Anger can be a difficult and powerful emotion. I am not entirely comfortable with anger and sometimes still feel like pushing it away. This is a giant leap ahead of my previous attitude toward anger: dismiss its relevance and reject its existence.
Although the idea of dismissing anger--or flat out rejecting to even acknowledge it--is rather extreme, I lived this way for close to three decades. In the beginning, I did not understand why I had such an approach to anger. It was instinctual and seemed to work and I did not question it.
When uncomfortable feelings of anger (including irritation, impatience and frustration) began to show up in my twenties, I was perplexed. I felt powerless against such rushes of emotion that continually popped up seemingly without any justification or reason. I tried really really hard to act like it wasn't there. I isolated myself to lessen my chances of appearing angry or showing any exasperation to others (such feelings were only to be expressed safely behind closed doors). I felt like I was losing control, but was unclear exactly what I was losing control over.
As I began to unravel the circumstances of trauma and what PTSD diagnosis meant, I was still reluctant to share the amount of anger within me. I was full of shame about my degree of anger and this clouded my ability to incorporate my emotional response with any degree of vulnerability. I intellectualized the therapeutic process rather than participate in it. I collected the facts, but did not apply them to myself.
Fact: What I did as a child was transfer my feelings of anger onto myself instead of the abuser or other family members who were responsible for my protection. If I blamed myself, then my safe world remained intact. I concluded I was chosen because I was the horrid and expendable child. Any feelings of fear or frustration or anger about what was occurring were absorbed quickly into self-blame. Problem solved. Anger redirected. Safety intact.
Fact: When I was in my twenties, I could no longer effectively repress or control my feelings of anger or the increasing anxiety about being found out I was a fraud. Even if I was still unclear as to why I was angry, this did not matter. There was too much emotion stored inside me and it was finding its own way out, its own manner of expression. My anger at myself only increased at such lack of control, creating a negative feedback loop.
Two years into therapy and I was still unclear about the impact the years of trauma held on my life. The symptoms of PTSD did not abate. They intensified. The feelings of anger intensified as well--all targeted toward myself because I felt like such a fool not to have seen it all before.
Understanding the role of anger in my life became coupled to the understanding that the survival mentality of PTSD is a complex series of beliefs focused on safety. Whether these beliefs are rational or not, thoughts and actions are set into motion to sustain these beliefs.
I had become adamant that expressing any type of anger (abuser, family, friends or otherwise) meant I would lose my sense of safety. All expressions of anger got lumped into one category. This was why I dismissed anger and rejected it so intensely. When it popped up into my world anyway, I fought even harder to maintain my sense of safety by trying to pretend it wasn't really there.
Such a strident take on anger prevented any true feelings or emotions to come forth. By radically dismissing anger, I dismissed myself in the process: I put my sense of self on the sidelines in deference to safety. With what I know now, if I push away anger or relegate it to the back seat of importance, then I am relegating myself to the back seat of importance as well.
Changing up deeply held beliefs takes time. It can be a winding process to untangle it all, but when the ah-ha moments arrive, it is so worth it. I am still not entirely comfortable with anger, and the desire is still there to push it away. But the longer I go without addressing it, the longer I go without addressing my true feelings and what is real for me.
Published On: July 16, 2008