Since my experiences with my ex husband, just hearing the term “anger” makes me think of my husband throwing the washing basket against the wall and I have flash backs of him with clenched fists, gritting his teeth while yelling obscenities. Therefore, the term “anger” has negative connotations for me.
This was not always the case. I grew up in a family that was strong on verbal communication and we had frequent arguments when I was living at home. The upside of this was that everything was always brought out into the open and we tended to move on from disagreements quickly. Meeting Pete meant that I had to change my entire communication style. I buried my feelings deep down inside. I learnt that to be angry was a bad thing – both because Pete could not handle any confrontation (he would threaten suicide) and also because of seeing anger represented in such a frightening way in the man that I had married.
I learnt over time to bottle in my feelings until I got to the point where it appeared that I was never angry. Bad stuff would happen to me and I would say “I’m fine.” And I believed this to be true. In fact, until recently I wanted desperately to cry because I felt that I had lost my ability to express my emotions.
But recently at the women’s group that I am attending, we discussed anger and here I learned some things that surprised me.
- Anger is NOT an action
- Anger is a normal response to the misuse/violation/abuse of things that we hold dear and value
The first thing that really surprised me is that the facilitator said that anger is an emotion and NOT an action. Acting on the anger in a negative way – hitting the wall, throwing the washing basket is an act of VIOLENCE. The behaviour stems from the anger, but while violent behaviour is a choice, the angry emotion behind it is innate, it is part of being human.
The facilitator stated that anger is in fact a normal response to the misuse/violation/abuse of things that we hold dear and value. When I thought back to Pete’s episodes, for the most part this was true. His anger would often come from a sense that injustice had been don – either to him or others. However, it was what he did with his angry feelings that was wrong. The facilitator said that we always have a choice to how we respond to our anger.
This might sound like common sense to everyone else, but for me a light bulb went on deep inside of me. I had struggled with my own feelings of anger during our marriage. I had been angry at Pete for having the episodes, angry that he couldn’t take care of me in the ways that I had hoped and presumed that a husband would, angry at how my life had turned out. But I had been confused by my feelings. How could I be angry when that was the very condition that I was accusing my husband of? He would bring this up to me and say to me “You get angry too!” I would always hesitate, unsure of how to answer. I would invariably use different words instead 0f “anger” to describe how I was feeling – I wouldn’t say that I was angry with him (even if I was!) I would say, I’m disappointed, or I’m upset. But I knew that I was angry and my anger scared me. I thought that being angry was bad. I can see now that what I was feeling was anger. But where I went wrong in my thought process was that I was comparing my emotions to the way Pete was acting and I was afraid that being angry meant that I was becoming like Pete.
The facilitator explained that even if we shove down the feeling of being angry, it doesn’t just go away by itself. It needs to be expressed. She said it will simmer deep inside and then we will either explode OR we will turn the anger inwards on ourselves. She said that turning the anger inwards is the worst act of violence we can ever do towards ourselves. This is because the anger will then take on a physical symptom – such as migraines, IBS, etc.
This struck a real chord with me. I had thought at the time that bottling my anger deep, deep inside meant that I was getting rid of it. I thought that I would be strong enough to beat down my emotions. I thought that internalising my anger was good for me and our relationship. But in reality, the built up anger has been destroying me from the inside out. Now, I need to begin the process of learning how to express my anger in an appropriate way. Not exploding and saying things that I regret, nor bottling it up.
This is my journey. I believe that it is only once I let go of my anger that I will achieve complete peace. I want to leave you with this to ponder:
From Christy xx