Tag Archive | Anger

“Don’t Deny the Rage” — Part Three

Anger can be a powerful barometer to alert us something is Not Right in our lives, in our relationships.

It can be a powerful impetus for needed change. Anger at being abused, for instance, can motivate us to make changes to stop the abuse or to get away from it.

We have to be careful, though.  Anger, badly or recklessly heeded, can lead to some irresponsible or self-destructive choices.

Anger can be turned inward.  This is self-destructive. It’s been said for years that depression is “anger turned inward.”  It’s my personal opinion (and I’m not a psychologist) that that’s too simplistic an assessment, but there’s enough truth there for it to become an easy platitude. We punish ourselves for others’ wrongs, fault ourselves for not being able to “help” or “fix,” things that aren’t ours to begin with, and we become depressed.

I’ve seen anger lead to irresponsible and dangerous choices.  People who can’t cope turning to alcohol or drugs, for instance. Or flashes of rage and temper that cause us to hurt other people, in turn. Or a seething resentment that builds into a dishonest idea that we have a right to — get even, to get a bit of our own back, to have our needs met however dishonestly or dishonorably we have to do it.  I’ve known men and women who justified adulterous affairs by saying their spouse was “asking for it.” “I have a right to be happy” isn’t necessarily true — certainly no one has a right to be “happy” at the expense of others’ trust or if it means violating sacred principles.

I think more often anger is just a low simmering flame that reveals itself in our restlessness, an inability to find peace, an edginess in our relationships with others, punctuated by occasional yelling bouts and the like. Maybe we can’t stop replaying a conversation we had (or wish we’d had) and what we said or wish we’d said or would like to say. .     Maybe it shows up in an unaccustomed use of profanity, or door-slamming, or some other behavior that isn’t so self-destructive as alcohol abuse or the “I’ll show him!” affair — but still gives us that nagging warning that we aren’t doing so well with everything as we’d like to believe we are.

This is where we have to take ourselves in hand and be adult.  Some of these things, we can handle ourselves, and should. But there comes a time when you might just need some professional help to move beyond the rage to a place where you can start to be productive again, and to find some peace.  There’s no shame in getting help, although it can be hard to get started, especially with a stranger.  It’s worth getting through the discomfort in order to find some peace.

And life is far too short, and opportunities for joy far too infrequent, to have your life sabotaged by unresolved rage.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” — Part Two

A tricky business, is anger. Many of us find it frightening. We hold so much in, trying to keep peace, to get along, to win the love and respect of our gay spouse — we hold in and suppress and even deny the very healthy and needed benefits of anger —

Benefits? Yeah.  I’ve come to think of emotions as something of a barometer.  Anger is one of the emotions that should register with us that something is wrong, somewhere.  Either someone has violated something very important or threatened to do.  Something is out of balance, needs to be identified and dealt with.

But when we’ve been — or felt — compelled to suppress anger (like Scarlett O’Hara, who always put off dealing with unpleasant situations: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”), then we deny ourselves the opportunity to diagnose a problem and to figure out how to deal with it.

There’s not a lot of allowance for anger in marriage with a gay man. We have to be the “sweet” one, we have to keep peace, sacrifice even ourselves in order to get along.

This is part of the abusive nature of the relationship, of course:  Shut up or you’re a bitch. You don’t have a right to be angry. Your needs are inconsequential. You are inconsequential. You are stupid. You are unreasonable. You are demanding. It’s all your fault.  Everything would be just fine if you’d quit nagging, quit actually expecting anything of me.

Wait a minute.  It’s my fault because I expect you to behave like a husband instead of an employer? a dorm-mate with whom I am barely acquainted? It’s my fault because I have expectations? You mean, you want me to sit down and shut up and leave you alone? You can’t, or aren’t willing, to stretch yourself to be a husband, a companion, a lover — and it’s my fault because I actually believe the spousal relationship means something? It’s my fault because I won’t let you get away with ignoring something when, truth be told, you just don’t want to be bothered?*  

This is where anger kicks in and gives us power:  No.  And, what’s more, HELL NO.  I will not take the blame.  My expectations are not unrealistic — your laziness and apathy are unrealistic.  What’s more, you’re a selfish, cruel s.o.b. to expect me to live without companionship or even basic affection. You’re an abusive s.o.b. for thinking all I’m good for is to be a front for you, so you don’t have to accept responsibility for yourself.

I’m not willing to live this way. No.  Hell, No. (and I’m really not being profane, saying “Hell, no,” because it is a taste of Hell we experience in that situation).

 

*DH actually told our joint therapist, a couple years before we separated, “I know a good marriage takes a lot of work, but, frankly? I don’t want to be bothered.”  He said it in front of me, and I sat there and I took it.  Numb.  Too messed up to fight back. Too cowed, too messed up to even have alarm bells ringing that something was gravely wrong for him to say that.  Memories like that still pop up from time to time.  I have flashes of anger, in remembering — now I’m angry; then I was dead, inside.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” – Part One

When DH and I separated, I received the same advice from several kind and wise people with whom I worked at the time:  “Don’t deny the rage.”

I had no idea what they were talking about.  I was living on the epicenter of an emotional earthquake, I was wary and scared and anxious and tense and many, many unpleasant things, but angry wasn’t one of them.  In fact, anger was such an alien concept to me at that point, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I’d been angry for years, but it had manifested as impatience, short temper, etc., quick firebursts that just as quickly, vented, died back down. I didn’t know what rage was.

It took a year, nearly an entire calendar year before it hit me, and even then it required a catalyst outside my own experience in the form of a terrible drunk driving incident that killed the wife and three children of one of my dear friends.  For my friend I became angry, and that righteous anger popped the cork and — I couldn’t get the cork back in.

It revealed itself in several ways:  Bursts of excessive energy accompanied by the strong desire to inflict deep pain on those who had wronged me. Black humor, self-deprecating humor. Sarcasm. Profanity. An inordinate desire for revenge — I adopted a motto that reflected my resentment at DH’s efforts to sabotage my independence and success: Success Is the Best Revenge; sometimes, later, I would modify it: Happiness Is the Best Revenge.

It boiled, it exploded, it simmered. It waited still and quiet beneath the surface then it would erupt at unexpected times and under, often, unreasonable provocations.

When it didn’t go away on its own, I became frightened, by its intensity and by its duration; this was not my usual outburst but a months-long, years-long storm.

We women are told not to get angry.  We are told from childhood to hold in our tempers. A grown woman who lets her anger flare is dismissed as a bitch. We are told to be nice and to do whatever it takes in order to get along with even the most difficult and unreasonable people in our lives.  This is fine to a point, but it misses the greater point that sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand and defended with might and main:

You may not hit me.  You may not tell me I am stupid and worthless.  You may not dismiss me as insignificant. You might think it, but it is an evil, nasty, unfair and abusive attitude, and you may not inflict it upon me. You may not abuse me.

Anger is the only reasonable response to abuse.  I read somewhere that anger is a secondary emotion to fear or hurt.  That’s true to a point — we have been hurt and so we are angry. We are afraid of abandonment or of insignificance, and so we are angry.  That makes sense.  But anger is also simply the only reasonable response to situations of violence, or moral outrage.  This is, I suspect, a uniquely Christian idea (“Be angry and do not sin” — Eph. 4:26) but an important one.

Maybe what made my anger so difficult do deal with was that it was a combination, a culmination of All The Above. It was secondary to hurt – “why am I never good enough?” — and to fear — “What is going to happen now? How can I manage on my own?” but it was also a gut reaction to the fact that I was being abused.