I am sitting in a room full of young women. I, too, am very young, in my early twenties, trying to figure out whether or not Social Work is for me.
We have all volunteered to train to be crisis workers at the Portland Women's Crisis Line. We are all staring silently at the woman speaking. There are tears running down her cheeks and she is yelling. I am a little bewildered.
I can feel her anger, but I don't know her story. I am wondering what it is that men have been doing to me all my life. Is this something I will find out later? At this point, I am unaware, but throughout this training, the aspect that becomes abundantly clear to me is that there are a lot of angry women in the world, and a lot of them are angry at men.
Personally, I have had my share of traumatic experiences at the hands of men, but no more, really, than I have with women. The common element though, no matter how big or small, is the anger. There is no way to approach an angry person and have even the slimmest hope of reaching them, because anger acts as a shield. It has to because it is usually concealing and protecting the pain which has been its fertilizer.
I have attended many "sensitivity trainings" given by people who were clearly angry about something, and it made the whole experience uncomfortable, and frankly, not very helpful. So what do we do? What do we do when the trauma enacted upon us creates this anger shield? What do we do when there is so much pain around a topic for you, that you cannot help but cry and scream when it comes up? What do we do when we want to change a culture fertized by the anger created by trauma?
I have, for most of my life, been angry. This anger is in every way attached to different traumatic experiences I have gone through. The only thing that has helped me manage this is to get in touch with the pain on a fundamental level. I sit with it. I comfort myself around it. The pain from trauma is there, all the time, and the best I can do, so that I don't let it control me, is become familiar with it, I become so comfortable with it that the traumatic charge around the event that created the pain diminishes.
I have tried many other things, but this has been the only thing that has worked. Also, I find ways to practice. Just like in baseball, when players swing thousands of times in a season to hit the ball just one-third of the times they have the opportunity, I find ways to practice communicating without anger, and when I fail, I learn from it. I do not beat myself up about it. I cheer myself on.
Yes, I could walk around angry. I could react to little things that aren't meant as threats, or insults, or slights, because it reminds me of a very painful event from my past. Instead, I use it to wake me up. I use it to wake others up. I use it to change this culture, because in the end, the reason there is so much violence, so much aggression, is that we all keep REACTING.
Until we can collectively come to terms with that, nothing will change. We will never create a compassionate culture from a sea of anger. It is up to each one of us to wake up out of this. To help each other when we stumble. It is up to each one of us to acknowledge the pain and everything that comes with it so we do not use our anger shields to keep others out, or worse, hurt other with it.
I have every right to feel the pain I have in my body. I have every right to express it. But, taking it out on others, creating a hostile environment because my buttons are pushed will only make matters worse, and it will not provide any space for vulnerability. It will not provide any space for compassion or love.
It is time to choose differently. Violence, aggression, fear, hatred have gotten us to this point. In order for us to change the culture, we will have to choose the hard thing.
Are we ready to choose the hard thing? Are you?