I have a hard time with anger. Specifically, with delivering it. I work pretty hard to contain anger, assess it, make sure it’s fair, find gentle ways to express it, and just avoid it altogether. Sometimes I find myself, jaw clenched, head exploding, blood pulsing…and silent. SILENT. Even with people I love and trust.
Why is that?
When I get angry, I also often get self-doubting. Now, some caution before expressing anger seems like a good thing. I like the idea of a world where we all stop and check-in with ourselves when we are about to deliver anger. Is this a grounded response? What’s my role in this? Will this be a productive conversation? Good questions to ask. If you’re not asking these questions, if anger is your primary experience, or if you tend to damage others with your anger, then this blog entry probably isn’t for you.
But my experience is more of a repressed one. I get so entwined in those questions that I shut myself down. Many of us do, especially women and girls. It’s woven into the female gender role NOT to be angry. It gets called hurtful, aggressive, reactive, and bitchy. So, often when I feel angry, I worry that I’m being hurtful, aggressive, reactive and bitchy. THAT’S called internalized sexism.
The self-doubt voice goes something like this: “My anger may hurt this person who I love and want to connect with, therefore it is a BAD EMOTION. Shame on you. Be good. Be nice. Be grateful. Be careful. If you could just be more focused on the positive, if you could just be more enlightened, if you could just (be inhuman and) not have needs and feelings other than joy, this would all be a whole lot easier!”
Well, self-doubt, THAT’S NOT HELPFUL!! (Whew. Those caps signify that I yelled that, and it felt really good!!) Those self-doubting thoughts are built on three destructive internalized messages: 1) You are not good just as you are, all your emotions, included. SHAME! 2) You are responsible for other peoples’ feelings. ENMESHMENT! 3) Because of SHAME and ENMESHMENT, the way to take care of others is to silence, repress, squash, and change so others don’t feel uncomfortable. This is the message that is so ingrained in us – the warped message to be inauthentic in the name of protecting our relationships, and in the name of compassion.
RAGE!! RAGE AGAINST IT! Of course…that would require allowing ourselves to be angry. So go for it! That is one insidious message, and when I feel the self-doubt that silences me, I now recognize that it’s my cue that this message is working its black magic, and that maybe there’s something I’ve shamed and enmeshed myself into not expressing.
And that’s not such a compassionate thing, after all. The truth is that when I repress anger, I feel resentment, and I feel irritable. I eventually feel flat, and not surprisingly, repressed. Because I am! And my repressed self is not my best self.
You know whose company does bring out my best self? My kids. I am my most playful, present, forgiving, curious, loving, passionate, spontaneous, whacky and open-hearted self with my kids. And guess what? I get angry at them with ease! It flows. I am not repressed. They will most likely be both confused and entertained to read that I consider myself someone who represses my anger. It’s no coincidence that the people who know me at my most joyful also know my anger. They know ME.
Anger = Part of Self.
Self = Good.
Sharing Self = Intimacy.
It’s that simple. Of course, you can insert any emotion at the start of that equation and it still works. And the key is quieting self-doubt, releasing shame and breaking free from enmeshment, so that you can know in the core of your being that you and all that you feel are good. You. Are. Good.
So I will practice voice over silence, anger over bitterness, passion over repression. Ultimately, this is the practice of love over fear. Day after day I will try to choose love, with all the juicy anger that comes with it.