When I was going through a divorce in my mid-twenties I joined a support group. I can't remember the name of it but we met at a church, had a book and a workbook, watched videos and had a group facilitator. I cried a lot. Like A LOT. I didn't want to get divorced but could no longer live in the situation of my marriage. The people in my group comforted me and were very patient with me. One night the subject was anger. We had to take some sort of survey about our anger and reactions to things. After we filled it out, we talked about it. I shared that I felt a lot of rage and that I could act out very aggressively with words and actions at times. I recounted how I would fly into fits of rage and spew angry words and sometimes objects at my ex-husband.
When I stopped talking and looked at the faces around the table, all I could see was shock and disbelief. I guess they all thought because I cried a lot and was nice and quiet most of the time that I wasn't capable of being angry or full of rage. A few actually said that to me and added that they could never imagine sweet little me getting so angry. Maybe if you have been around me, you may think the same thing but you would be incorrect.
The truth is, everyone gets angry. They should. Anger lets us know when we or someone else violates our values or boundaries. I never knew that before and I thought I was a bad person for getting angry. I would overcompensate for feeling angry by acting nice. I would swallow the anger and store it up inside because I thought it was wrong to get angry. Well you can only store up and swallow anger for so long before it explodes on someone, even yourself.
When people reacted to me telling them about my anger and rage the way that they did, it reinforced the idea that anger was not acceptable to the general public and reinforced my want and need to deny my feelings of anger. Was I upset that someone was rude to me? Oh no, not me, just standing here like a martyr letting it go. Was I offended by your comments? Heavens no, I don't want to argue. Did I have an opinion? Nope, not if it was going to upset anyone. Smile and be nice. Shrink and be small. These were things I was telling myself. Ignore the anger, ignore the hurt.
With the guidance of a mentor and a therapist, I have discovered that anger can be a really good, healthy thing. It can let others know when they need to stop, it can let me know when something hurts or goes against my values or my desires. Anger is a natural signal of the body. It gets attention and often gives you space-it lets others know to back up.
The key is being mature enough to feel the anger and to then channel it into some sort of action that sets a boundary but doesn't attack or lash out. If you call me names and attack my character, I might want to reach out and smack you in the face. Natural and normal feeling to have, but not an acceptable action to take. It could land you in jail actually. So if I can't smack you, what can I do?
I can use the anger I feel and I can say to you to get away from me. I can say to you that I don't accept the names you call me and that if you continue to call me names you will lose my friendship, trust, respect, etc. I can stand up for myself without getting physical. When I channel that anger into my words I can give myself space where you aren't allowed in with your name calling. That is very different than saying nothing and walking away. That is very different than saying nothing in the moment but taking it out on you in little ways and punishing you for an indefinite time. It is more honest. People know where they stand with you and what you allow and don't.
I'm learning that what makes me angry is what I value, it is what I want to protect, it is what I fear losing, it shows me what matters to me. Some of you may be thinking, duh, but I had suppressed my anger to the point that I had a hard time knowing what upset me. I had a hard time remembering what was important to me. I was too busy being sweet and nice.
So if you make me angry in the future, I'd like to say thank you in advance. It may not be a comfortable experience for either of us, but it will be an honest experience. You will know where I stand and you will know where I need you to stand to be a part of my life. I look forward to it, as long as I can be and stay mature about it, respectful to us both. I look forward to rediscovering what I am passionate about and drawing boundaries up that protect those passions. I hope I can anger you also so that you may discover those things in yourself too. In the end we can shake hands and be happy to know the truth and to have dealt with a natural feeling in a healthy way. In the end I will feel so good about standing up for me and not denying myself to please you. I welcome anger to be my teacher.