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Saturday, October 24, 2009

burning mad


"If you make a hard bed, you have to lay in it." - Hazel Moran, "The Burning Bed"

Last Halloween I wrote about some creepy stories in our little town. One of them was the true story of The Burning Bed, told in a non-fiction book by Faith McNultie, then a 1984 TV movie with Farrah Fawcett playing housewife Francine Hughes right here in Dansville, population 429. (We were not living here at the time of the tragedy or the movie.)

Thirteen can be an unlucky number, and it certainly was for Francine's ex-husband Mickey Hughes that night in March 1977. Francine told her kids to get their coats on and get in the car, and then with a good douse of gasoline burned down the house around her sleeping husband who had abused her for thirteen years. The movie showed that he beat her and beat her and beat her. When she left the burning house, she drove straight to the Sheriff's office and turned herself in, screaming, "I did it, I did it, I did it!" Ms. Hughes was tried here in Lansing and found not guilty by a jury of her peers by reason of insanity. Women's advocates called it self defense.

Our local newspaper has done an extensive feature called Unmasking the Violence on the story of Francine Hughes 25 years after "The Burning Bed" TV movie and how it affected legislation on domestic abuse because it got national attention. It is quite interesting to see how this case shaped definitions and policies on domestic abuse, if you go to that link. It is also interesting to read the section "Read about the Case" and then "Listen to their Stories" and see that some of the locals did not find the movie very accurate. Mickey's friends claim she let him have it too when fights broke out. There are very good video interviews with townspeople who knew the couple.

The world learned later that Farrah Fawcett, in a photo above from the movie in which she played the abused Francine Hughes, was herself beaten repeatedly by her actor husband Ryan O'Neal, who took out his anger on at least one of his sons too apparently. I was going to look for an image of her after the time he shoved her to the pavement and post it, but I decided not to. It's disturbing enough to see the image of her in make-up to look battered.

Oh it's such a painful topic. A person has a lot of anger, and it gets triggered by someone in the house, or some stress, and they take it out on someone close. I'm sorry if this stirs up painful memories or feelings for you.

So ok, anger exists. We all feel it sometimes. Why deny it? There are some things we really should be angry about. Others, not so much. When I feel the latter, I try to talk to myself. Slow down. Stop.

THIS HAS HELPED ME SINCE I READ IT RECENTLY.
See your anger as donkeys galloping along. You want so badly to hop on and take a ride. It would be delicious fun, such a good romp of anger! What if you just let the donkeys run on by? I have tried this, and it makes me smile. (I got this from Osho.)

SOMETIMES THIS HELPS.
If you're angry, just be angry, don't be angry with someone. Go be alone with it. G.I. Gurdjieff's father told him if he was insulted, don't react immediately in anger. Wait twenty-four hours, and then respond. Gurdjieff said that never did he have to respond, because by the next day the anger was gone. If you're alone with your anger, let it go to the cosmos. Osho said:

Remember, it is just like a dirty river falling into the ocean: the ocean will purify it. Whenever your anger, your hate, your sexuality, moves into the cosmos, into the ocean--it purifies it. If a dirty river falls into another river, then the other river also becomes dirty. When you are angry with someone, you are throwing your dirt at him. Then he will also throw his at you and this will become a mutual dirtying process.

I'VE BEEN DOING THIS SINCE THE KIDS WERE LITTLE. I WAS ILL EQUIPPED TO BE A MOTHER, THEN SOMEONE TAUGHT ME THIS. IT HELPED.
Change your belief about something. If you have a negative reaction, such as anger, it is in you, not someone else. First you have to ask yourself if you want to be angry. If not, maybe there is some way of thinking inside you that could change so that you won't get angry next time. If someone cuts in front of you in a line of traffic, and you become angry, ask yourself, What do I believe about this? "I have the right to this bit of space on the road, no one should take that from me." If you changed your belief to something else, such as: "Others may drive as they will, I will adjust accordingly," then would you be angry if it happened again?

It takes practice. Change doesn't happen overnight. Do you learn to play the piano in one day? Don't feel bad if you don't learn to conquer your anger in one day either.

