For a very long time I’ve had trouble dealing with anger. From hissy fits as a young child that resulted in friends shying away to taking out anger on my body later in life, anger has always been the most confusing of my emotions. I learned fairly early on that being overtly angry wouldn’t help me get ahead in life. I thought, from then on, that my anger meant that there was something wrong with me. As far as I understood it, it wasn’t a good thing to feel angry, especially at or around people I wasn’t super close with. Of course, I wasn’t amazing at regulating my anger when I was young, and so it sometimes escaped my control and I’d lash out, only to feel an incredible surge of guilt at my uncontrolled emotion shortly after an outburst.
The feeling of guilt that would follow anger was almost unbearable. I must be a horrible person, I assumed, for feeling so mad. I must be crazy, it wasn’t right to get angry. It made me ugly, I thought, to think ugly things. The reaction to my anger from peers and family only served to reinforce my belief. Little by little, I became someone who always apologized- even when I was in the right. I would flit from being absolutely convinced of my rightness to a back-pedaling and repentant doormat. My convictions became more and more fuzzy until I began to think that not only was I wrong for feeling angry but I was wrong, period.
When my dad left, I was fifteen years old. I was angry as hell- there is no denying that. I wasn’t sure what to do with the ever-present, pressingly urgent feeling of anger. If I got angry outright, took out my anger at my father, or worse, on my friends, the inevitable guilt would follow, forcing me further down into a spiral of self-hatred. Instead, I got sad. Oh, there were times when I’d scream and stamp my feet at my dad, but outwardly, socially, I cried. I sobbed at the lunchtable, inexplicably wounded by light teasing that wouldn’t have fazed me in the past.
Sometimes the stifled feeling of anger would get so intense that I would feel like I could bust out of my skin. I would feel the waves of tension reverberate through my core, unsure quite what to do with myself. It’s here that I developed new coping strategies- not all of them healthy. I was sick of crying, sick of feeling a weird jumble of angry-sad tears pour from my eyes. I laced up my running shoes and ran myself ragged. As my legs grew more and more tired I lulled myself into a certain calmness, one step at a time. Over time, it took more and more of this new drug, the endorphin, to calm me. I began to rely solely on the solace of solitary exercise to numb my anger. I began to use it pre-emptively, tiring myself out so I’d be too tired to do anything but the necessary motions of school and some social interaction. I carved out a schedule that left me minimal time to greive, to be angry, to feel anything at all. Sometimes I enjoyed running, other times it was pure punishment. Mostly it felt good to take my anger out on someone who I felt deserved it, myself. I think a part of me always believed that I was to blame for all wrongs, and that masochistic part of my being enjoyed the harmful routine I fell into, and extended the routine to encompass my eating as well, rationing off my portions and limiting anything “fun”.
In treatment, I had to feel everything I’d stuffed down deep inside. As corny as it sounds, I relived each and every emotion I’d tried to ignore. As I came out of the mind-numbing daze, I struggled with the uncomfortable anger the most. Emotion-focused therapy was the hardest for me, as I looked myself in the eye and went through the motions of healing. Though I’ve largely recovered, and no longer even entertain the option of using eating and exercise to control my emotions, I still struggle with the healthy release of anger. I still displace anger, focusing the blame on what I sometimes mistakenly believe I can fully control- myself. Just yesterday I had to talk myself through a bout of self-blame, centre myself and examine the situation as it really was. Slowly, I’m learning that to be angry is normal. I’m learning that sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes I’m right. It’s not that I want to revert to the uncontrolled anger of a child. There’s a time and a place for anger, and sometimes I have to give in and take out my frustration in a non-damaging way. But anger is a part of a healthy spectrum of emotions- things we were meant to feel, things that can’t always be controlled. It’s a tough lesson to embrace, but I’m trying.