Anger is a funny thing. It occurs naturally and is a perfectly healthy and valid emotion. It’s also perhaps the most negatively viewed emotion.
This is why I have always sought to control it… and by control, I apparently mean bury.
I had a legitimately bad temper as a boy. I fought frequently, and I owe a lot of people apologies. This was due to my tendency to feel in extremes, something I still struggle with.
Over the years, though, I learned to remain more calm, more unaffected. I thought this was because I was adequately processing my anger. I would feel the rage bubbling up, remind myself to stay controlled, and habitually talk myself into what I thought was serenity.
The trouble is that my son has no intention of letting me continue to live my lie.
He is a baby, and as such he is capable of making me feel waves of extreme emotion that are stronger than anything I’ve ever even imagined. When he is upset or hurting without anything clear solution, the helplessness I feel quickly morphs into sheer rage at my own apparent ineptitude. Naturally, I don’t “hulk out” on my 5 month old, BUT I have had to set him down and go punish my punching bag for a few seconds.
I don’t like this. I don’t like that I am apparently two people. One is a calm, frustratingly even personality while the other is a raging maniac, angry at everyone and everything.
As fate would have it, I was expressing all this to a friend last night. After some back-and-forth, she said something that stuck.
“If you don’t say it out loud then you just keep pushing it down until it can’t be held down again, and then boom! There it is.”
I realized that I haven’t been processing my anger at all. I was denying it. I was packaging it and setting it on a shelf that is now crashing down, and all I keep doing is duct taping that shelf to a wall, hoping it will stay up.
So I took her advice.
I went for a run, with no music, naming all the people and situations that ever angered me. As you can, imagine, 28 years worth of crap makes for a long list. As I named things, I said why I was angry, and bit by bit, I felt it start to melt away.
I began to see myself as I am now. Instead of hating my body and being angry with those who made me feel inadequate, I envisioned myself carrying Aidan and all his stuff repeatedly throughout the day. My body is strong and helps me care for and protect him.
Instead of hating my voice and being angry at all the moments my musical abilities were dismissed, I thought of how happy Aidan is when I play guitar and sing for him.
Instead of raging out at all the times I’ve messed up, made mistakes, gotten fired, left the church, hurt my loved ones, or felt abandoned by those I thought were friends, I realized that I am not “that guy” anymore. I am a good father, and I am a good husband. I’ve grown so much over the past few years, and I am proud of that.
As I continued to feel, name, and understand my anger, it began to dissipate. My rage just wanted to be seen, felt, and acknowledged for the legitimate emotion it is. As I did this, pounding my frustrations into the pavement, I felt lighter, more present, more one with myself.
The truth is that all our emotions are gifts. They help us to relate to this life and understand our place in it. Just as joy, excitement, and serenity are valid emotional states, so are anger, grief, and others that we often try to dismiss or avoid. They help us to accept those moments when life hurts.
Just as our lives are full of happy, incredible, beautiful moments, so there are also moments of intense darkness and loss. We need an emotional spectrum that addresses both. Only then can we be truly alive.
That’s why I want to encourage you to not do what I did. Don’t confuse bottling, packaging, and stpring emotions with accepting and processing them in a healthy way. Be what you are, feel what you feel, and enjoy the ride.
Peace be with you!