I'm not promoting sainthood. And I'm not your nanny. I also recognize that some of us have ongoing conflict with people and circumstances we can't remove from our lives. I'm just saying. We are human, we have emotional responses to a tough world. But maybe putting our dirt onto someone else is not the best way to make things better. I'm talking to myself first and foremost.

Follow this link for help for abused and battered women, including state resources. If you are not in the U.S., please google domestic violence help in your area.
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61 comments:

CottageGirl said...

Dear Ruth,
So interesting that the incident of the burning bed happened right there in your community. I wonder if Farrah learned anything from the character she played in the movie. I guess we'll never know.

LIke you said, I think we all have our issues with anger and how we deal with it. Great suggestions you gave to help deal with it. I like the donkey strategy. Makes me smile, too, just thinking about it!

California Girl said...

You give us alot to think about, Ruth.

I am an angry person, certainly more than I'd like. I think it stems from depression for which I am treated and that helps. Also, my therapist is a Buddhist and his approaches, not unlike some of the examples you give, are very zen and helpful.

I've never been abused but I've worked w/ abused women and it's often Catch 22 for them as they want to leave, have no money or safe haven and are afraid. Safe shelters are critical and we must continue to support them.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Patricia said...

Interesting post, Ruth. I have been walking around in a twit for two days and have been unable to understand what the point of it all is, what is actually driving the set of emotions.

Thank goodness it is passing now. I do know that at least one of my design classes no longer regard me as a push-over!

The Bug said...

I took a meditation class last year & one of the exercises was to to one thing "mindfully" every day. I chose driving because I'm road rage waiting to happen. My teacher said to turn off the radio & just pay attention to the act of driving. If someone cut me off in traffic, to think about why they might have done that. Maybe they're late. Or having a bad day. I should realize that 99% of the time it has nothing to do with me & I should react accordingly - meaning to just notice the behavior & move on. It actually worked! I was MUCH less stressed at the end of my commute. I've also found that listening to books on tape while driving has the same soothing result.

Deslilas said...

Gurdjieff was a very interesting and strange man.
I've read some of his bookks
"Les récits de Belzebuth à son petit-fils", "Rencontres avec des gens exceptionnels".
I do like his music with Hartmann plaid by Alain Kremski or Keith Jarret.

Deslilas said...

A clip on youtube about the Peter Brook's movie " Meeting with remarkable men".

ds said...

Wow. Ruth, this is such important and powerful stuff. I'll be back when I can read it properly, but for now will just say THANK YOU>

luksky said...

A lady I used to work with told me she used to keep stacks of old newspapers around so when her kids would get angry at her, each other, or someone else, they could shred and tear the newspaper to vent their anger. I thought it was a good idea. :-)

NJ said...

Great Post Ruth! I didn't know that about Ryan. I had heard that he was a womanizer and wasn't faithful during the course of their marriage. It sure makes the way I saw him act on tv after her death seem insincere.

Dakota Bear said...

Its not very pleasant being on the receiving end of abuse whether it be physical or psychological. Life is so much better once you can escape, but it takes strength and faith to leave.

ellen abbott said...

re abused women - it always amazes me when if a woman fights back and manages to get a lick in then she is not being abused. What?! Abused women have a lot more options now but for some, the only safety to for the abuser to be dead. My MIL got pregnant young, married the guy, he started hitting so she went home. Her family sent her back, saying she was a married woman and that was where she belonged. She got a divorce and then married my husband's father. He was a mental and emotional abuser. She left him after he dropped her off at the hospital at the door in labor (4th child) and went and had breakfast and never came back. She had to call her sister to come pick her up from the hospital when it was time to leave. He had never even come to visit her or the new baby.

re emotions - when things had gotten very bad between us we went to a counselor. He was very good and helped us mend things but what he said about emotions...anger, sadness, happiness, etc...is that we own our emotions. That people don't make us angry or sad or happy. they just do things and we decide how we are going to react to that. We choose to be angry or sad or happy or whatever. That if we can choose to be angry, we can also choose to not be angry. It was eye opening and really changed our lives. Not over night mind you, like you said, you have to be cognizant and make deliberate efforts at change.

