Being angry (resurrected)Posted: November 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Tags: emotions, growing up, me, thoughts
Kindly supplied by “e” who had this post in their feed-reader. I don’t know who e is, but I owe them a drink.
As promised, a post on anger. This is completely out of my head without any supporting psychology theory exactly, though I suppose I could go and find some somewhere. Anyway… anger and my experience of it.
I can confidently say that my role models for dealing with anger as a child were not very good. I don’t know any people who had good conflict, frustration, or anger role models as children. My parents, like many people had troubled childhoods (which is a nice way of saying that for the most part both their childhoods were incredibly traumatic), and a lack of good role models in their life to deal with conflict, frustration, or anger.
I think that this lack of experience in seeing anger as another emotion, much like being sad, happy, concerned, worried, silly, etc, meant that my ability to be angry did not mature as my other emotions did. I no longer am sad as I was as a child, or a teenager, I am not longer happy as I was as a child… but my anger is… well… immature. My first response is to just go quiet and cold. To be angry, but not even to be able to express it. Anger was avoided in my family, both my parents would be angry behind closed doors, failing to hear each other (I thought), and eventually one of them, usually my father, storming out of the house and going for a walk.
When I moved out of home I unconsciously resolved to communicate differently with my partner than my parents did with each other. It certainly helped that I ended up in relationships with people who generally communicated with a similar language set and meanings (my parents do not seem to have the same dictionary when talking to each other – or perhaps it is an implicit/explicit communication conflict). Anyway… although I feel I communicate with my partners better than my parents communicate with each other, and I manage to avoid conflict through miscommunication along the way, my initial way of dealing with conflict and anger was to avoid them as much as possible.
So when angry, I’d walk away. I mirrored my father’s behaviour and his reaction to being angry. I didn’t lash out physically or verbally, I’d retreat and go away. Eventually (sometimes quickly, sometimes not) I’d come back and be in tears because I didn’t have a better response. I felt guilty about being angry about some things, and justified but unable to explain exactly what I was feeling in others. Part of that guilt I know is that women are supposed to be nice, good, quiet, biddable, etc creatures (not really human after all), who don’t get angry, because if we’re angry we’re bitches, shrews, shrill, uppity, etc. Part of the guilt had to do with being angry with people I loved and over things that were difficult for us to deal with at the time (my husband being clinically depressed for the first 9 years of our marriage for example).
When I was unable to communicate that I was angry, I would get upset. Much like feeling stupid is something that upsets me, being unable to articulate (and therefore feeling that I can’t communicate, therefore am stupid), upsets me. Feeling, as I did at the time, that I had to explain my anger/disappointment/whatever gently and carefully in order to not distress my husband added to the burden of dealing with anger and conflict, and made me even more likely to avoid it.
My husband was treated for his depression, we found the big wide world of polyamory, and having to deal with conflict and anger became something I could no longer avoid. Polyamory challenges assumptions about relationships, forces you to look at the relationships you are currently in and assess the health of habits and behaviours that you and your partner have been wandering around in (well it did for us). The relationships that we became involved in challenged both of us, and the way we acted towards each other, the things that we just put up with, the idiosyncrasies, and our avoidance of conflict.
It would be true to state that my first polyamorous relationship (outside my marriage) was with a high drama and high maintenance man and resulted in conflict with him and some of his other partners during the life of that relationship. I didn’t handle the conflict, anger, or frustration well (I still don’t think I do), but I learnt a lot. My counsellor was instrumental in helping me accept that anger is a valid emotion, one that is completely ok to have, and it is not the end of the world (or relationships) to be angry. I learnt that if I can’t immediately articulate what I’m angry about, that it is ok (though this I still struggle with because I take a while to process strong emotions and often the whole thing is done before I have a handle on why I’m angry/upset). I have learnt that I can talk about it, I can experience it, and it is another emotional response to stimuli as the others are.
As I have accepted that anger is ok, and a valid response, it has changed and grown into a different emotion than it was 6 years ago. I am no longer guilty for being angry, though still struggle with whether anger is necessarily the best emotional response (not quite the same as guilt). I also have a hard time processing some comments (particularly those I hear versus those I read) quickly, so am meaning deaf to comments that might otherwise make me angry until I process them at a later stage.
What is the moral of this story (apart from not write blog posts late at night because then you tend to ramble)? It’s ok to be angry, and it’s ok for your anger to be the anger of a younger you. The more I accepted my anger, the more it matured.