Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it. Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand…. We are meant to use anger as a fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us.
JULIA CAMERON, The Artist’s Way
In a counselling session, a few weeks ago I realised that I’d been angry for a lot of my life.
Anger which I’d pushed down as too frightening to confront. Anger which I’d squashed because I was busy doing other things. Anger which had anaesthetised other facets of my life. Anger which had spawned anxiety, fear, the need to have control and feelings of abandonment.
I’m not going to go into the details of why I’m so angry. Those events are personal and may hurt the people that I love most dearly.
Breast cancer is another personal trauma which has made me unbelievably angry…but I believe it has also been the catalyst for me to address the deep rooted emotional and psychological issues that have been festering since childhood.
Anxiety, worrying, phobias and catastrophic thinking have been part of my make up for as long as I can remember. This may come as a surprise to my friends, acquaintances and old work colleagues.
I’m frequently told that I’m a very calm person – this is definitely not how I see myself. I must be a very good actor, putting on a mask of calmness. The metaphor that I often use to explain to people how I really feel as that of a swan…serene on the surface but paddling furiously under the water.
I was diagnosed with essential hypertension (unexplained high blood pressure that doesn’t have a secondary cause) in my early twenties and have been on medication ever since. I wonder now whether my childhood and teenage years contributed to my high blood pressure. Perhaps the clue is in the name of the illness – hyper tension – the feeling of being under strong tension.
The counselling work that I have been doing recently has started to help me to understand the anger and why I am so angry. Other things are starting to make sense – why I am feeling these emotions and why I did some of the things that I did as a teenager.
This is not the first time that I’ve been in therapy. But it is the first time that I’ve dug down so deeply into my past life and spoken out loud to someone other than my husband about certain traumatic events.
I think that this has happened because I’m now fully ready to do the work – thanks cancer -and also because I’ve finally found a therapist with whom I have properly bonded, and who truly and completely listens to me.
It has not been easy looking back at events which happened thirty or fourty years ago. I would go so far as to say that it has been deeply distressing. Actually, I can’t remember much of my early life – or maybe my mind won’t let me remember. Some memories have resurfaced and it’s these, and the events that have never left my mind, that cause me unbearable sadness and, of course, anger.
This realisation of the anger bubbling inside me, and the discussion of the events that caused it, knocked me for six and made me feel desperate for a good few weeks. I was able to talk all of this through with my counsellor and she helped, and is helping, me to process it all and to start to understand it. I’ve had difficult but rewarding conversations with close members of my family – ones that would have been helpful to have had years ago – and I’m now feeling calmer and more able to reflect on some of my learnt behaviours.
One of my recent insights is exactly how angry I’ve been without knowing or understanding it. Lately, I’ve been envisaging myself as a great fiery ball of anger, bouncing manically around the house, lashing out at whoever happened to be in my way…it was usually Liam! I thought that I was angry with him and some of his habits and characteristics (he can be a little annoying at times). But I’ve come to realise that it was my anger that was blowing everything out of proportion and making me feel out of control. I would have even been angry with Michelle Obama if she happened to have been living with me!
I’ve learnt that it’s important for me to give myself space in which to think, process and work out these difficult feelings and emotions. And I have been able to ask for that space from the people from which I need it. This is a huge step forward for me.
Anger can be a corrosive emotion if it goes unrecognised. I have now recognised it in myself as well as some of its causes. I know that this is just the beginning of my anger exploration. Having accepted it, I now need to figure out what to do with the anger. Much work is still needed.
Footnote: Just before Christmas I became very angry, very quickly. My emotions are sometimes quick to bubble up and spill over and this time I recognised it for what it is. I don’t feel that I have to apologise for these outbursts unless I have hurt or been offensive to someone else. On this occasion I wasn’t, unless you count swearing as offensive. Anyway…I see this as healthy; allowing the anger to come out, rather than stifling it and letting it fester. One lesson learnt.