Oliag said...

I always have to stop and think before I can comment on any of your posts Ruth!....I'm sure you will be getting many different commnts on anger...I myself tend to hold my anger in...until eventually I don't remember what I was angry about....sometimes that takes longer than other times. In general I'm just not an angry person...

Abuse is another discussion than anger...Anger to me seems to be part of being human...but abuse is inhuman..or should be....

...all that said...I love the donkey idea! How can one be too angry when laughing so hard?

Miruh said...

Hello Ruth,

I so appreciate your sharing what you have learned about dealing with anger. I like all of your suggestions, they are not the usual recommended tips. I especially find "changing your beliefs" to be helpful.

I wrote a piece called,"Restoring The Peace," and your suggestions take up where I left off.

I love the beauty in and around you that you share with your readers. Thank you!

Susan said...

Oh boy! Well, I have a lot to say about this subject, because I have witnessed first-hand abuse to both my sisters from former husbands.

Spousal abuse really has nothing to do with anger...it's about control, and yes, it escalates into anger, but the primary cause is the need for control. And usually there is a deep-seated hatred of women.

It amazes me too, when women fight back, they're blamed. Excuse me? Most men outweigh their wives by 50 pounds or more, and how many women do you know who could fight off a man even if he was the same size? Men in general are just stronger than women.

Physical abuse usually doesn't begin until the woman is first demoralized by emotional abuse. In the decades in which my sisters were married to these men, there weren't the resources that are available today. They didn't bother calling the police, because it mostly did no good. The men weren't taken to jail. You know, the good old boys club. Probably a certain percentage of the cops were doing the same things when they were home. Then there's always the threat to kill you if you try to leave. Who wouldn't take that threat seriously from someone who is capable of doing physical damage to someone they supposedly love?

I could tell you horror stories you wouldn't believe. And we all say, "I wouldn't put up with that kind of treatment." Well, in that day and that time, we don't know what we would have done given the circumstances.

When I watched The Burning Bed, I couldn't believe how realistic it was. When Francine burned down the house, I cheered. And I bet there were tens of thousands of woman across this country who did the same thing.

I am slow to anger, except when it comes to physical and emotional abuse of women and children. Anyone who angers me in that way had better watch out.

Pat said...

A lot of food for thought here. I didn't realize that O'Neal had abused Farrah. That's sad to hear.

I'm not an angry person; usually I let people walk all over me and not fight back. I know THAT's not good, either.

I remember an old friend telling me that she used to walk around the block holding an uncooked egg. Her temper would want to smash it to smithereeens, but she had to keep it in check to return home with the egg intact!

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I didn't remember when we moved here that this was the locale of the Burning Bed. I had seen the movie. Don tells me the location of the house was right behind the post office, so strange.

Ruth said...

Thank you, California Girl, I so appreciate your openness.

I have gotten angry over the years and made people feel bad. It's one thing to be angry, it's another to take it out on someone.

Ruth said...

I know, Patricia, why do these emotions come sometimes for no apparent reason? I wonder if it's atmospheric sometimes. I know that there are times I have something unresolved inside that makes me grumpy. I just have to get down to the root of it and look at it, what is it that's bothering me?

Ruth said...

Bug, yes, it's like this person is insulting me by driving the way they do, when it has nothing to do with me. It's good if we can each find the thing that works. Why would I want to be angry driving, I mean it adds so much stress to always get annoyed in traffic. It's like I have to go out expecting that there will be interruptions. It also helps to build in extra time on the commute.

Ruth said...

Daniel, first, thank you for telling me there is a movie of "Meeting with Remarkable Men" - I had no idea. I am listening to the youtube of Hartmann now, thank you for that too.

Yes, Gurdjieff, and Osho too had very odd characteristics and methods. I don't follow either of them. But there are some things they have said that stand out from other "gurus" and I have tried that have worked.

Ruth said...

