Happy April Fool’s Day! Today kicks off the A to Z Challenge and the first of my posts on mental health. I’m no good with introductions, so let’s just jump right in.
A is for…
Anger is a basic, healthy human emotion. It is a signal telling you there is a situation that needs your attention. It is meant to motivate you into action. As with any emotion, there is an element of perception, but generally anger is a response to being treated unfairly, hurt or not having our expectations met. Anger exists on a spectrum from irritation all the way to rage. Frustration is probably the most common point people experience on the spectrum. A lot of people deal with their anger by talking about it, writing about it or exercising it out. These are all healthy ways to deal with anger. Other ways to discharge anger that are also common, but more destructive include shouting, fighting, breaking things or dumping on whoever is near by.
How do you express your anger?
When I am angry, I don’t do any of the things I just mentioned. I wouldn’t describe myself as an angry person. “Angry” is probably the last word most would use to describe me. I just recently discovered that I do in fact, have a lot of anger. So how do I express it? I don’t. Most of the time, I don’t even know I am angry. I suppress my anger and I have been doing it for so long that I no longer recognize the emotion.
Depression and anger have a long history together. Studies have shown that the degree of anger correlates with the severity of depression. Those suffering from depression often have trouble experiencing and expressing anger. It creates inner conflict, triggering guilt, self-criticism and fear of disrupting relationships. Freud even described depression as anger towards the self. I agree with Freud, that is definitely part of it.
In retrospect, I have come up with two reasons for why I started repressing my anger in the first place. One being I am a “people pleaser”. I want to be a good person and I want others to see me that way too. “Good” and “anger” aren’t usually thought of together. That leaves little room for getting angry, let alone expressing it. The second reason is my need for control. If I am in control of my emotions, I am safe. No one can hurt me because they don’t know what affects me. This probably had something to do with those stereotypical mean girls while growing up. Being older and wiser, I know this is unhealthy thinking and it was only a means of self-preservation, but the damage is already done. Suppressing my anger has become a reflex that needs to be undone.
If I don’t get angry, what happens when I am being treated unfairly or my expectations are not met? I blame myself. If I am being treated unfairly it is because I must have done something to make people think they can treat me that way. If my expectations are not met, it is because of my own inadequacy. I don’t go through this reasoning like this in my head. It is automatic. This anger towards myself is turned into hatred. I think What is wrong with you? Everyone else can manage that, why can’t you?
When angry with other people, there is a fear of compromising the relationship or guilt of hurting their feelings. This is enough reason for many to hold back. There is nothing to keep my attacks on myself in check. There are no parallel restraints. Anger turned inwards is vicious. Self-loathing can get so intense that it becomes paralyzing. This paralysis makes you more angry at yourself causing more self-loathing, perpetuating depression. It’s a cycle…… Lovely.
The first step towards breaking a cycle is being aware of it. I can check that off my list.