"Anger is energy with a message, and it’s talking to you.” -Annie Mueller
Yesterday, the internal narrative I’ve had that I am often too emotional, irrational, or that my instinctual 'gut reactions cannot be trusted' stared back at me as nothing more than an old fiction film playing out in my mind. Instead, what has been paradoxically true is that I am not emotional enough and my gut is the strongest force I need not avoid or tame, but harness and act on quickly (and as if my life depends on it).
As it turns out, being able to consistently stifle your anger is not a sign that you’re emotionally healthy. I am recalling now countless times where I was treated poorly or felt unsafe. I reacted to what the old narrative coined as ‘too emotional’.
In the past, in moments where anger was justified, I instead double-downed on my anger-shame by declaring that I am too good for anger. Nope - I don’t need anger, I can rise above it. I need not rustle my feathers in the filth of it. I need not project the negativity or darkness of anger onto others - for fear that I would ruin their day/life/ whatever.
This is when you ask me “how that’s going?” and I respond, “not good!” :)
Unfortunately, people SUCK sometimes. And what I know now, is that it is NOT my job to treat shitty behavior with gentle care, or to put others before myself, but to respond accordingly when someone does me wrong and get mad as a means to communicate that ‘thy shall not welcome fuckery here’. My job is to find that inner strength to say, “NOPE, not here, not now, not ever. ”
Had I allowed myself to feel my real emotion after being treated poorly and allowed myself to stand up for myself, I would have been crystal clear and clean. It looks something like this:
Emotion- “ I am angry.”
Cause- “You have hurt me/ pissed me off/ taken advantage of me/ betrayed me/ taken credit for my work/ treated others poorly/ lied/ etc. and crossed my personal boundaries.”
Boundary- “I will not tolerate being treated like this. This is not in alignment with my own values or boundaries which are xyz."
Resolution- “This needs to happen in order to move forward on xyz.”
I had a conversation with my therapist yesterday that went something like this…
Me: I feel angry, but don’t know what to do with it. What’s the point of anger? It feels dirty… wasteful… unproductive. I feel like I should just ignore it, sleep it off, take a bath, and wait for it to go away.
Therapist: Anger is not good or bad. It’s just another emotion. It’s powerful. If we listen to it, anger tells us when our boundaries have been crossed.
Me: But, I have no boundaries.
Therapist: Yes, you do. Anger is showing them to you.
Me: Wait, so anger can show me my boundaries even if I don’t know what they are?
Me: Okay… But, I can’t be mad at other people for crossing boundaries that I didn’t know I had right? Like, I never explicitly said, “Cheating is a boundary, don’t cross it”.
Therapist: You don’t have to communicate or even know your boundaries in order to feel justified anger when they are crossed. You get to be angry, learn from the experience, and react accordingly - regardless.
My aunt defines this as, ‘righteous anger’. What she means by this is that my confusion and guilt around my anger are unimportant, and what is actually healthy is for me to allow myself to feel mad and listen to the message anger is trying to convey to me and anyone who wronged me. By shoving anger down, we are inappropriately delegating anger towards ourselves rather than the individual who caused us harm. Without feeling anger authentically, we are avoiding the actions that are eliciting its response and consequently, we are more likely to allow repetitive behavior that does not align with our values and boundaries by not recognizing that they were crossed in the first place.
So what am I currently learning from my anger? Anger teaches us about boundaries we didn’t know (or we did know, but didn’t want to admit) that we have. Anger helps us hone in on our personal values and when our life isn’t aligning with those values. Anger is great fuel for necessary and often painful decision-making when it comes to safety, security, and overall well-being. Anger protects us from people who cause us harm. Anger allows us to stand up for ourselves. Anger is a voice of confidence and safety, that we can and will protect ourselves when necessary.
I’ve been shoving down my anger with shame and guilt for years. And for years, people have come into my life, trampled me and my boundaries, and I’ve allowed it to continue despite the agitating itch of underlying rage. Now that I’m allowing myself to feel it… righteous anger feels good, strong, powerful, fierce, integrous, rational, thoughtful, and true.
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