struggles to overcome the trauma that she's survived, and she works hard to avoid taking her troubles out on her loved ones. Anita spends a lot of time sorting through her moods to make sure any anger or irritation is both warranted and aimed at the correct target. She is ruthless about dissecting her own motivations and making midcourse corrections when she realizes that her annoyance at something that seems fairly straightforward is actually masking deeper pain or fury that she doesn't feel safe expressing. Her willingness--and ability--to do this is a mature, sophisticated social and emotional skill set. I don't know many people who can pull it off, including, most of the time, me.
The more common truth is ‘misery loves company’. At least my misery does. I learned this lesson early at the knee of my narcissistic mother who insisted that the rest of the family's moods reflect hers. She had absolutely no boundaries and couldn't discern where she ended and the rest of us began. My mother took the aphorism, "When mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" to new heights… or depths as the rest of us experienced it.
I also remember when I caught chicken pox at ten, which is considered late by childhood disease standards. It was intensely uncomfortable, and my mother put the fear of God into me that if I scratched the scabs I'd be disfigured for life. So I coated myself in calamine lotion and cornstarch. I was simply miserable. At night, I crept into my parents' room and slept on a blanket on their floor. When my father asked my mother why I was there, she said, "No one wants to be alone when they are hurting. Misery loves company." I definitely learned that "lesson."
It was and is true. It's why, when we are in a bad mood, we want to spew our unhappy venom on those around us, as if their good mood was an offense to our black one. Maybe it is. Perhaps our bad moods resent the happiness of others, and we simply want to bring others down to our level. Or is it that making others feel bad makes us feel better.? That is not a pretty truth, but experience lends credence to the theory. Could it be that we simply like to lash out when we are in pain or distress?
I'm not sure what the mechanism is, but anyone who's been around teenagers knows the drill all too well. The teen gets in a mood. Then he notices that no one else is sharing his mood of the moment, and instead they have the unmitigated gaul of enjoying a good time and not paying homage to the sullen teen. Then said teen goes about working to change everyone else's mood. Usually, the teen is successful. I'm not sure if the teen is happier, but everyone around him is usually less joyful than they had been. Sharing the wealth, as it were.
When teenagers leak all over everyone else, it's usually a lack of impulse control. It's a sign of immaturity and signals a dearth of graciousness on someone's part. If the ‘negative emoter’ is older, in my mind, it's an indicator that the person, if they are a grown adult, is selfish. Which is why it is so unfortunate that I, myself, suck so badly in this area. A friend of mine recently told me about an event where she was decidedly unhappy--with the situation and everyone around her. As there was nothing to be done about it, however, she explained to me that she was careful not to spread her bad cheer. She told me, "No one needed to know how upset I was." And I thought to myself, "Why ever not?" But I didn't say that, as my friend obviously thought she had done the right thing by protecting those around her from herself. Clearly, this was a philosophy to contemplate.
It turns out there is a lot to be said for restraint of tongue and pen. Who knew? Not me. I not only wear my heart on my sleeve, but I apparently am generous to a fault in this regard as I believe that everyone is entitled to participate in whatever is going on in my head. Self-centered much? Nah. Really, I think it is just a lack of impulse control. Kind of sad at fifty, but hey it gives me something to work on. I want to be pleasant. I don't want to ruin events for others or make them uncomfortable. I don't want to be the bad mood equivalent of sexual harassment--creating a hostile environment for all the unfortunate souls around me.
I don't want to be the one picking fights, being critical, negative, snarky, sarcastic or mean just because I'm irritated or annoyed. Which I am. A lot. It's tough to be me. But maybe it's tougher to be near me? I want to be like Anita who carries her own bad mood baggage solo. Or at least she tries to.
And then there is my struggle and striving toward authenticity in all aspects of my life. Hiding my bad moods behind a smile that doesn't reach my eyes and an insincere, "No really, I'm fine!" seems inauthentic and lame. On the other hand, punishing someone for another's crimes (as when I'm annoyed by something at work and take it out on my family at home) is equally unacceptable.
I have no idea how to reconcile this. I guess I'll have to get all up in my head (even more than I am) and poke and prod at my motives to ensure I'm lashing out appropriately versus inappropriately. Seems exhausting. But if Anita can do it, maybe I can too.