I could feel the anger surging through my body as I read aloud my own handwriting on the back of a cute little plate, “Mom’s health insurance punishment.” I took aim, holding the china vertically, the stance of a competitor in a darts battle. And I heaved. With all my might. At the cinder block wall before me. The smash and splatter released the anger from my body instantaneously, like an overfilled water balloon. The sound was a friendly tinkling that suggested to me that I was on the right track.
And so it went for the next 5 minutes. Plate after plate. In the end, I laid down in them. Satisfied. At peace. Alive.
The morning after and I’m realizing that this isn’t about anger, at least not the way I thought it was. I had described the plates as each representing “some shit I’m not over.” And the exercise started as a way to release pent up anger.
Anger was off limits when I was growing up. It was unacceptable for me to show anger around any of the adults in my life. And I was paralyzed by my fear of abandonment, so when I got the message that anger would get me less love, I learned to try to avoid anger. And my folks were all quite adamant that I technically could control whether I had an emotion (so wrong!), so if I would just be more mature, then I could live up to these standards. Because only immature teenagers are ever angry, and their anger is self-indulgent – never actually warranted. So, maturity I sought. Desperately. It seemed to be the only thing that was welcome.
That’s not to say I wasn’t a thoroughly pissed off teenager. I was. But that anger was just pouring out of me, running me over and leaving destruction in its wake. And I didn’t have a model of how to be in a healthy relationship with anger, so I learned some really fucked up stuff, left to my own devices.
Essentially, I believed that anger is the last ditch effort you make before ending the relationship. Therefore, I believed that, if someone expressed anger at me, they were giving me my last chance before they left me forever. As one might imagine, anger scared the shit out of me. I fell apart when someone expressed anger toward me and scrambled in desperation to repair whatever could possibly be repaired – taking responsibility where it wasn’t mine, changing the narrative so that the anger could be resolved, often diminishing myself in the process. I loved turning things into my fault, because they I was in control of them and could vow that it would never happen again. People being angry at me for things that weren’t my fault was the worst – I wasn’t in control, so I was helpless. Anger = helplessness, which is the absolute worst. So, I have a long history of taking fault, particularly of assuming fault on behalf of my aggressor.
At the plate throwing ceremony, I thought I was finally honoring my anger about a number of things that “I’m not over yet.” And I did. But now that the anger has been honored, I can see what is underneath it.
I can see that I never admitted that I had been violated. Each of these plates in this stack represents a violation.
They taught me as a kid that I had control over how I interpreted anything, and I took from that that there is no such thing as someone violating me. I believed that people got to do whatever they wanted and, if I chose to take it personally, especially since I was “too sensitive,” then that was on me. And the only way to get over taking something personally, was to change your thinking about the issue, to see it from the other person’s perspective, and to take their side.
I’ve been against myself, aligning with people who hurt me, all my life.
So, just admitting that I HAVE BEEN FUCKING VIOLATED AND NO ONE’S OPINION, NOT EVEN MINE, CHANGES THAT, is revolutionary.
How was I expecting to heal if I couldn’t admit there was damage??
For so long, I’ve been trying to get “stronger,” or to stop resisting reality, and start take things less personally. But all that strategy has done is perpetuate a state of fear. It has made me think that I’m the one who is out of line.
Good morning, paradigm shift.
What I could have used is this: You teach people how to treat you by what you tolerate.
And I have actually made some real headway in boundary-setting, which prevents a lot of unnecessary bullshit for me to get angry over. But I am still intimidated by the doling out of consequences when someone crosses my boundaries. I worry that if I let my anger out, it might become a cyclone and whip all of us up into it and hurt everyone.
What I learned yesterday: anger is just anger. I didn’t die from getting angry and neither did anyone else. It didn’t set up camp and take over my life. It surged and it dissipated. Like a wave. Like all of my other emotions. It is temporary! And it doesn’t equal the redefinition of an entire relationship, in which I will get even more hurt. Rather, it indicates a need for course correction.
And here I am, reveling in the aftermath. Grounded, at peace. Smug with satisfaction in my disobedience. I didn’t just break plates yesterday. I broke open my terror of anger.