mental illness anger

Anger has always been the most difficult emotion for me to process. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to be angry, but adults were. As an adult, my anger has been treated as misplaced and a sign of my emotions getting the best of me. To show anger has been to show weakness. I would argue, that for many women it is like that. If we become angry the response is that we are overreacting and being emotional or hormonal.

I have always wrestled with just stuffing down anger the instant I feel it. It used to be that something would anger me and I would immediately shove the feelings down and tell myself that I was being unreasonable. I believed the lie that showing anger is showing weakness. It is better to just ignore the feelings and try to work out a logical solution.

The end product was a total inability to manage my feelings of anger. Either I was completely ruled by the feeling or I shut down and pretended everything was fine. I would wait until I couldn’t bear interacting with the person any more and blow up or I would silently slip out of their lives. It used to be that if someone made me angry I just cut them out of my life instead of dealing with it. It was very rare that I would take the time to reconcile. I burned a lot of bridges this way.

In my marriage I thought being angry meant that I was a bad wife. So I tried to be patient. I stuffed all my anger into the back of my mind and didn’t express how bad things made me feel or how angry I was about certain actions. I knew that I wasn’t really angry deep down instead, I was scared. Scared for my husband and scared for my marriage. I thought that if I dealt with the fear that the anger would go away. But it didn’t. Instead since I never really expressed it, it was never clear how wounded I really was and how far I had retreated. They call anger a masking emotion because you’re usually angry because you’re feeling something else too; threatened, jealous, hurt, or frightened. I thought that meant I didn’t have to deal with it and instead I could push past it to what was “really bothering me”. What I ended up with was a giant pile of anger that I had never dealt with and a frustrating relationship with the emotion itself.

For me, learning to process anger began with allowing myself to be angry. But even then, I didn’t really get it. Being angry always felt like throwing a tantrum. I would just shout about whatever was making me angry and storm off. I couldn’t handle it. It was like a fire was consuming me and I had to put myself out. The feeling overwhelmed my sensibilities and I would make sweeping black and white statements. It scared me. But what I realized was that the anger wasn’t bad. It was a catalyst to help me say what I was too afraid to say. The same way that a challenge from a sibling pushes you to do something you think you can’t.
I hate heights, but if my brother looks at me and says, “Bet you can’t climb that tree” I will turn into a panther and scale those branches quicker than it took to shove a can in his face and say, “Hold my beer”.
I thought anger was weakness but instead it was providing me with a strength to say the deep dark things that I otherwise couldn’t. There were plenty of deep dark things I never said to people because I wouldn’t allow myself to be angry with them. In turn, I was disallowing them from experiencing my vulnerability.

It has only been in the last year that I have cultivated a better relationship with my anger. Probably because we’ve been forced into one another’s company. I have been angrier in the last year of my life than perhaps the last twenty seven years combined. My heart has hardened and my outlook has calloused but that’s not from being angry, that’s from being bitter.

I was recently let go from a job that held a lot of promise. I was crestfallen and the old lie of, “you will never be good enough” rang loudly in my ears. A week before that I was told that I had wasted $400 and five days because a piece of paperwork wasn’t correct and there was nothing that I could do. Both times I was angry. The anger sat with me all day. I wept and yelled and felt defeated. I cleaned the kitchen and stomped around. For some of the first times I can remember, I felt the anger for what it was.
It set fire to my bones and rattled my nerves. It wrenched me about. My jaw ached from clenching it. Nothing could set me at ease while my thoughts whirred at the speed of bullets ricocheting around my pulsing head. My stomach, shoulders, and back were giant knots.
Then, after it tortured me all day, I slept. I woke up feeling better. I woke up tired and wrung out but I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t about to sing to the birds or skip through a field but I didn’t feel enraged. The fire had burned and gone out and left me unscathed.

I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t a monster. I was angry, really angry, and survived.

Feeling anger had always terrified me. The model of anger I saw was horrifying. Anger meant that people got hurt. When you made someone angry, you endangered everyone else. It was to be avoided at all costs.

One of the strange things about emotions is that each one comes with two distinct parts. The first is when you feel it. The second is when you make someone else feel it.
I am still utterly mortified by the knowledge that I have made someone else angry and have no idea what to do with myself. So, obviously, the topic of anger is by no means exhausted for me.

But to be able to look at the pile of things that I’m angry about and know that it won’t kill me to feel those feelings; that’s a big deal. For the first time, I’m not afraid of feeling angry. Even though it still feels like trying to control a car with no brakes, at least I know the crash won’t kill me and struggling with it isn’t an unforgivable thing.





photo credit: egg_hammer_threaten_violence_fear_intimidate_hit_beat – Must Link to via photopin (license)