Thoughts On Anger
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
A couple of weeks ago I went to donate blood. It turned out my iron was inexplicably too low. I was advised to eat red meat, oatmeal, and leafy green vegetables like some kind of vampiric rabbit before my next appointment in 84 days. But the afternoon wasn't a complete waste, because the woman in line ahead of me approached me and said,
"I think you used to be my neighbour."
Of course, we're all still wearing masks in Toronto, so I had absolutely no idea who she was. It turned out I had grown up next door to her and even babysat her baby. How she could recognize me from three inches of forehead and eyes when she looked like a complete stranger to me, is a mystery. Squinting at her through my fogged-up glasses, I was happy to see her, but I felt a simultaneous flood of shame. How could she even still want to talk to me; hadn't she heard the screams of rage issuing from that house? Hadn't I given her the cold shoulder myself, out of shame and embarrassment?
She asked a question that took me by such surprise that I giggled: "And how is your mother?"
I explained that I didn't know, because we had been estranged for the past ten years. "Your relationship was sometimes...fraught," she said diplomatically. "That this continued to adulthood is just really sad for both of you."
Now, we are in Toronto; it is only right that she was polite and hesitant, and that I giggled, though there is really nothing funny about being estranged from your mother for over a decade. It was just the best two adults reconnecting after many years in a blood bank could do. I thought about the word 'fraught' and how it's a very bland descriptor for our relationship, which I would have described as outright rageful.
The brief exchange left me questioning the intensity of the relationship I'd had with my mother during the 16 years I lived under her roof. I was able to speak about her with surprising neutrality, and even to feel my former neighbour's regret that we still haven't reconciled. The lack of bitterness was a little alarming; was I telling myself that things really hadn't been that bad?
Nope. And how do I know? Because the shame was still there. The shame for being such an angry little girl that not only the next door neighbour, but probably half the street, could have heard me scream. The shame for not being in control of my emotions and for not being able to change my circumstances. The shame for not comporting myself according to social standards, when I was still a child.
What happened to that angry little girl? I guess she grew up. But she still struggles with anger - not at her mother, but at all sorts of other things that probably have their roots in the messages she received and internalized as a child, and the ways she has continued to suppress and exile anger as an adult because it is perceived as an ugly, unfeminine, unacceptable emotion.
My question for you is: How are you dealing with anger today, as an adult? How are you releasing anger appropriately? Are you giving yourself permission to feel anger, or even admit that it's part of your emotional makeup? How are your "fraught" relationships holding up now?
No one wants to admit to anger. In twelve-step fellowships, it is called resentment, and it's considered more than a weakness; it's a cardinal sin. Nevertheless, anger remains a persistent emotion, one of the most aggressive messengers that let us know something within us needs to be addressed. Repressing anger may be, to some degree, necessary to functioning successfully in society. But where is the line? Is it ever okay to express anger?
Let me know what you're doing about anger, because I need to know. And as always, stay curious about your emotions - all of them.