DS, it's heavy and very tough to think about. It takes each person to a place, and I'm sure it isn't pleasant for anyone to contemplate, regardless of how closely we have experienced any of this.

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Luksky. How interesting, building in a method for her children to vent their anger. That's what I call pre-emptive!

Ruth said...

Hi, NJ, I feel pretty yucky posting this actually. I'm having second thoughts.

Apparently it was in 1999 when Tatum O'Neal revealed in an article in Talk magazine that her dad beat Farrah up. Farrah was in denial about it and saw Ryan as her protector. You can read a little here.

Ruth said...

Dakota Bear, there are a lot of enslaved women the world over. So many reasons. It is heart breaking.

Ruth said...

Ellen, thank you for sharing your MIL's story. It's so awful. To think that really domestic abuse only became a focus of legislation after this burning bed case. The centuries of emotional and physical enslavement and abuse of women are just too much to think about.

Yes, it took me a long time to stop blaming someone else when I got angry. I wouldn't acknowledge that I was responsible for my response.

Ruth said...

Oliag, yes there is a difference. I can use more education on this, and thanks to you and Susie I'm getting it. I do think anger can be at the root of the abuser's problems. I'm not a psychoanalyst, but why does the abuser want to control someone with violent means in the first place? Perhaps loss of control him or herself?

Oh there are a lot of reasons to be angry, and it really is an emotion we should accept. That's not what I'm talking about. I mean the anger that we turn on someone else.

Ruth said...

Miruh, thank you for your kind visit. This is so unpleasant, and I am feeling pretty awful about the topic now. I hope you are able to use the tip you found helpful. It has helped me more than anything else in my life since I heard it twenty years ago.

Ruth said...

Oh Susie, thank you so much for your explanation. It makes total sense that it is about control. I have seen it in action in my family too. I just know that the particular person I'm thinking of was so angry starting at about age 14, and I saw that erupt into a life where he turned the tables on everyone. He beat up his father and once he did, he knew he could control others in his life. Two wives left him after his verbal abuse.

I'm so sorry for your sisters and all the women who have suffered this way, physically or emotionally. This is one very legitimate reason to get angry.

Ruth said...

Pat, Tatum O'Neal told a magazine about the abuse back in 1999. It doesn't make me feel good to talk about this. I hate it. I hope something here will be helpful.

Your friend's practice is vivid and I would think helped her start a new habit. We can change our behavior, and we have to start inside our heads.

kanmuri said...

Thanks for this post. I tend to get angry really easily. I will try to think of your donkeys next time I get angry :)

rauf said...

Francine picked up her courage after thirteen years. i also get angry Ruth when i hear the woman saying i am just a house wife. There is no economic freedom. Perhaps Francine was economically dependent on her husband.

A woman is a temple Ruth, life giving life supporting mother, mother earth. Women themselves lose control of their lives with silly beliefs that man is superiorand its her duty to be submissive.
Females of other species are fully in control fully in charge. Something is seriously wrong with us humans.

Francine took action, took the risk, not for herself but for the safety of her children. There are millions in Asian and African countries who quietly suffer and endure domestic violence without uttering a word. no one gets to know about it.

♥ Braja said...

After that, i need a cuddle from Bishop....
xo

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, I hate conjuring these things. I worry that I am sending out images of misery. I hope there is good here.

Ruth said...

rauf, I didn't realize until I read this retrospective that Mickey was her ex-husband. I don't know why they were still together. She must have been dependent on him even after divorce.

I have been miserable too about the victims of war rape that have gotten attention in the media after Hillary Clinton visited the Congo and addressed the UN about it. There will be a UN envoy now focusing on this war crime. But I don't know if it will do any good. Humans are what they are. I just hope women will see themselves differently and break free. More and more women are speaking out in countries where they are repressed - at great risk. I admire their courage too.

Ruth said...

Yes, ♥ Braja, she is here giving you all her love. xoxo

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, hmmmm I always had trouble understanding women who allowed themselves to live under these circumstances,still I know they exist and the reasons for it.

