After a recent Facebook conversation with Robyn Wright about our respective therapy goals, I got to thinking about how I’ve been struggling with something my psychiatrist has been telling me I need to work on for quite some time: expressing my anger. There is a healthy way to express anger, and a lot of people are pretty good at it. But there are a fair few of us who are not.
Anger is a funny thing. Uncontrolled expression of anger can often manifest as violence against others or less obvious forms of bullying, like verbal and emotional abuse. This type of anger dysfunction is easy to identify in a person, at least for those close at hand when the anger is unleashed.
The other side of anger dysfunction is when a person turned their anger inward instead of outward. Repressed anger can manifest, surprisingly, as anxiety and/or depression. Lucky me, I’ve got both.
I didn’t necessarily believe it the first time Dr. F. told me that he thought a lot of my anxiety was related to unexpressed anger. I’ve got a Master’s degree in psychology, and I still can’t figure things out when they relate to me. But I do have a lot of anger inside about a lot of things, and the last year and a half has proved to me how much damage I do to myself by internalizing it.
“That’s My Secret. I’m Always Angry.”
What am I so angry about? After all, the first thing most people will say about me was, “She’s one of the quiet ones.” How can I be angry?
I’m angry about a lot of things. I’m angry that my body doesn’t work the way that it should, that I am so limited by both energy and physical stamina. I’m angry because so many people have put me aside because they care about me – or at least they used to – but they don’t know what to do about me because of my health and the limits it puts upon me. I’m angry that my house is always a mess. I’m angry that I was bullied as a child – by students and teachers alike. I’m angry that no one knew a damn thing about Asperger’s Syndrome when I was growing up, so my mom had no support and no answers for what to do with her overly sensitive daughter. I’m angry at the ex-boyfriends of mine who were emotionally abusive to me, preying upon my naivete and lack of self-esteem. I’m angry that none of the doctors ever picked up on the fact that I had postpartum depression when TJ was born, and I suffered needlessly. I’m angry that my dad was taken from us by cancer. I’m angry at myself for bad decisions I’ve made, both big and small, both recently and back in childhood. I’m angry at social injustice, of which there are so many breeds that are highly visible these days. I’m angry at adults who have taken advantage of me, both professionally and personally. I’m angry most of all at one person whose betrayal still torments me terribly, because if I could only have the chance to forgive and be forgiven face to face, I could be at peace with it. I’m angry that I can’t just get over any of these things like other people do, the people who say, “It’s time to move on,” as if I haven’t been trying to do that all along. I’m angry at the people for whom it really is that easy.
And aside from occasional social media rants and the conversations with my therapist, this anger resides in my head and my heart, weighing me down because I grew up learning to hide my emotions because they made other people uncomfortable. I guess I’m angry about that, too.
But I’m a Nice Person
So how am I supposed to start expressing my anger in a “healthy” way when much of my self-image is based on the fact that I’m a nice, friendly person who hates confrontation. As a general rule, I don’t curse; it’s always been like a badge of honor to me. Asperger’s comes with it a certain need to follow rules – whether they are rules you set for yourself or rules that society has set that you’ve made an explicit effort to learn and remember. I was taught that cursing was bad and disrespectful, and that is an ideal that has become deeply embedded in my personality. Mild curses like damn and hell have snuck into my vocabulary over the years – and bitch as a verb when I’m feeling especially wicked – but the f-bomb still feels wrong for me to adopt. Even when I know it makes me feel better, as it has slipped out on only a few intense occasions after I hit the age of 30 – it never had before – I feel that using it as part of my regular vocabulary would change who I am as a person. Nice girls don’t use the f-word. That’s the rule, even if it’s only a self-imposed rule these days.
I don’t like to make waves. I want people to like me. Not just some people, but everyone. I know that’s impossible, but try telling that to my brain. People don’t like you when you tell them that they made you angry. People don’t like to be told that what they said or did hurt you. People get tired of you when you have needs they can’t comprehend and assume are superficial wants. Anger makes other people uncomfortable, so it makes me uncomfortable. All of my attempts to express my anger over the last year and a half have blown up in my face, ending one relationship and nearly ending another long-standing relationship.
How am I supposed to change when this is the wall I run up against? What am I supposed to do?