I learned something new in my individual session. All my life I have been afraid of anger, particularly other people’s. I am so terrified of the anger of other people that even two strangers arguing on the street will immediately make my chest tighten. I will feel butterflies in my stomach, and I will most likely hold my breath until one of us moves on from the spot.
I hate anger. I hate confrontation. I don’t like my own anger either. But the real fear is of other people’s anger. No matter where I am or what the anger is about. Terrified. Seriously. It could be something as small as a pissed customer in a restaurant who got the wrong order, or a pissed driver cut off in traffic, up to and including bar brawls, or any kind of physical altercation.
Frankly I don’t see what purpose anger serves other than to damage, bruise, or wound, or all of the above. And to me, those don’t seem like very good reasons to have anger around.
This was briefly discussed in my individual therapy with my DBT therapist/coach, and she pointed something out to me that floored me.
To set the scene: I was discussing my intense fear of anger. Even in the office with her, just discussing it, I felt uneasy, and didn’t want to talk about it. But she encouraged me to go on. So I was talking about when my mother would get angry with me or my brother she would yell, slap, spank, and probably give the silent treatment thereafter. I then mentioned about when my brother, very much like my mother, gets angry he swears, throws, punches, and once he grabbed me by the throat. He has put holes in walls, doors and at least two pieces of two different game consoles, both damaged by his anger, including one game, to the point that the pieces ceased working and needed to be replaced. He has bruised me on multiple occasions when we were young but mostly to my arms. And finally I mentioned there was my ex who preferred to communicate with me by yelling, screaming, berating, degrading, slapping, and punching, and who has also grabbed me by the throat at one point as well.
It was in the midst of this that my therapist asked me if my husband ever got mad. To which I had to stop and think for a moment. Did he get mad? Well, of course. everyone gets angry at some point. She asked me how does he express his anger, and again I had to stop and think. How does he express his anger? I had to stop and think when was the last time I saw him angry, how did he act? Well, he swore a few times, he vented out, his voice was tense, his hands a little clenched, his brow frowning. But that was about it. So I asked her, why do you ask?
And you know what she said to me? I couldn’t believe it. She says to me that it was no wonder I feared anger because what I had actually experienced for some twenty-odd years or more, with my mom, my brother, and then my ex was actually rage. Not anger. Rage. And often violent rage at that.
I stared at her, slightly confused. What was the difference exactly?
She patiently explained to me that from my childhood until my early adult years I had experienced or witnessed rage not anger. Anytime, any of them got angry, because this wasn’t to say they shouldn’t get angry, but that when they expressed their anger, it was seriously disproportionate to the event that caused them to get angry.
I beg your pardon?
People are free to feel anger and to express it but there is a healthy, proportionate way for it to be handled, and thus far I had experienced that they didn’t handle it at all. They blew it up, literally and figuratively. They turned to rage; violent, property damaging, limbs bruising, derogatory comments, total exclusion and ostracization, and loss of consciousness rage. Was she sure? Was this new? Were others aware of this?
She reiterated that, yes, she was sure, and no it wasn’t new. What my husband exhibited was actually closer to healthy anger than anything I had ever witnessed before with my mom, brother, and my ex.
She was right. It was no wonder I feared anger.
I honestly couldn’t believe what she told me. How had I not known this? How had I gone all these years and not realized that I actually didn’t know what healthy expressions of anger looks like? When I see someone get angry, I imagine volatile outbursts are just around the corner, and the situation will most likely will turn violent. Like every situation where anger is involved sits on a thin precipice, only moments from turning into a blowout, and someone getting hurt. I couldn’t, and in some ways still can’t, imagine someone getting angry and not freaking out, calling me names, resorting to violence, and shutting me completely out of their life.
I see. Well that’s a bit if a surprise.
Have other people heard of this?