By DR. JOHN L. COX
“Don’t have a Conniption Fit!!!”
Please tell me that you know what that means!! I used that phrase with someone the other day and they didn’t know what a conniption was!! Has Jackson changed that much? Has it been that long? Has “conniption” gone the way of “picture show,” “pocket book,” and “Goin’ to the Tote-Sum” as legit Jackson phraseology?!? I hope not. Nothing describes a complete angry hissy fit like the term “conniption.”
So, before you have a conniption, let’s talk about anger. Is anger okay? Should we repress it? Express it? Do I have a “right” to be angry? Here are a couple of thoughts on our hottest emotion.
Number one, expressing our anger by pitching a (conniption) fit helps no one. People often say, “You need to get your anger out!” Well, if anger were a finite entity like blowing your nose, maybe that would work. Blow your nose—all clear!! But unresolved anger is infinite. You can express it all day, but we’ll just make more!! Instead, anger is like bad breath. Breathing it enthusiastically on me is not going to help you smell any better.
Anger needs to be resolved. It’s legit to tell someone ABOUT your anger, but that is very different from DOING your anger to him or her. You see anger is like a warning light on the dashboard. It means that “something” is wrong—maybe with ME—and some kind of problem needs to be solved. So expressing the fact that we have it helps begin the detective work to figure out what the problem is. But that is very different from “going off” on someone. Conniptions help nothing.
So is anger bad? Not at all. Sometimes anger can serve as a wonderful advocate for the weak. When someone has been deeply harmed and they finally get angry, it means that something in them is ready to start protecting themselves. These people often need to learn to turn their anger into powerful protective limits against a hurtful person. For these people anger acts as an Advocate, saying, “I need to prevent you from treating me this way anymore.” “I need to leave the room if you are going to berate me.” “I need to put you in time out if you continue whining.” (Yes, whining is a form of abuse.)
For most of us, however, anger is a defense. I tell people this all the time—Anger is the Second Thing We Feel. When you feel anger, it’s probably because you have felt another feeling, a weaker feeling, just before it. If you are like me, feeling weak feelings like helplessness, shame, sadness, etc., is not one of your favorite pastimes. So what do we do? We conjure a big, bad scary powerful feeling like anger to make us feel less powerless.
Think about the times you get angry: You’re late for a job interview. You’ve missed every red light. As you top the hill, you see the light ahead is already green, so you speed up but just as you near it, it changes yellow. You curse by every saint in the calendar and bang your steering wheel. Now, why did you do that? Anger wasn’t the first thing you felt. The first thing you felt was fear (scared of being late for your interview), helplessness (unless you have some powers I wish I had, you can’t make lights stay green). Get it? Most anger is about not facing the weak feeling.
Here’s another example: You’re at a party. Your spouse tells (what they think is) a “hilarious” story about you. But that story makes you look like a fool in front of everyone there. So what do you do when you get in the car? You guessed it—you throw a “conniption” fit. You angrily bless them out. “How could you tell THAT story in front of THOSE people?” So pop quiz—if anger was the Second thing you felt, what was the first? Shame. Embarrassment. We don’t want to feel those vulnerable feelings so we become the Incredible Hulk. “Hulk not weak!! Hulk big and angry!!” Get it?
So, before we have a conniption, we first need to be honest—with ourselves and some safe people—that we are struggling with anger. Anger signals a problem that needs to be solved. But remember, telling someone ABOUT our anger is different from DOING our anger to them.
Secondly, anger may signal a need to set limits to protect ourselves from harm. Many people remain angry victims and never learn to have a strong NO against hurtful people.
Thirdly, most of our daily anger is an attempt to not feel something helpless or weak. As one person said, “If small things make someone angry, then think how small that person must feel!” So good luck to you and yours!!
And yes, I did have to look up how to spell conniption.