It’s Time to Fix Our Relationship with Anger
We live in a world in which most people aren’t allowed to be angry.
Women are not allowed to be angry. An angry woman gives our patriarchal world an excuse to keep on calling women hysterical and unreasonable.
People of color are not allowed to be angry. Justified anger from the mouth of a minority gives the world permission to continue using stereotypes to silence legitimate cries for justice.
Abuse victims are not allowed to be angry. To the outside, they are expected to forgive and move on.
Where did we get the idea that angry is a bad word?
A little over a year ago, I discovered that my ex was having an affair with a married woman. Aside from being devastated over the end of our relationship, I was also shocked that someone I trusted so much turned out to be someone I never knew. To make matters worse, once he knew that I had found out, he did his very best to ruin my reputation so that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. And he was very successful. For months, I was ex-communicated from my friend groups and hobbies. After awhile, as more people were finding out the truth, people started reaching out to me one by one…
We just thought you were crazy.
I’m really sorry — he was so convincing.
I knew how convincing he was — he had convinced me he was a good man who loved me for two years. So I didn’t hold it against them, but I was still extremely hurt. I had to pick up the pieces, not only from the breakup, but from all the other relational fallout, too.
I was angry.
I was angry at him for blowing up my life. I was angry at him for gaslighting me. I was angry at him for making me feel like the world wasn’t a safe place.
I never wanted to be angry, because I didn’t want to be a bitter person. I thought if I was angry, he was winning. I didn’t want him to have any hold over my emotions or energy. I told myself I wasn’t angry for as long as it took for me to believe it.
Over the past summer, I got a good therapist. I now spend every Thursday ugly crying and baring my soul to a professional because I desperately want healing. One day I told her that I was trying really hard not to be angry. I didn’t want to carry any bitterness toward them.
Her response surprised me.
“Be angry!” she said. “It’s part of the process. You won’t get through it unless you let yourself feel all of it.”
Recently my ex and his mistress got married. They were so discrete that many people have no idea she was even married before, much less that she was married when they got together. When I found out, it was triggering to say the least. It brought up all the darkest, most desperate moments when I was in deep pain, having lost everything, and being left alone to pick up the pieces. It felt so unfair that they could go on with their lives without consequence; that they could continue lying to people and getting away with it; that there were likely still people out there who believed their lies about me.
But the fact that they were married was also freeing in a way. It was finally over. They had made their bed, and now they’re lying in it. I no longer felt the need to hide my shame in silence for fear of what others thought of me. I no longer had any desire to protect their reputations out of fear of being seen as a crazy ex-girlfriend.
I posted a thread on Twitter about being gaslighted and the aftermath of coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship. I’m so glad I posted it because it turned out lots of people need to hear they aren’t crazy and their feelings are valid. People I don’t know reached out to me and thanked me for sharing my experience.
But there was still something in me that felt ashamed and vulnerable in publicly telling my story. I realized that my shame was in my anger.
That day, I told my therapist, “I know it’s bad, but I really despise them. I hate what they did to me.”
“It’s not bad,” she replied. “It’s not right or wrong; it’s just part of it.”
I am sure people read my story and thought that, through my anger, I was sacrificing credibility. We’re taught to view anger as a weakness, a lack of self-control. But honestly? Why wouldn’t I be angry?
Some people see anger as more discrediting than the abuse that makes someone angry. And most people prefer a predator who doesn’t cause a scene over an angry woman.
I started pondering this anti-anger phenomenon. I realized we see it in other places. I dug down deep and started to see that I’d been ashamed of anger for my whole life. Why?
It comes from a lack of emotional intelligence.
Emotional unintelligence plays into the unequitable power dynamics our society perpetuates. Manly man? Don’t cry. Woman with a genuine complaint? Don’t be dramatic! It goes on and on. Our society wrongly attributes certain emotions as either good or bad, right or wrong.
Becoming more emotionally intelligent through weekly therapy and rigorous self-evaluation in the past year, I have learned a very important lesson:
Feelings are visitors that come and go. But if we don’t acknowledge them, they stick around until we do.
I’m willing to bet the average Joe knows that anger is a stage of grief. We know that some things are truly wrong and merit anger. Still, we’re expected not to express it. Emotionally unintelligent people see feelings as messy. They prefer to stifle emotion rather than express it and risk vulnerability.
What happens when you stifle one of the beginning stages of grief?
You never move beyond it.
In resisting anger, I delayed my healing process. Allowing myself to feel angry was the first thing that made me feel like I was actually making progress in processing trauma.
We’ve been sold a lie that expressing messy emotion is a sign of weakness. What I’ve learned? Accepting my emotions is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Healing is not for the faint of heart. Emotionally intelligent people recognize that their feelings serve a purpose. Anger tells us something is wrong. It sends a signal that something is happening that probably shouldn’t be tolerated. It initiates change.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to dwell in anger. I don’t want to be bitter forever. But if I don’t acknowledge my anger, it won’t serve the purpose it’s meant to serve. I would be missing out on a significant part of my emotional processing.
Anger is an essential part of healing. Anger is an essential part of life. We don’t need to over-spiritualize it. We don’t need to shame people for their anger. We don’t have to apologize for our own. Anger is the beginning of grief. Without anger, you’ll never reach acceptance.
Be angry. You’re healing.