I’ve learned a lot of things about anger in my life.
Growing up, I learned to be there for other people when they were angry, helping soothe their unruly emotions, or at least bearing witness to them, packing away my own emotions until they felt like a choking, gnawing grief I couldn’t shake.
(There wasn’t enough room for my grief, for my anxiety at being parentified… I was the perfect daughter who was also a surrogate best friend.)
Later, in my emotionally abusive relationship, I took the feelings of guilt that had been instilled in me by my family for having my own adult life, and I channeled that guilt into taking care of my emotionally fragile and unpredictable ex. I learned to feel guilty for having anger and resentment in response to how she treated me. I thought that getting angry was synonymous with being a callous monster. How dare I challenge her emotions, experiences of events, or worldviews by having my own? How dare I make my ex angry at me for voicing discomfort about her emotional disregulation?
(All of their emotions were as big as the whole wide world, coloring everything, all-consuming and God-like and red.)
I was sorry, I was sorry, I was sorry.
I was expected to be sorry. But as time grew, I was increasingly not sorry. I was self-righteously angry, feeling the prickles of guilt rising and then angry at the guilt too. I was… sticking up for myself?
I learned about boundaries.
I learned that a bunch of those times I was angry, it was actually my body’s warning system, trying to tell me my boundaries were being violated. That there wasn’t enough space between me and my emotionally wounded loved ones. That needing to protect my own sanity was not selfish. That I was entitled to my own personhood, separate from the aching of others.
I learned so much more about anger, that anger can be a fierce goddess coming to my aid, filling my belly with a fire that reminded me I am also a body, a body that is hurting. Anger-as-goddess taught me these powerful lessons.
Other people’s emotions are not your burden to carry.
Everyone needs to take accountability for their own emotions. That is a responsibility each of us has, to honor and love ourselves, to work through the muck and the demons and the hurt others have caused us, that we’ve internalized until it has calcified into layers of muddy thick self-hatred and distrust. Sandblasting that away to find the raw, tender pulsating of our hearts is by no means an easy task. But the difficulty of it is not an excuse to offload that work onto someone else who loves you.
Anger can be a positive, productive emotion.
Sometimes anger means that something isn’t right. Sometimes it means something is amiss. Something needs to change. Anger can be a catalyst for positive growth, for the realization that you need stronger boundaries, or any boundaries at all. Anger, when channeled into healthy coping mechanisms and avenues of healing and assertiveness, helps you center yourself when you’ve been centering everyone but you.
Having boundaries doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned the people in your life.
You’re entitled to pursue your own life. You’re entitled to have time to yourself, to make your own decisions, and to have control over how you use your mental, emotional, and physical energy. For those around you who may feel abandoned by your assertion of your separateness as a human being, it may be because they’ve already been abandoned by others, long before you were born or before they knew you. This isn’t your fault or your obligation to fix.
In fact, having boundaries can give you the space and energy to become more present and refreshed when you’re ready to re-engage in being there for your family and friends.
More Radical Reads: How Honoring “Negative” Emotions Can Help Us Heal
The negative feelings you’re experiencing may not always be your own.
Do you feel particularly angry, sad, anxious, or other negative emotions when you’re around a certain loved one, or when someone close to you tears into their familiar patterns of internally- or externally-projected negativity? Take time to feel the emotions as they course through your body. See which areas they’re impacting. Is your stomach nauseous? Is your chest tight, so that you feel like you can barely breathe? Recognize that as much as you may harbor your own negative feelings, you could also be taking on the emotions of those around you. As someone who is an empath, this happens to me often. Without strong energetic boundaries, it’s easy to get flooded by the enormity of other people’s feelings and assume that they must be emanating from within.
Allowing yourself to experience your anger won’t turn you into a monster.
Repressing your emotions for a long period of time isn’t healthy. It may be a survival tactic you use, consciously or unconsciously, to help get you through an upsetting or traumatic situation. But your body and your heart and your soul aren’t meant to keep pushing all of that down, dissociating from it. It’s ok, and crucial, to allow yourself to feel the anger you may be experiencing.
Being real with yourself about the negative emotions you’re feeling does not make you a monster. Feeling is not the same as acting. If you’re concerned you may not be able to safely contain the flood of feelings you’re holding back, seek the support of a therapist, but know that acknowledging how you really feel is quintessentially human.
Asserting boundaries is not the same as expressing hatred.
When you develop boundaries to provide yourself more emotional safety and ease, you also model for others how to treat you. You might seem more distant to people who have relied on using your emotional labor whenever they need it. But what they’re experiencing as you not caring, or “changing” in a bad way, is you actually blossoming into the person you’re meant to be: a person who takes care of yourself. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you hate anyone else. It only means you value yourself enough to extend to yourself the same care you give to others.
I’ve learned a lot of things about anger in my life, and I keep learning every day. The more I learn about and implement boundaries, the more I work toward using my anger for good. When I put my own oxygen mask on first, I can be there for myself as well as others. Don’t let anyone tell you to endanger your health for their comfort.
[Featured Image: A photo of a person with long, dark hair. They are smiling. Source: pexels.com]