On anger

17 June 2016

I used to think I wasn’t an angry person. Anger, as I interpreted it, was loud and external. It was hurling insults, throwing punches, yelling and inflicting violence. It was not so much a feeling as it was an action, what people who had the confidence or entitlement in their space in the world did to take up even more space. I was or did none of this; therefore, I was not an angry person.

Of course, eventually I realized that I had anger, plenty of anger, but because it expressed itself the way anger does in many women—stress, guilt, anxiety—I mistook it for something else. I mistook it for personal failing, or the consequence of my own mistakes, or the senseless way of the world that I had no power to change. I had learned to swallow anger, hold it in my belly, let its acid erode my core and vibrate my nerves. When I got older, and began to unravel the emotional knot I had created, I immediately, victoriously leapt to the opposite conclusion and course of action. If tamping down anger was the problem, then clearly the solution was to unleash it. But then the problem became that, for me, unleashing anger did not quench anything. If anything, it made my stress and anxiety worse. It still quivered my nerves. It still ate away at me. It made me less capable of living my life and taking care of my responsibilities, and it made me less, period.

The truth is, I don’t know how to deal with anger. I don’t even know how to talk about it. There are a lot of complicated politics, involving both individual identity and overall society, around the issue of it. I try not to presume to tell others why and how they should be angry and it frustrates me when I perceive others doing it. I know anger represents a responsibility. I also know anger has a price. I know that it’s a privilege to be able to dismiss anger when one doesn’t have to deal with a situation’s consequences, and that it’s also a privilege to be able to be consumed by anger when one isn’t a caretaker to others or doesn’t struggle to take care of oneself. The fact that anger is both, at the same time, a legitimate response to many aspects of the world and that it also eats you alive from the inside as the years go on is a difficult one to live with. It’s also true that the ratio between the two states varies from individual to individual—for example, some people can sustain a much higher amount of anger than I can, both by nature and by circumstance. It all adds up to difficulty that, in itself, angers.

What a cycle. Just like the one in which I dig deep into roots and run the risk of missing what’s growing in a sprawling, stretching, wild tangle above my inward examination. I have to circle back to the world, outside myself, and keep perspective. I now try to deal with anger, and sadness and frustration and hopeless complication, by creating larger and larger spaces to contain them all, so they can live next to contemplation and empathy and questioning. They don’t replace each other. They don’t negate or limit feelings. They just exist—anger and calm, together.

Somehow, I’ve found that the space is what allows action to emerge clear and strong.

It’s not simple. It’s not the sort of thing I can fit into a tweet or Facebook post. I can barely describe it adequately in a rambling, freeform essay; in fact, it’s possible I haven’t even succeeded at this. But I’m trying to create a space here, where you can come to rage and to rest and see it all as part of your whole, and see yourself as part of a larger whole, and maybe stretch yourself a bit, with a helping hand to steady you—and you are welcome to stay here, with the rest of us, as long as you need to.


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