Woman to Women
The Upside of Anger
It’s okay for you to stop seething and saying “I’m sorry”
Anger is a problem for me.
Like many women, I have a hard time expressing it in a constructive manner. There are some people who rave and rant to get their poisons out of their system, and others who scream and throw things into walls. And then there are those easygoing souls who let everything roll off their back, like water on a duck.
Instead of saying what’s really bothering me, I hold everything in. I’m doing it as we speak. There’s the arrogant male coworker who stabbed me in the back and took a plum assignment away from me, and against whom I can’t retaliate because technically he’s my boss. I’m angry at my mother, who a few months ago lambasted me in front of my husband and son and has yet to apologize for her actions. And I still haven’t forgiven my former classmate Renee, who called me a horrible name in homeroom nearly 28 years ago.
What happens is that those angry, helpless feelings collect in my gut in a slow-boiling pot and fester – sometimes for months, in some cases, years. Every once in a while, I reach my boiling point and the lid blows off and I throw an F5 tornado of a tantrum.
Considering how destructive tornadoes can be, these outbursts usually aren’t that productive. And they’re scary.
I grew up with a father who didn’t hesitate to throw such tantrums on a regular basis. One minute he’d be punching holes into walls or shattering glass-encased photo frames to the floor. Once he was done, he’d be happy again, while the rest of the family was a shaking mess. As a child, I’d listen to my parents fight late at night. I’d turn up the music on my boom box and pull chunks of hair from my head, hoping and praying they would stop.
This is probably why I choose to keep everything inside me in that festering pot.
A part of me is deathly afraid of losing control, like my father, afraid that my actions might result in bodily harm to myself or others. Another reason I don’t handle anger well: I don’t know how to fight back effectively. Often the other person outwits, outlasts and outplays me by getting even angrier than I do, and I end up cowering in the corner, shouting “uncle!” and admitting defeat.
My mother is the master of this technique. I have never won a round against her. With the deftness of Muhammad Ali, she stings me like a bee every single time. The last fight went something like this: We got into an argument. She started attacking me. I threw a tantrum. She threw an even bigger one and then started clutching her chest, claiming she couldn’t breathe.
My father then intervened and accused me of trying to give her a stroke. I apologized for being “the bad guy,” even though she was the one who started the fight. Within an hour, she’d recovered miraculously from her “near-stroke” and was smiling again.
I’m still angry.
It’s my hope that I’ll someday I’ll be able to dump that overflowing pot of anger on the floor and be rid of it for good. It may take a little therapy, some patience and admittedly a great deal of forgiveness on my part.
In the meantime, it may do me some good to head off that anger at the pass and say “you really hurt my feelings” the next time someone upsets me.
And, hopefully, they’ll listen.