As a stereotypical older white male, I am, or at least was, practically expected to follow the pattern and express all my negative feelings as anger, the only socially permissible emotion for a man growing up. No crying, no sadness, no sulking. Maintain a stiff upper lip and soldier on.
And I cannot deny that is how I used to behave most of the time. And it felt natural, too. My ex complained at a family counseling and therapy session that I “roar like a lion” when I get upset. And I did. What went missing though, because, like most men, I never learned to be in touch with my feelings, is all the inner turmoil and struggle that is the precursor to a visible display of anger. And so I got the blame for being angry, and my protestations that there was a cause was met with “why don’t you talk about it then!” Reasonable, right? Well, as reasonable as telling a person who cannot carry a tune “why don’t you just sing!” or to a person confined to a wheelchair “why don’t you just walk!” I eventually learned, to a degree, to understand my own feelings better, and to express them in more palatable ways. The uncontrolled visible anger outbursts faded away almost completely. But that is a story for another time. Today I wanted to mention a positive side of anger, something I ended up using as a coping tool, rather successfully.
I wrote before about dealing with a breakup, but I mostly focused on thinking and walking, letting myself feel the painful feelings until they became memories with little or no affect. But there was another routine that I got into back then. I would get angry at my ex for how she had treated me (whether or not I “deserved” that treatment, in her or someone else’s eyes is beside the point, feelings are feelings). I would get really angry with her. Fortunately, I would be at a safe distance, walking the dark rainy streets, fuming to myself. So, if I chose to roar, scream and yell profanities out loud instead of inside my head, nothing bad would happen. No one would get irate, frustrated, or drag me to a therapist, at most they would pretend they didn’t notice me and think something like “Oh, great, another crazy person talking to himself.” And so I did. Mostly inside my head, but sometimes aloud I would yell, after another loop of the same thoughts and feelings, something like this:
“Fuck you, you fucking cunt! Fuck you, I don’t give a shit about you anymore! Just fuck off! I hate you, and if you died tonight, I would not care in the slightest!”
I would get a momentary relief from all the emotional pain, before another loop of thoughts and feelings would start. Eventually I got into the habit of concluding each loop with an angry outburst, mostly mouthing the words of rage for a minute or two, and enjoying the relief that would come with it. With time the loops got shorter, and the “fuck off, bitch!” reaction would kick in and interrupt the loops earlier and earlier. And so a month or so later I would catch myself automatically reacting with anger to these unwelcome feelings and thoughts. Like quickly cauterizing a stubborn would that would open again and again.
Time passed, and the feelings got duller, yet the new habit remained. Whenever I don’t want to feel something stemming from a real or perceived injustice done to me, I feel the anger welling up, my lips mouthing the insults, and the frustration dissipating away before getting a chance to take hold. This may or may not be a healthy reaction, after all, some feelings demand to be felt, or else they fester and never go away. But anger has certainly worked for me as one of the deliberate tools in my not-so-large toolkit for dealing with the life’s many adversities.