The goal isn’t to never feel angry. The goal is to understand your anger and choose healthy ways to respond to it. — Unknown
Many of us are taught by our parents, our teachers and society that certain emotions are unacceptable. The adults in our lives were not comfortable with their strong emotions, so they needed to control ours. Girls especially are taught to be nice and not express anger, disappointment or outrage.
I was taught that being mad was not nice. The problem with this is that the feelings have to go somewhere, so they got turned inward and manifested as self-hatred. As a child, this meant biting myself when I was angry because I had no other way to express it.
When I married someone who did not allow me to express anger, I suddenly experienced being cut off from my authentic self. I compensated by creating an alternate self that was devoted, subservient and pandering. This was how I stayed safe.
The result of not being allowed to feel and express our feelings is that we lose our ability to set boundaries. We are at the mercy of others to tell us how we are doing, and to interpret our experiences for us. It seems crazy now when I think of how I lived for so many years in the grip of a man who supposedly loved me, but I was only 18 when I married him. I was not yet strong enough to stand up and say “Hell no.”
Besides, I was a good southern girl, and southern girls were domesticated to defer our power to others, especially to the men of the world. We were taught to keep quiet and not make a fuss. Otherwise we would be labeled hysterical. And no one wanted to be around a hysterical female.
We were taught that our job was to be the caretaker of others’ emotions, and most of the time that meant that we had to smooth things over for them and take responsibility for their happiness. That also meant that we were not allowed our own emotions. While my husband was free to express his anger at me — and he did, quite often — I was not allowed to do the same. I was told that nothing was as bad as I thought it was.
There was so much about those years that warranted anger and even outrage, but I had to keep it all in or risk a nasty fight that I could never win. I learned to fear his anger as much as I feared mine.
Unexpressed anger can lead to self-hatred, depression and rage as we become more and more disconnected from ourselves. That is exactly what happened to me.
Ironically, the fact that I had the gall to be depressed sparked his wrath. He repeatedly told me that if I would just think about someone other than myself I would snap out of it. Depression was another emotion I was not allowed. This drove me deeper into the void until I considered taking my life. Thankfully, instead of destroying myself, I was able to call upon my anger to help me.
For once my wise inner voice could be heard above the din and she was really pissed. I defied his edict that I was not allowed to get help and I called the number on the back of the insurance card. I made an appointment with a counselor. Finally listening to my anger saved my life.
In the end, all our anger wants from us is to be honored and acknowledged.
The problem with all those years of unfelt, unexpressed anger is that it would periodically come out as rage. I know now that the rage was trying to protect me from self-destruction, but rage can wreak havoc on those in the vicinity when it explodes.
There were episodes of rage that led to throwing my teenage son’s things out the window after he refused to clean his room.
There was rage that made me throw a glass at a framed picture in a hotel room while someone I loved slept in the bed beneath it.
There was rage that led to uncontrollable screaming and crying.
I had a lot of pent-up rage from so many years of not being allowed to feel my anger. It was not pretty. The people around me paid a high price.
I regret the fallout for those that I love and care for, but I know that if that rage had not come out, I would have finally done myself in.
I was able to work my way out of that unhealthy relationship eventually, but not until I learned how to own my feelings. It took such guts to find my “No” but I did and it changed the dynamic of the relationship. When we take back our power, the one who held it before has no choice but to change. But he didn’t let go without a fight. It didn’t matter. I had crossed the point of no return — I was not letting go of my anger, or letting anyone else tell me I could not feel it, ever again.
I no longer live with someone who says I can’t feel my anger and express it. The problem is, I still have a hard time allowing myself to be angry. Instead, what I habitually do is make myself wrong for feeling angry so the person I am furious at can be right. Some ingrained beliefs are hard to outrun. But I am trying.
I know that anger is a sign that a boundary has been crossed, and I would do well to sit up and pay attention. I know that anger is not a “bad” emotion, any more than grief or fear or anxiety is. It is just one of the many emotions that are a part of the human experience. All of our feelings are there to guide us to where things need to change, to ways we need to protect ourselves, to things we need to say “No!” to.
I live a much calmer life, now, and I have not thrown anything for years. That is a good thing.
I am calling home all the parts of myself that I have severed, and my anger is one of them. If I can speak up and acknowledge my anger, it doesn’t have to go underground and build up into rage, or take me into the darkness of self-hatred and depression.
Many times, all I have to do is sit with my pen and journal and write all the anger out. This manifests as gigantic loopy letters as I allow my hand to express the feelings of outrage. When looking back, it is easy to see when I was mad because I have a distinctive “pissed-off” handwriting. But usually, that is all I need to do to honor and acknowledge the anger. And in the end, that is all our anger wants from us.
If we can’t find a safe way to bow to our anger, we can find ourselves with a monster on our hands that will either result in depression, self-hatred, rage, or all three. We need to get over feeling that anger is bad and see it instead as a guide. We do not have to fear our anger, or anyone else’s for that matter. Getting pissed off is healthy when we can find a healthy way to express it.