“Bully.” “Mean-spirited bastard.” They are true, of course. I did yell at the dog to get off the couch and slap it on its ass for pissing in our house for the fourth time in 24 hours even though I had walked the beagle in the park four times in the cold and rain.
She was right. “The dog doesn’t know better” because the dog’s not been taught what’s wrong and held accountable by either of us and, more often, given a treat for waking up, a treat for eating, a treat for getting petted.
She was right. I was just looking for something to “ruin our evening” when I found the puddle. The dog did, after all, piss in the bathroom. She should get a treat for that. That’ll teach her.
She was right to courageously jump between us – the dog and me – with arms out to take any further violence that might erupt while I was going for the mop.
She was right. She’s always right. It’s my fault the dog pissed in the first place because I switched types of dog food. So what if I hated opening those nasty cans, using our dinnerware to scoop out that horribly smelling pate, cleaning the cans for recycling in our sink, cleaning the sink, all to pick up those soft, malodorous stools later in the park. The dog was just “communicating dissatisfaction” – something I’m not allowed to do with my voice and certainly not with my bladder.
She was right when she said, “Your anger seem to come out of nowhere.” I hadn’t screamed at the dog the other times that day or that week or that month. What caused me to choose, if it were a choice, to pick that moment? Well, a quick Google suggests that anger is associated with lower serotonin activity. Perhaps, this happened because I had just awakened from a nap or because my middle-aged bladder was so full – serotonin function is close to nil while sleeping. But that doesn’t explain why I did not yell at the dog at four AM that morning? Oh, but wait, perhaps I didn’t scream at the dog then because I was so friggin’ sensitive about waking her up?
My mom always seemed to get pleasure out of saying, “You’ve got your daddy’s bad temper” – I do have vivid memories of him yelling at the dog when he stepped in dog poop. So was it my dad’s fault that I yelled at the dog. Did he get it from one of his parents? Geneticists assume there are genetic differences between how each of us produce and receive serotonin, but at best, that only speaks to tendency. Genetic research on this is pretty incomplete, but most suggest there are more influences than just being the son of a type A. So, is it possible that my dad’s anger was caused or greatly influenced by him having to live with my mom’s alcoholism, self-pity, low self-esteem, depression and general narcissism and I just learned it from him? A quick Google on Adult Children of Alcoholics – that’s me – and you find that we are control freaks, or at least we get anxious when we cannot control situations and tend to react rather than act. Sounds like I’m on to something.
The Mayo Clinic says there 2 ways to handle anger: Expression (as in, “the difference between talking to someone or picking up a baseball bat and hitting them”) and Suppression. On suppression they say,
“This is trying to hold in or ignore your anger. You may think you shouldn’t be angry or that you’ll lose control if you let yourself feel any anger. The danger in this passive approach is that you may not protect yourself when the need arises. You may also become passive-aggressive, where you don’t express your anger assertively or directly, but scheme to retaliate because you haven’t learned how to express anger constructively.”
Ugh-oh. Passive-agressive. I have been known to play that game once in a while.
Other experts, okay, everyone knows that personal circumstances can contribute. Things, such as, financial pressures; illness; problems at work (oh no, I work with my wife); fatigue; problems with the kids; etc. Okay, those are in play, too.
Is it possible that I was a just-waking, unsuccessful-passive-aggressive, child-of-an-alcoholic, bully going through a tough economy time, under pressure about work with worry about my kids and had just stepped in dog piss?
To my wife and my dog, I’m sorry. I promise to try and wait longer after a nap before stepping in dog piss so the serotonin can kick in and I can express myself in a more rational way.
Here’s more reading on anger…
- Stanford School of Medicine on the genetics
- An excerpted chapter of Secrets of Serotonin by Carol Hart
- A white paper on Adult Children of Alcoholics by the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
- FAQ’s on Anger from the Mayo Clinic