Seeing red, getting hot under the collar, and getting pissed off…all metaphors for an emotion that is difficult for me to express. Some people are quick to anger, flying off the handle at every indiscretion they perceive as encroaching on their territory, their person, their honor, or their God-given rights. Others never express anger and become society’s passive doormats. When I think about the various levels of “aggressive” emotions, I cannot say that I am well versed in the expression of anger. On the lesser end of the aggressive spectrum of emotions, I see and understand feeling discomfort…a feeling of unease surrounding a situation that sits in my gut; I know that the situation causing me this discomfort is wrong, and no one can see that I am feeling a low hum of discomfort in my psyche. On the greater side of the spectrum of aggressive emotions, I see and understand feeling rage…the desire to destroy everything around me physically, emotionally, and mentally; and trust me, EVERYONE knows when I have reached this point. However, the middle of this emotional spectrum…anger…saying, “Hey, this isn’t freaking cool”, and then addressing, and changing the situation without passive acceptance or blatant destruction through communication…I don’t understand it or feel it.
Anger is not a bad emotion, contrary to what the “good vibes only” movement would have you believe. Anger is a teacher, a call to action…it is a mask that hides the true feeling of hurt or the belief that you have been wronged in some fashion. Anger is described as a “secondary emotion” which occurs after a primary emotion is triggered. If you think about the last time you were angry, could you sit with that anger and examine *why* you felt angry? Were you hurt, ashamed, embarrassed, devastated, or perhaps surprised? Those are primary emotions…and the anger that comes is the secondary emotion, hiding the primary emotion as a defense. Do you lash out in anger when you feel as though someone is threatening your sense of self? Then good! Something occurred that showed that a boundary of yours has been crossed and anger is a sign that you should LISTEN and ACT to ensure your boundary remains intact.
I have recently been exploring my inability to feel the middle ground of anger. I feel discomfort…discomfort…more discomfort…ewww, discomfort and then a switch flips and I hop over anger and head directly to Rage Town. Is it cultural? Raised as a “southern lady” who should be seen and not heard, everything I was taught directed me that I wasn’t “allowed” to be angry, that I should accept what was given to me and not be moved to change it. Was I being forced to live with the discomfort of my boundaries being crossed with no outlet until my discomfort built to rage, skipping anger’s call to action for me to change my situation? Is this why I don’t know my own boundaries? Because I have been groomed to be concerned about others’ comfort more than my own?
Scarlett O’Hara, my personal Southern muse from Gone with the Wind, portrayed her anger on the rageful side of the spectrum, throwing objects and striking men because her sharp tongue only got her so far…and I tended to follow in her footsteps. One example? I was fourteen when I knocked a boy’s tooth out after he badmouthed my family. This behavior was *not* that of a lady…and it also wasn’t anger…it was rage. I felt no remorse as the blood poured out of that boy’s mouth…and I wanted to see more red staining the floor of the bus. Forget the fact that this boy bullied me for years or had chased me around the playground when we were nine years old saying he was “going to stick his hot dog in my bun”…there were years of this boy crossing boundary after boundary until I snapped. A sharp tongue of a “southern lady” managing discomfort only goes so far. Then comes rage.
Or perhaps my inability to feel anger is self-imposed because I am afraid that voicing my anger when a boundary has been crossed will cause me to lose those close to me. Therefore, I internalize my discomfort, hoping they won’t leave, until I reach the boiling point of rage. This fear of loss would explain my inability to protect my own boundaries…until I don’t care if I destroy a relationship with my rage.
Probably a little of Column A and a little of Column B…
Listen to your anger and hear what it is trying to teach you. You might see that your primary emotion centers on fear. Embrace your anger as the protector of your boundaries and your tender primary emotions. Then face your primary emotions as they hide behind the mask of anger.