Ladies and gentlemen, I need to get angry. No, that’s not right. I am angry.
I’ve accustomed myself to turning the anger inward. It is making me sick. Physically sick, emotionally unstable, spiritually troubled.
Caregiving plays a part in this. With autism, the normal parental puffs of anger must be sucked back in. You can’t do the normal, “Hey, knock it off!” stuff. It might result in the autistic person melting down, harming himself or others.
So, if the kid is running with scissors, you have to swallow the perfectly normal blast of “Put that down right now” and come up with some weak, whispery little substitute like, “How about we play with pillows instead.” It is unnatural.
Caregiving in general is about putting your stuff on hold to deal with other peoples’ stuff, even when they are pushing all of your anger buttons. So caregivers are prime candidates for depression, among other maladies:
Often depressed people report having great difficulties expressing any kind of anger. Instead of becoming angry with someone who has provoked them, the anger is turned inward against some part of the self. They don’t even kick the cat; they kick themselves. These people have a way of making everything their own fault so that no matter what happens, they can blame themselves. Others talk about anger as a useless emotion, i.e., “What good does getting angry do anyway?” Intellectually, they attempt to convince themselves and others that anger accomplishes nothing so why bother. What they don’t realize is that this style drives anger beneath the surface and forces it to find a more indirect avenue for expression.
While the repression of anger is a tactical necessity in some caregiving situations, it need not become the prime directive of our lives. It is deadly to suppress anger in other interactions where it is perfectly appropriate, or to deny ourselves the opportunity to find supportive folks to whom we can vent.
Spiritual wisdom reminds us that swallowed anger doesn’t dissolve. It festers and sets up terrible outcomes:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV)
As the late Mr. Hendrix reminds us, all of our emotions have a place, even the big, scary guy in the shiny metallic purple armor. We are made in the image of God, and all that we are has the potential to reflect that glory. So we have to watch out for the inner stuff we try to deny…