All Bent out of Shape

P3141012I have always enjoyed wordplay, and have been thinking about idioms again. My idiom for this week is “all bent out of shape.”

The meaning of the idiom is pretty simple — we use it in the United States to refer to someone who is angry. If someone is getting upset, we remark  that they don’t need to get all  bent out of shape.

I think, sometimes, that there is useful wisdom that has been lost as we continue to use the phrase without really thinking about it — kind of like certain folk remedies that were lost to modern medicine.

Look at the tire in the lead picture of this post. It is completely bent out of shape, and it is useless. The same thing with paper clips and wire clothes hangers. We can bend them to make them useful (maybe) for something else that seems important in the moment, but then we can’t quite seem to bend them back correctly so that we can use them for their original purpose (or much of anything else, for that matter)!

Now, let’s look at anger. When he was a young teen, my son had something going on with another kid on the bus. I’m sure they had both been going back and forth verbally, but then my son got fed up to the point that he told the kid if he said anything else, my son would punch him. My son was then suspended off the bus — the kid predictably called my son out, and my son balled up his fist, swung, and connected.

I reminded my son about a principle that I had been trying to teach him for a long time — anger makes us stupid. Once my son let this kid get to him enough that he threatened violence, he gave the other kid control of the situation and only had the choice to throw a punch and get in trouble or back down and look weak.

Anger feels strong, but it really, truly, bends us out of shape! How many regrets do adults carry around in life because of things they did or said in anger? How many friendships and marriages end because we let little irritations bug us until we get “bent out of shape”?

Now, how many of those regrets can’t be fully healed, can’t be resolved, can’t be repaired? Isn’t that just like the tire, paper clip, and hanger? If our regrets serve any purpose, it is to give us resolve to never repeat those kind of things, but does it really work?

What’s the solution?

The bad news is that life is imperfect, so there really aren’t any perfect solutions.

The good news is that I have found a few things that have helped me, and they may help you, too.

  1. Anger is a secondary emotion. That means that we feel it because something else is bothering us. We may feel helpless to fix or stop something, and that transfers into anger. We may have been treated unfairly or rudely. Nothing we encounter in life HAS to make us angry! We can look for what’s underneath and take steps to resolve the problem or choose to let it go.
  2. It is ok to stand up against injustice and to use our personal voices to bring attention to problems. But, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
  3. We can train our brains to rethink things. For instance, was the clerk who was just rude to you having a bad day? Is it possible that the driver who cut you off in traffic simply made a misjudgment and felt bad about it? People hide a lot of baggage. We don’t know what habits they learned as a child. This list could go on forever. Once I realized that people basically make the best choices they can with the information they have, I was able to let things go instead of take them personally.

So, the next time you feel like getting “bent out of shape,” stop and think. You really do have a choice!

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