I’m Not Angry
Anger is an emotion that I struggle to deal with.
Anger can be both harmful and a righteous driving force. It can be destructive and transformative. Futile and inspiring.
But the one constant – for me – is that anger is frightening.
I remember vividly every time I was shouted at as a child. It didn’t happen often (mainly because I was a goodie-two-shoes), but when it did it devastated me. I have a very similar temperament to my father, insofar as when we are truly angry it is fucking brutal. The difference is that my dad’s temper is, and always has been, far more unpredictable than mine. Something entirely innocent, such as climbing into the back of a canoe, aged six, whilst on holiday in Canada could be met with a sudden and shocking flash of (non-physical) rage that still raises my heart rate and makes me tear up on thinking about it 26-years later. And I get it – parents yell at their kids. He was almost certainly doing it for my own safety and I don’t love him any less for it, but instants like this go to show that you really do have no control over the moments that define you. That was the moment I became a person who is terrified of anger.
Of course, being terrified of anger doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry. I do get angry. I get angry all the time: at the UK’s blind commitment to leaving Europe to the detriment of millions, at the way our homeless are being criminalised, at the baseless and illegal Syrian air strikes, and at a society so toxic that #MeToo became an inevitability. I am fucking furious. And I am 100% OK with that. It feels like the fuel that can propel me into action (or, on a bad day, the seed of anxious apathy that leaves me paralysed by helplessness because ‘the world is burning and what’s even the point?’). But this ‘righteous’ anger is different – less personal, more political – than the interpersonal and less ‘heroic’ anger that can be directed at those around you.
My personal anger is… complicated. I’m rarely the kind of person who shouts when they’re angry. I don’t break things (although I want to), I don’t hit people (although – shamefully – I want to), and I hardly ever confront the source of my anger; a strategy that leaves my insides roiling with angst, but at least I haven’t (God forbid) upset anyone.
Just the idea of confronting someone – even if they are in the wrong – freaks me the fuck out. If my order gets messed up at a restaurant I would rather swallow it down than risk making any kind of scene with the waitstaff (the notable exception being when I found a live centipede in my salad – that was a step too far). Maybe that’s my Britishness, maybe I’m just a coward. Who knows? The point is that my tolerance for displays of personal anger is pretty damn close to zero, which some might say is a good thing. It means that I’m not volatile, I’m diplomatic AF, and I’m a people-pleaser to the point of self-sacrifice. I’m a fucking Libra!
But what if I’m just being self-righteous about my apparent ‘self-control’ when it comes to my base, reptilian anger? And what if I’m actually doing myself some serious psychological damage by so actively repressing a legitimate side of my personality?
Honestly… I don’t know. You’d have to ask my therapist. (I’m working on it)
I can’t help but see bouts of interpersonal anger as loss of control. When you yell at another person in anger you are not having a conversation – you are asserting your dominance. You are not interested in resolution because you are vocally drowning out the opposition. You want to win. You want to punish. You want to transfer the pain you are feeling on to the other person.
I have done this. I have snapped and I have attacked. And there have been a couple of rare moments in my life when the red mist has descended hard, but I’ve kept my wits about me just enough that the ensuing verbal barrage is devastatingly pointed and unspeakably cruel. And it felt good. I can’t deny that well and truly handing someone their ass makes you feel hella powerful.
For all of about 5-minutes.
For me, at least, the high of owning someone in a fight is quickly replaced by raging guilt and shame that can last for days. DAYS. The internal anguish I feel when I think that someone is upset with me is debilitating, and this is especially true if said person has reason to be upset with me because I was the one who lashed out. I second-guess myself, I replay the moment in my mind a thousand times, and I (eventually/inevitably) end up apologising for my outburst EVEN IF I had reason to be angry in the first place.
So is that winning?
Have I achieved anything with my rage?
In my personal view – no. I lose the battle the moment that I allow my anger to get the better of me. Far better to go for the delayed gratification of talking one’s differences through rather than the immediate rush of hulking out on their ass. Kill with kindness. You catch more bees with honey, yada yada yada.
I can’t help but wonder how much of this viewpoint has been shaped by:
My aforementioned fear of displays of anger;
The fact that women’s anger is consistently feared and dismissed at every level of society.
How can I possibly be ok with anger when I’ve had it socialised out of me since I was a child? How am I supposed to have a healthy relationship with an emotion that I am made to feel shame for at every turn? Women’s anger is unseemly, irrational, shrill. We can speak the same impassioned words as men and be judged entirely differently. He is powerful and determined; you are probably on your period.
Let’s be very clear: we are getting better at acknowledging so-called ‘female’ anger in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but only when it is the right sort of anger. Our anger is becoming palatable, but only when it’s justified. Only when it is deemed righteous. Outside of these very narrow confines, don’t expect to be able to experience anger in peace. Don’t expect to have a relationship with anger that is free from guilt and shame. Society won’t let you. And neither will your internalised shame.
Article by Sarah Velour