I’ve always been a person who runs hot, both physically and emotionally. I like my air conditioning cranked up high and I have BIG feelings. I’m quick to anger but also quick to move on. As a teen, my father and I would often have loud clashes – lots of yelling, dramatic statements, the whole nine yards. But once the blow up was over, it was over and we moved on as if nothing had happened. My mom, whose temperament is quite different, would shake her head, not understanding how we didn’t hold hurt and resentment after these arguments. It’s just how I was wired. I had a very low threshold, I crossed it quickly, got out what I needed to get out, and then returned to a calmer state until things started to accumulate again. At least that’s how it was before I had kids.
Once I began having kids, I noticed that my anger seemed to linger longer than before. And what was previously a low threshold seemed to now be no threshold at all. It took basically nothing to set me off, and even once I thought things were resolved, I wasn’t returning to that neutral state anymore. I was always on edge. Always somewhat irritated. This wasn’t the anger I knew.
As time passed and this new anger didn’t shift, I realized there was a problem. It turned out that my anger was actually postpartum rage and was very closely tied to the overwhelming postpartum anxiety I was experiencing. I got into therapy and started doing some work on my own to better understand the rage. What I ultimately discovered was that the anger was cluing me into all kinds of other beneath the surface thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I was otherwise denying. Things I didn’t want to think about. Things I didn’t want to feel. Things I didn’t want to admit were happening. The deeper down I pushed those things, the louder the anger grew.
Once I figured out how this new anger was functioning, I was able to work on the things that were feeding it. You know, all the things I’d previously been trying to ignore – apparently they weren’t actually meant to be ignored. As those things got sorted out, the rage lightened. I was no longer constantly at a simmer. I recovered from things faster. I was back to my old self.
My “old self” is still a self that experiences anger frequently. But since recovering from postpartum rage, my relationship to this anger has changed drastically. My anger used to be something I was embarrassed of. Something I tried to hide or cover with jokes or self-deprecating comments. Not anymore. I now view my anger as one of my biggest assets.
My anger is my go-to barometer for my overall well-being. Observe it coming in more frequently? Find it showing up louder than usual? Notice it sparking up over smaller things? These all tell me that something is off at a deeper level. I go back to basics: am I thinking, feeling, or experiencing something I’m trying to avoid? As a person who tends to try to push through things, even when I’d be better off slowing down and taking a closer look, I consider it a gift to have this built-in safeguard.
My anger also helps clue me in to situations that may be pushing to cross my boundaries. If I feel a hint of anger rise up when someone asks me to attend an event, or take on a task, I know something’s up. What about this is hitting up against a boundary I’ve set? I’ve had a long track record of saying yes to things that aren’t in my best interest emotionally because I want to please or I’m afraid of upsetting someone. Ultimately these things always backfire, so having this early warning system in my anger is really helpful in encouraging me to take a step back and examine my choices and decisions before I commit.
I’ve also worked hard to release the shame I’d previously felt around anger. One key shift in this was to separate out the internal experience of anger from the reactive behaviors that often result. When I yelled at someone out of anger and felt bad about it after, I’d say I was “sorry for getting angry.” But in reality, getting angry wasn’t the issue and wasn’t what I felt bad about. It was the yelling. Making that distinction was a huge part of letting go of the shame. Coupled with learning to experience anger and NOT react, but instead turn my attention inward on the message behind the anger, this really freed me to experience anger without shame, regret, or embarrassment.
So while in a perfect world, I wouldn’t experience anger because all of my emotional needs would be met and nothing would be bothering me subconsciously, I’ll gladly embrace my anger in this real, imperfect world. It’s my compass. It’s my safeguard. It’s my superpower.