Flames… On the Side of My Face!!!


What do you do when someone just sends you into a white-hot rage? The answer is: it depends. Sometimes you abruptly resign, file divorce papers, or toss some cash on the restaurant table and quietly but quickly leave. These can be very satisfying savers of your sanity, though divorces always make me a little sad.

Most times, though, you try to work it out. How much effort you put into this depends a lot on you and your temperament. Hotheads and angermonkeys need to put things in check, which is reinforced by our society. They blow up; get it out, sometimes leaving carnage but at least protect themselves. But what of those of us who are, say, passionate emotionally but behaviorally overcivilized? We – I’m one of these – have a tendency to let our anger build up to intolerable levels, and then snap. Sometimes we internalize it, taking it out on the wrong people, or letting it affect our health. Most insomniacs and heavy drinkers are wired this way. The snapping phase can be epic. If you are known for not raising your voice or cursing, it gets a LOT of attention when you finally do.

That’s good. No one wants to be married to Barnacle Bill. But there’s more. I’ve learned a thing or two about this subject. If you’re known as being even-keeled, and you sometimes feel like your emotional schooner is named Poseidon and Fergie is flying upside down through the ballroom, hear me.

Protect yourself. Your reputation is not worth the cost of your emotional health. Do a few healthy things to address your immediate state of mind. Take a bath, go for a run, talk it out with your kitty. (Not a loved one at this point. You will seem whiny and they will interrupt with questions. Kitties and doggies were invented because they just listen and don’t judge.) Resist the urge to self-medicate by re-creating Valley Of The Dolls or sitting alone in the dark guzzling wine. It doesn’t help.

Calm now? Good. No one expects you to be Sweet Susie Sunshine at this point – you’re still mad. Now is the time to grab a pad and list what you plan to do about the issue. Taking action restores your sense of control over the situation. Some examples:

  • The Office Bully / Underminer: Gets reported to the CEO or other management as appropriate, with documented instances and facts to back you up.  If nothing is done, it’s a trip to HR.  And if nothing is still done – you quit.  Finding another job first is best, obviously.
  • Bitchy Cousin Hazel: Ruins every family event with gossip, slander and bigotry.  It’s almost like she can’t help it.  Maybe she can’t.  But you’re sick of it, you don’t want your spouse and kids subjected to it, and it’s not a quirk you can stand anymore.  Cut her. Explain to her with specific examples why you’re taking a break from hosting her at Easter – “You know, Hazel, this is hard for me to say, but celebrating the risen Christ isn’t easy with your frequent use of the n-bomb at the table and speculating that people who aren’t there go to sex clubs.  We can’t do it anymore.”  Repeated requests should be met with “I’m so sorry, we just can’t.”
  • The Manipulator: Your friend Karen is more fun than a barrel of monkeys and sweeter than a nest of baby bluebirds.  But she never has her wallet when you go out, and her car is always in the shop.  She borrows books and clothes and doesn’t return them.  Now she’s asking for money.  Don’t, unless you consider it a gift.  You’ll never see it again, and her doe-eyed mental trips to Someplace Else when you ask about it will just get further and further away.  See above: “I’m so sorry, I just can’t.”  You don’t have to explain why.  She knows already.

So! Now you have a plan, and you’re about to implement it. Here are your biggest hurdles to get over: you want to be liked, and you hate chaos and disorder. It’s really very simple. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s just reality, babe, and you know we all love you here anyway. Plus, the chaos and disorder that result from this confrontation may not matter much in a very short time. This is where your beloved comes in. He or she should be backing you up 100%. You should always present a united front, and if this requires a weepy phone call from a stairwell or multiple hugs, you have every right to expect them. As for your friends? Wise sage Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin) spake thusly: “Your best friend is the person who convinces you that the unbearable is in fact bearable because it is also funny.” I want to buy that gal a Gibson. Now go and do what needs doing.

Aftermath: This may be slightly messy, but you may bask in the twin satisfactions of Doing The Best You Could and Not Taking Any Shit.

Repeat. Over and over, all the days of your life.  Your heart, your mind and your spouse will thank you for it.

Yes, I quit my job, and yes, I gave no notice, and yes, I told the CEO why.  It wasn’t exactly news; he was in on the joke from the outset.  The Cap’n has my back.  And I’ve got several irons in the fire from the flames on the side of my face. No worries, kittens.  And I hope this post helped some of you.

ETA: I’ve now been told by my erstwhile assistant that he is quitting also, that they can’t replace me with the salary on offer, and that “”Betty” really brought us to the next level.” is being bandied about the office.  Heh. Heh-heh-heh.

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