Facing Anger

“When was the last time you got really angry?”

This was a question that came up in my session with my therapist this week, and I didn’t have an answer.

I did not go into therapy this week expecting to talk about being angry. It had been two weeks since we’d met, and I was running through updates on things we’d been talking about in past sessions. One of the things that came up had to do with people talking about me rather than to me about my life.

“Does it make you angry?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded immediately, and then found myself backpedaling. “Well, at least annoyed. Angry might be too strong a term.”

She pointed out that it was my first response, though. We talked about what “annoyed” versus “angry” feels like, and which response actually felt more genuine in that situation. It was definitely anger. She asked me to sit with it for a minute.

And I remembered something I haven’t super consciously considered in a while. Once, when I was about 14, I was fighting with my younger brother. At some point, I got really, really angry. I chased him up the stairs to his room. He slammed the door in my face, and before I knew what was happening, my fist came down on the door…and I heard something in the door crack. I realized in that moment just how capable I was of causing serious harm to another human being, and it terrified me.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening, aside from knowing that I retreated to my own room immediately and probably stayed there as long as I possibly could. And I’ve never lashed out in anger like that again.

I don’t do well with anger. I’ve known this for a long time, but in therapeutic settings had only really worked with my lack of coping skills around other people’s anger. I haven’t spent a lot of time digging into the fact that, for more than half my life now, my response to my own anger has been to freeze – I make myself and my anger as small as possible so that I don’t risk hurting anyone. I want more than anything to be a person who makes other people feel safe, and I don’t know how to feel safe around anger. I freeze because I’m even more afraid of my own anger than I am of other people’s.

My therapist posited that perhaps there’s a link between the amount of time I spend freezing and trying to make myself small, and the fact that most of my joints hurt almost all of the time.

It’s not a thing that’s going to be solved just by recognizing that it’s there…but that’s step one, at least.

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