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.