Can’t fight fire with fire

My anger has caught my attention lately. Actually, I am not sure if it is anger really, maybe it would be more appropriate to call it impulsivity, intensity … . The hijacker in chief … that’s what I would actually call it.

I am a kind person and I don’t say that lacking modesty. My intention is always that and I put my best foot forward. I do understand, at a conscious level, that each and every one of us is fighting a hard battle and that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, everyone is doing the very best they can, in the moment, with what they have. That is, when the fire in me does not sweep me off my feet like a tornado and carries me to a land far, far away, where I am barely recognisable, even to myself.

Over the past four decades I have had various relationships with this fire in me: as a child it would come out as bubbles, as a teenager it would come out as all consuming feelings, writing, music, dreams. There were many years in my life when I did my very best to cover the fire, even to extinguish it at times because the times called for a tame and submissive me that my fire did not match.

The danger in my newfound freedom is that the fire in me can burn bridges. Lately my attention has been drawn to a place within me where combustion is instantaneous and, before I become aware of it, it burns a few meters in every direction. Any spark of (perceived) snarkiness, ignorance, carelessness, unfairness and the like creates an explosion in me I cannot seem to control. And that would be fine if it were not for the ensuing results manifested in my reactions. I have apologised more times than I care to remember and my worry is that, repeat attempts to cleaning the messes my fire creates, will wear bridges thin.

Yesterday I was served a treat: I was part of a coaching exercise where a colleague I knew well, trusted and liked, used me as a practice subject for a coaching strategy. I was in the mood and so I let myself be coached. I can be quite the student when I want to. The narrative that came out surprised even me. I told my colleague about this manifestation of the fire in me, about my anger or impulsivity or intensity – not to label anything … . 🙂

She asked: “Can you take your mind back to a time when this kind of reaction got you something?”

I thought about it for a few seconds but the answer had formed itself in my mind as she was asking the question: “I go back to when I was a child, one of four, in a busy house, and I remember that I would have to do something really out of the line or outrageous to be noticed. Not seen or heard, just noticed. In those times nobody was really seen or heard.”

We both established that I have travelled a long way from that moment in my life and yet she pressed: “So, if you went back to 8-year-old Cata, what would you tell her?”

I visualised the girl I was but, as usual, I cannot see myself in a mirror, I can only see myself from the inside out. 8-year-old Cata was there, inside of me, waiting for me – the 44-year-old Cata – to say something. “I could tell her she is ok just the way she is and what others think of her doesn’t matter but … she would know I am lying, or at least she would not believe me because, for her, it does matter. I don’t know what I would tell her … .”

And we went on talking about my fire: “So what is it today that your explosions and your acting on them still serves?”

I liked the question. I know the theory – I am and have always been the teacher’s pet. I love to learn and I am not afraid to use myself as a target for practice. I am fascinated by self discovery and a junkie for the freedom that it offers and so I could feel my entire being wanting to offer a truthful answer to this question. And yet, when I go to the place where I know the answer lies, something very strange happens. It is as if the answer is right in front of me but behind an imperceptible wall that makes it impossible to touch. “I don’t know,” I uttered, “I feel like if I am silent … I miss out.” The truth is, these explosions still feel like my friends and I have not yet internalised the idea that my emotions are there to inform me, not to guide me. “If I am silent and don’t manifest the explosion, people will think less of me, I won’t get my chance to say something,” I said to my friend, coach for the day.

The question stayed with me: what does this still serve? My fire is creativity, love, passion, and it can also be a forest fire for my relationships. I know the theory, writing this today helped me understand (I am sorry my readers, you guessed it now, I write to be healed not popular) that the fire in me is data, not a directive. What the fire in me says is “watch out, what is happening goes against your values.” What the fire in me yells when it explodes is “watch out, you can’t stand for this, don’t ignore yourself again, stand up for what you believe in.” Thank you fire! The only thing I have not yet mastered (or actually successfully attempted, to be honest) is to assert my magical powers of not letting my fire become a forest fire but allowing it to simply be a night light, one that continuously but softly burns to always remind me of who I am, what I believe in and what I stand for. And so my next quest is to protect the night light as best I can. My next task is to not allow it to turn into a forest fire by remembering who I am today, that I am free, breathing in clean air, allowing my muscles to relax and my face to smile and standing up straight. Ok, one foot in front of the other …

Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash

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