Seems the older I get the less angry I get,(except when Bush was in office, that was a bad, bad, anger)As far as everyday situations go, I am less angry and much more passive in my response. My head is in this whole cancer thing with my dearest that not much else matters, life is getting clearer. I think I used to look for things to be disatisfied with and now I am more or less counting my blessings. I know people, even at my age, who look and look for something to be mad or sad about I want to find glad. Very simple really. Oh and silly too that's very good.

shicat said...

Ruth, I'm sorry I didn't make myself clear, my best friend is still suffering from Ovarian Cancer and all of the treatment thus far has been unsuccessful.

Peter said...

Maybe I have been lucky in life... I just can't imagine how you could get soo angry and violent with someone, wife, or whoever! I believe I may be a defintley non-violent person (yes, I can get upset, but hardly more..)... but then you can of course ask yourself the question: are there situations where violence would be requested or defendable (a man against his wife or partner, defintely not)? As I said, maybe I have been just lucky so far and hoping to never be in a situation where I may pass the limit.

Your post is very good and has led to many comments, very interesting, and unfortunately confirming how common these difficult abuse situations are. Fortunately, in some countries, some actions have been taken and the abused women have an at least limited chance to be helped and defended, but think of all countries where this is not yet even thought of!

Barry said...

It is one thing to be angry, another to end up in a state of anger, where anger has become institutionalized inside you and becomes a form of self-destruction.

I'm not sure that taking your anger out on others is ever the way to discharge it. You just learn better how to express it and spread it around like an infectious disease.

I like the donkey idea of just letting it go.

Then doing something reasonable and effective about the problem or person that caused your anger.

gemma said...

Regardless of race or social class
the problem of abuse touches everyone.Accepting responsibility for our actions and reactions should be taught from day one.

Christina said...

great message,my friend. I have taught my kids from little on, there is always another way to deal with anger. I hope they always remember this.
xo

Ruth said...

Cathy, I know and I hear you about women who stay. Tolle says given the same genes and circumstances as another, we would make the same choices. I think about that a lot.

I also know what you mean about people who seem to just want to be mad, or unhappy. They feed it like a monster inside, and it goes on living and being happily angry.

Thank you for explaining, and I'm so sorry about your friend. I wish her health and a full recovery.

Ruth said...

Peter, I know, I feel very fortunate too. It is very distressing envisioning this going on right now as I write, and yes, in some parts of the world this goes on in silence, as you and rauf point out. I read in the embedded article that only maybe 1/4 of domestic abuse cases in Michigan are reported to the police. I imagine it is a tiny fraction, if at all, in other places. And those women have no choices, nowhere to turn.

Ruth said...

Barry, if someone is chronically angry, they need to go to the heart of it. It doesn't only affect them, it affects the ones closest most of all.

Ruth said...

Gemma, yes it's easy to blame someone else when I get angry. After all, what they did made me mad. No. It's inside me, something in me made me mad.

Ruth said...

Christina, I can't imagine you fostering anything but love in your home.

shoreacres said...

So much here that calls forth response...

I've always cherished Luther's wonderful perspective on anger (and other negative emotions); "You can't keep the birds from flying around your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair."

Ironically, one of the tasks many women face is to acknowledge, accept and express anger. Tears often substitute for anger - and particularly in abusive situations, they are a "safer" response than appropriate anger directed toward an abuser.

And this tentative thought about Osho's remark that the ocean will purify the dirty river. That simply isn't true - not in the world of water, and not in the world of emotion. The increasingly large "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico where nothing can live are caused by those dirty, draining rivers. And our whole society is being tainted by the anger of individuals pouring into it.
The key is to purify the source.

Wonderful post.

Bella Rum said...

A complicated topic. My hat's off to you for tackling it.

While so many have issues controlling anger, sometimes the opposite is an issue too. Often women have difficulty expressing anger. They sometimes turn it inward, and it lies unexpressed in the form of depression, and can do much damage.

I'll be interested to follow some of your links.

A wonderful post, and just look at all the discussion you've spurred.

Nancy said...

