Anger is not always a negative emotion. It’s a red alert that something is wrong in our life and relationships. But what happens if we are unable to get angry at an injustice? Should we force anger out when calm means stagnation rather than moving forward?
In the past few days, I’ve been dealing with a strange conundrum: I feel like I have to be angry at M for what he did to me, yet this anger cannot find anywhere to express itself. I sit here staring at my journal page, or staring at the floor while meditating, or even talking with friends about this, and I know I should be angry, but I feel no physical sign of anger.
A little background: I should be angry because M gaslighted me for close to a decade. If you don’t know what gaslighting is, Elephant Journal has a great article on it. In my case, the reality that was constantly being questioned was that of my feelings. For the entirety of our relationship, I was made to feel as if my feelings were irrelevant, crazy or inconvenient. Upset because he left every weekend for retreats/work/volunteering? I was being totally unreasonable. Feeling abandoned and unloved because we didn’t have sex in months (which turned into years)? Well, it’s all my fault, because I wasn’t catering well enough to his needs.
The worst part of it is when I actually tried to tell him about how he made me feel–i.e. that I felt I was constantly walking on eggshells around him, unable to express even the mildest feeling because he always made it about him–he turned it against me even more by telling me I was crazy, that it was just in my head, that he wasn’t like that at all and how dare I suggest that he doesn’t care about me.
He literally gaslighted me about his gaslighting.
When I broke up the relationship in the late summer of 2015, I thought I was “done” being angry at M. After all, I wanted a friendly breakup, not screams and bitterness. And overall it did go well. We lived awkwardly for a month waiting for our new apartments to be available. I wasn’t angry with him. I was too excited about beginning my relationship with E and FINALLY getting some sex.
I had meditated for months trying to “release the anger” of him not having sex with me. Which I did. I’m not angry anymore at the fact that we didn’t have sex for three years. However, I didn’t look deeper than that back then–I broke up with him because of sex, mostly.
Other reasons are only starting to come to the surface.
But is it too late now to feel and process anger at him, I wonder? As I reclaim my power, my independence and my voice, I realize how badly he treated me. I’m angry with myself for accepting this treatment in the name of “love” (which was not love at all), but I also am angry at him for treating me the way he did.
Now, before you ask: I don’t feel like it matters whether it was conscious or not. I don’t think it was, personally–I think it was just a side-effect of his personality. But that doesn’t change the fact that I should, somewhere, feel a righteous anger, the anger of the victim and of the abused.
And yet I feel nothing of the sort. When I meditate on this situation, I only feel a sort of blah-ness, a “can’t I just move on already?”.
But NO, I can’t move on, not until I’ve felt and processed this righteous anger that’s hiding somewhere–I suspect in my solar plexus. Over the last few months I’ve internalized a calm and zen demeanour that’s now betraying me–it seems to me like I am unable to feel any anger at all.
Anger is a good thing, most of the time. Anger is an appropriate response to having your boundaries crossed, your needs unmet or downright ignored, your identity being questioned or repressed. Anger can be righteous and help you put your finger the things that needs solving or correcting. Anger is a big neon sign saying “PAY ATTENTION SOMETHING BAD IS HAPPENING HERE”.
Maybe I can’t quite feel the anger yet because I refuse to acknowledge my responsibility in letting this happen to me for close to ten years. How could I be so blind, so stupid, so spineless? I replay conversations with friends in my head, with them trying to get through to me by saying “hey, he’s really not treating you right, you should leave him!” and me replying “oh, no, he treats me just fine, he’s just… difficult on this topic, and he’s having a hard time and stressed from work and stuff. It’ll be okay.”
It never was.
If I met myself a year ago, I would not hesitate to slap myself in the face and say: “hey, wake up lady! stop wasting your time! stop rationalizing and excusing his behaviour! DO SOMETHING! GET MAD!”
Get mad. Oh god. I wish I could get mad. Maybe if he was in front of me, I would get mad. I remember during our relationship fantasizing about him getting angry with me, in response to my anger. His constantly calm, dismissive behaviour was driving me insane. If I raised my voice even a little, he would say “lower your voice. I’m not raising my voice to you.”
I wanted to scream, to shake him, to slap him, to punch him. But I let him get so deep in me that even my natural reaction to anger was repressed.
And now I’m almost free of him… almost. I know I need to stoke that fire of anger to light up the last torches of personal power that he extinguished.
I wonder why so many people are afraid of anger. I’m not talking about the abusive, “anger issues” people who definitely have to take control of their violent tendencies; I’m talking about normal people with normal emotions who constantly repress their anger because it’s not “civilized”. By striving to preserve the peace, by letting him seep and soak into me like a dry sponge, I crippled my ability to feel anger–real anger, righteous anger, the anger that we need to feel and process to move on.
How many of us suffer in bad situations because we are unable and/or unwilling to accept and process anger? How many of us do not even recognize anger as an emotion that deserves time and space in our lives? Are you listening to the signals your anger is sending?