A week or so after my mother died, I flew home. From the moment I got off the plane, I found myself getting angry. As I waited for my husband to collect me, I fumed at all the cars illegally parked in the pick-up area, with drivers absent, despite the signs around declaring that drivers must stay with their cars. I could easily have got into a confrontation with people, if they’d dared to come near me. If you knew me, you’d know how out of character this was.
I grew up in a family where anger wasn’t really seen as a legitimate emotion, certainly not for children. We were always taught to not only treat others like we would like them to treat us, but to treat them better, and put others first. My wants and needs frequently came second, or didn’t register at all. (This makes it sound as if I was harshly treated - I wasn’t at all, and had a happy childhood). Anger was considered to be selfish, and selfishness was just not acceptable. Add to that the fact that I’m the middle child, and naturally a mediator, and you can begin to understand me.
Anger was never an emotion I was familiar with, or comfortable with, expressing. If I felt it, it turned inwards. Angry tears are something I feared, especially at work, when I was in a male-dominated environment, and being a woman was hard enough. Standing up for myself is something I have gradually learned, but I know I need to do it only when I feel secure and confident, not angry.
When I went through my losses, failed IVFs, and learning to accept my No Kidding life, I never really felt anger. I kept it quashed, both consciously (the one time I remember it coming out) and perhaps unconsciously. Instead, over the the next years, dealt with the sadness, the guilt, the shame, the despair, and eventually the healing, without ever really dealing with anger. I realised that anger would be pointless. There was no one to be angry at, after all. So I didn’t feel that I had missed out on something.
But since my mother’s death, it has been coming out. We (my sisters and I) were angry at the way she was treated. Maybe that’s what set me off – a legitimate anger on behalf of my mother. Now, though, I know I'm feeling anger on my behalf, not hers. Have the floodgates opened? Maybe. To be honest, it has felt quite liberating, in some ways. Because I think for years I have wondered why I don’t feel free to display anger. Why not? Am I not allowed to feel anger? Is my anger somehow not as legitimate as others’? Is it a feminist issue, that women feel we have to hide our anger? In societal terms, and particularly in career terms, women are damned if we do – too passive – and we’re damned if we don’t – too aggressive. I’ve seen too many excellent women suffer career-wise because of this double standard. (Now that really makes me angry!) Why doesn’t our anger ever seem to count? Why is it okay for other people to express anger, but not me? Isn’t my anger as important as everyone else’s?
Don’t worry, I’m not turning into the Hulk. What I think is expressing anger is probably what other people view as normal self-defence! I’m still a relatively polite diplomat, after all. But I’m tired of being the soft touch, the always amenable <Mali>. I’m tired of feeling ignored, fitting my life around others. Part of that probably comes back to being without children, feeling ignored and isolated, judged and pitied. How many times have I heard someone in this community say that they felt terrible because they wanted to put their feelings first, ahead of a pregnant or new parent sibling? I think that being childless has accentuated this feeling that for some reason my life, my concerns, my issues, rarely feel legitimate or acknowledged. Or maybe everyone feels that way?
I’ve written so often here that my life, our no kidding lives, are just as important, just as valid. Anger is an emotion like any others, neither good not bad, and – as Cristy says – we should allow ourselves to feel it, to acknowledge it is there. When I realised I was angry, when I recognised the emotion, and connected to why I felt it, it began to dissipate. Showing anger, of course, is a different matter, and there are ways to express it healthily, and times and places when we should hold back. I think I’ve got a handle on that. After all, I’ve had years of practice!
I think maybe I’m going to come to terms with anger, make friends with it, and learn to understand it, in the same way I've done sadness and grief. Doing that can't be a bad thing.
Anger is an 'ally emotion' for me. It typically signals there's something much more than the focus of my anger at work. Once I began to treat anger as a teacher and not something to be feared, I entered into a new appreciation for it. I think you will, too...ReplyDelete
This was what I was getting at with my post on anger. And why I responded to Danny as I felt he was encouraging people to suppress their anger. I also was raised with this idea that anger was a useless emotion. That experiencing it was a sign that something was broken inside me. So I worked hard on suppressing it. And I actually think I did more damage by doing so.ReplyDelete
Like Pamela, I agree that anger can be more than the focus. But I also think it can (and does) inspire the need for change. Something is off that needs addressing. With your mother, I think you are getting at the need for change with how our elders are treated. That feedback is very worthwhile sharing and will benefit others.
So librate. Because I think by addressing your anger, you're becoming the exact opposite of the Hulk. The Hulk's issue was being filled with rage, which is only alleviated by addressing the anger.
First of all, I've been away from the blogosphere, so just want to say I'm sorry to hear how disappointingly your mother was treated. :-(ReplyDelete
This post makes me think of my life (esp. my childhood/teenage years in Indo). I don't think I've ever been taught that anger is necessarily a bad thing, though I've learnt that lashing out on others is a bad thing.
I've had a few occasions in the past when I exploded (imagine Donald Duck's explosive rage when his face gets redder and redder and he finally loses it) which I wasn't proud of (and could be scary as hell when you didn't even know what came out of your mouth due to the explosive nature of the anger). However, by having those few explosive episodes, I know better now how to avoid reaching that point of no return. Other than that, I've found that a certain kind of anger can be helpful.
For example: I was so full of anger at infertility that I refused to let it beat me (that was when I still consider infertility as an enemy). And by that, I meant that I didn't want to end up being a bitter person. The anger fueled me to consider other ways to walk through my infertility journey.
I am generally not an angry person, and what anger I have I tend to suppress... but I find myself getting angry faster and more vocally these days. I think aging hormones have a lot to do with it. :p And like you, I'm not sure it's necessarily a bad thing. ;)ReplyDelete
It is so interesting how hard it is for humans to express anger. I don't think we are taught (especially in the US) how to do it in a healthy manner and so we tend to hold it in and then rage. Or just be rage-y whenever we feel like it. But, you are right it is a valid emotion and one we should be able to express. And I think you are right, I do think the "no kidding" group is less able to express a wide range of emotions because we are some how supposed to be lesser due to missing out on parenthood. It is weird that that we can be seen as "selfish" if we elect to put ourselves first.ReplyDelete