What a great "hot topic". I think anger is the number one problem in our world. If everyone could take a step back when they became angry, all of our lives would look different. Pema Chodron, and Eckhart Tolle say to put some space between what you are feeling and your response. It takes practice, just as you have said, but it works, and it changes your life.

Great post, Ruth!

caroldiane said...

Ruth, you have the courage to have a blog about anger and look how it touches us and has us think! That is the wonderful gift your writing gives to us - pause to consider and talk about it! Watching my daughter with her new son, I remember times when anger boiled over as a mom, your practices here are very worthwhile! Thank you!

Ruth said...

Ah, Linda, I like hearing that Luther said that.

Yes, women and tears. I wonder if tears come partly from lack of power. I'm afraid very few of us are given "training" from parents or teachers how to a) decipher emotions (sometimes we mistake fear for anger) and b) how to respond to them. Owning our own emotions is like the first things we should teach our kids. But of course what we model is the primary teacher. I don't think I had any good models for responding to anger as a child - either responding to someone else's anger, or to my own.

Yes I thought the same thing about Osho's comment in a literal way and figurative too. For me though, spiritually, I think the earth can handle our crud and give it back to us in beautiful fruit. I have sent many many worries and bad emotions into my dear Earth and she has sent them back as sweet smelling as myrtle and rose. It is all about intention.

Thank you as always for engaging so well.

Ruth said...

I know, Bella, I must have been out of my mind. Almost instantly I regretted posting it, it felt so awful. But it has been a good discussion, I so appreciate the way my friends have engaged with it.

I know an elderly couple who both deal with anger in harmful ways. The woman keeps everything in, and the man explodes venom onto her. They have been together nearly 60 years. It breaks my heart to imagine the joy they could have shared if only they could have found ways to get elevated above that cycle. But alas, they are of a generation that shies from facing such things head on.

Ruth said...

Nancy, I'm pretty sure you are in the same place I am based on your posts. I am learning and practicing HARD to change my way of thinking, not just my behavior. Like my mom used to tell me, start acting differently and the change in emotion will come. How wise! But anger feels so delicious! Especially if other people are angry with you. There is some anger that needs to get us out to the streets and protest. But there is some that is biased and evil and puts more evil into the world.

Ruth said...

Above, I meant: especially if other people are angry with you toward some joint cause or person, not angry against you.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, thank you for that vote of encouragement. I was miserable after posting this, felt terrible to make us think about such horrors. But maybe something here will help someone as I have been helped. I know I was hurting my loved ones, and thanks to these tips that has improved vastly. Oh yes, having a baby can really push a parent beyond the limits of patience, poor little tykes don't know.

Jeanie said...

We've aired enough Wayne Dyer here and I've written so many listings they stick in my head. The one that I never forget for a single minute is "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." It doesn't mean the problem is solved; it doesn't mean that bad becomes good. But it does help us deal with things differently. Reframing them in a way that can be positive or at least productive. Anger's a toughie -- I work with a lot of hostile people, and I'm sure there's plenty I could be angry about, too. But there's no percentage in anger for anger's sake. And you can't change the bad by being equally reactive. This is a terrific and thoughtful post, Ruth. Much food for thought here on many levels.

dutchbaby said...

This is such a generous post, Ruth. You took the time and effort to tackle a very difficult and unpleasant topic and transformed it into a great lesson for all of us. Please know that your blog is making a difference.

Ginnie said...

Who was it that first talked about anger being a mask for a much deeper emotion closer to the truth of the issue? I got angry the other day and had the chance to sit and talk about it long enough till the real emotion came out. That was very healing for me, as well as eye-opening. But how many people will sit patiently and let us figure it out?! Do we even have patience with ourselves?!

Much food for thought, Sistah.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, "there's no percentage in anger for anger's sake" - I don't know just what that means, but I think I understand it in the context of your words. Thank you, it really is all about what's in our own head and heart.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, as I said in other comments, I felt miserable after posting this. It is very disturbing to think about this when it is not part of my life. It is more disturbing to realize it is a daily routine for some.

Ruth said...

Boots - BINGO!