I’m reading a book that talks about the way families deal with emotions and how it can affect us, and the subject of anger came up.
Now, in my family when I was a child there was a clear division: my dad and my brother would express anger; my mother and my sister would not. I, as the youngest (and much younger than my siblings), watched the way everyone else behaved and made a choice: I’d shout and express anger like my brother and my dad, rather than being “nice” and quiet like the other female members of the family.
Much much later, as an adult, I finally learned to express my anger better, more constructively. I learned to say things like “I’m angry because…” and explain. I learned to be assertive rather than aggressive. I learned to stand up for myself without trying to hurt the other person.
And now, as an adult, I post stuff online and now and again I post a rant, a grumble, an expression of annoyance – just to vent feelings, just to get it off my chest. And what I find super annoying is when someone responds to one of my rants with something like: you really shouldn’t let it get to you, keep calm and rise above it… And I’ve just realised why: because I’m hearing the voice of my mother, who didn’t know how to deal healthily with anger and the message I got from her was: it’s not okay to get angry, and it’s definitely not okay to express anger.
And I think: no, mum, you were wrong. Getting angry is a natural reaction to stuff that people do that you feel is wrong, hurtful, anger-making. Sure, we do sometimes get angry over petty things, sometimes our anger shows how selfish we are (how dare someone take my toys) but that doesn’t mean it’s never ok to get angry. If someone deliberately, maliciously, treads on your toe and keeps treading on it, then not getting angry is just not human. And even if they tread on your toe unintentionally, it still hurts and the immediate reaction of anger is natural – it’s just that hopefully you’d calm down once you realised they didn’t mean to.
My dad tended to express his anger by shouting. Perhaps not ideal – he didn’t explain himself well, he didn’t try and help us understand his point of view, nor did he engage in dialogue with us to see why we had done whatever it was that annoyed him. But at least he did vent his feelings, and two minutes later he’d be calm again.
So when I vent feelings of anger and someone tells me I shouldn’t get angry, I feel that’s the voice of my hopeless mother telling me not to do the very thing my dad used to do, the thing that he did and found helpful – releasing the feelings so that he could feel calm again, instead of seething quietly under the surface and trying to ignore the anger.
Recently I got annoyed with a friend who responded to one of my vents with a call to react graciously to whatever it was because taking offence doesn’t teach anyone anything worthwhile – I’ve now calmed down enough to look at this again and say: I disagree. I believe that by expressing my feelings I am teaching people that it is actually okay to get angry and to express anger (and that it’s entirely possible to do that without being horrible about the people who made you angry, calling them names or wishing bad things on them). And in a world where there are people who, like my mother, try to teach others that anger isn’t okay, I feel this is an important lesson to pass on.