What It Really Means to Have a Temper

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Welcome to Format Free Friday, when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited Advice.

I went to a relatively tough high school where physical altercations were more common than pep rallies – and those were just the fights involving girls. I didn’t know that fighting (particularly among girls) was inappropriate until I got to college. So it’s fair to say that where I grew up, people were valued for being tough, for having street smarts and for having a temper.  Those were the characteristics that would get you through the day in my Jersey high school – the high school and town that The Sopranos was based on.

I wore my temper like a badge of honor for years beyond high school. I believed it insulated me from being taken advantage of. I was quick to judge a situation and even quicker to act. I don’t think it was until my late 20’s that I really began to see what a liability my temper was.

But even after I learned to control my temper, the one thing I didn’t know is what my temper really meant – what it said about me. And here’s the deal: A temper is an indication of a weak emotional core, and mine was weak in large part because my parents never taught me how to sit with and tolerate discomfort (nor did they model this through their own behavior). There were no consequences for responding ‘passionately’ to life. It was as admired at home as it was in my crazy high school. Most children learn that they can feel any way they feel, but they must use their words to appropriately express how they feel. Then, as teens when the hormones are pumping, most schools reinforce societal norms in the expectation that school will be a safe place and free of violence. Lucky for me, I eventually learned that there is a high price to pay for having a temper and I began to cultivate the ability to regulate my responses in life. But lots of people never do.

The temperamental adults in this world are the way they are not because they were born that way – having a temper is not like sexual orientation, it’s a result of believing that they were born that way and that they can’t change. Webster’s definition of the word temperamental reflects our societal misconception: Of, relating to, or arising from temperament:constitutional<temperamentalpeculiarities>

Your temper is a learned behavior – it’s not a part of your constitution. And in fact if you want to have any success in life as an adult, you’d better learn how to control your temper, the same way you learned not to go to the bathroom in your pants despite having the urge to do so. The people in your life who tolerate your temper enable you to remain a child and they disable you from becoming what you are capable of being. It’s never too late to learn how to regulate your response to your emotions. Email me if you want to learn more: Darcy@AskDrDarcy.com