I remember the first time I was punished for being angry. I had already been brainwashed with the notion that anger was a bad thing. Anger was to be ignored, pushed away, and most importantly, anger was not “lady-like”.
I was in fourth grade and playing basketball with my little sister. I can’t quite remember what my sister did that provoked my anger, but I think it had something to do with her hogging the ball. Yes, she had been possessive of that ball and finally, in total desperation and frustration I yelled, “Damn you! Pass me the ball!”
My mother, because she was a mother, had ears that detected any sign of a swear word from miles around. The mother who was very ladylike and demure, the one who you knew was furious when she said, “Oh H E Double Toothpicks!” appeared out of nowhere and spanked me and sent me to my room for an undetermined time of exile.
I wondered about my mother’s anger and where it went, so good was she at smiling and nodding and teaching us over and over, “Peace at any cost, peace at any cost.”
I learned at a young age to go underground with my anger. I was never a child that could be reduced to tears quickly. I would feel a deep injustice and hold it tight, protective of that which didn’t seem fair but powerless to do anything about it.
I did what any good girl does who is taught to suppress her feelings, I became adept at the art of debate and when I went to college, I became an expert at sarcasm and passive aggressive statements. I found ways to express my anger without it being too obvious and should anyone dare to suggest that possibly I was angry, they were met with a dismissive, “Chill out! I was only kidding!”
As I kept my anger under wraps, I further immersed myself in the world of ladylike behavior by becoming a born-again Christian at the tender age of 19 and while my peers were getting high and going to rock concerts, I was going to bible studies where men taught me that a truly Christian woman was demure and quiet and they had the verses to prove it.
So even deeper underground I went and an anxiety disorder in my 30’s was my virgin introduction to the nature of repressed anger left unexpressed. An anthropologic exploration of my anger, discarded as brittle bones in the pores of my heart and soul, began and to be perfectly honest, I still have a long ways to go to excavate, examine and feel the anger that was left to metastasize in those secret places.
My biggest trigger to anger is to think I am not being listened to, not heard, not seen. The palpable sense of invisibility I felt from the unseen eyes of my parents persisted until their deaths and this unmet need from ancient childhood extends well into my adulthood and permeates every relationship I have.
I work hard not to appear too needy.
This past Friday morning, my heart was hardened and ice cold, like the spring weather that had betrayed us all and brought snow and winter back. I was furious with a friend and any time anger leaps up through my throat and into my face, I stubbornly refuse to admit that I am hurt, frightened, sad, and feeling alone and abandoned.
I am a woman who is not timid when expressing myself. I’m not a woman who gets reduced to tears in a flash and it’s something I long for really. I go into “pit bull” mode and my teeth sink into the subject at hand and I defend, fight, scrap and claw at any morsel of “rightness” that surely the other should see and understand.
I felt like a trapped animal…there was nowhere to go with my anger. I grabbed some clothes and tossed them in my car like hostages as I sped to the hot yoga class that might give me some release.
I walked into the sweaty room filled with the bodies of young and limber college women. I was a mess, shaking with my self-righteous thoughts while I sat in an open yoga pose with my hand on my heart and began to draw in deep breaths and thoughts of future acts of revenge.
The young and irritatingly beautiful instructor spoke calm words of wisdom and support as she explained that the yoga practice that morning would focus on heart opening and freeing our hearts from anything that was keeping it closed.
She annoyed me as I huffed to myself, “What does she know? She hasn’t really lived long enough to know what true anger is!”
She asked us to picture our hearts as full, soft and open. All I could see was a heart covered with the thorns of tough metal and I fought the strong desire to run out of the room from the smiling young faces and bodies bending in ways that didn’t seem possible.
Misery loves company and I wasn’t getting any.
But I stuck with it...trying to open my heart, balance on one foot, stumbling and falling constantly throughout class.
I continued to focus, despite the cynical feeling that I was wasting my time. But an hour and ten minutes later, something shifted as the sweat poured out of my body, an act of cleansing something raw and decayed.
And the image of my heart suddenly became crystal clear in my mind, as the metal thorns slowly turned to hardened butter, and then the hardened butter began to melt, and I could see its sweet melted juicy richness dripping down, drenching my heart and I could breathe slowly and cleanly once again.
I’m fascinated with the idea of anger, especially as it relates to women. I know that anger can be a sacred and powerful force. I’m drawn to strong and gentle women because I’m learning that there is strength in softness and softness is not to be confused with acquiescence or a giving up of one’s self. But I don’t want to lose the passion either. Living a life without passion doesn’t sound like a life worth living.
And I know that despite the fact that I am free from the judgmental eyes of my parents when it comes to anger, I am in many ways still trapped by it.
I’m a work in progress, just like you.