Content warning: mention of self-harm.
I can count on one hand the number of times in my life where I was genuinely angry about something. Each moment, like when I found out that my little sister’s boyfriend had hit her, were on behalf of someone else but no less vicious for it.
I remember sitting on my bed when she came and casually told me he had put his hand on her. She was thirteen years old. Some part of my mind marveled at this unfamiliar sensation, this loss of control and rage. I wanted to kill him.
I can’t recall a time when I was angry for myself or because of something that happened to me. The absence of control in that moment was frightening. It forced me to face parts of myself I had long-since tried to erase. I’m not an angry person. I never have been, but others around me were, and it terrified me.
Anger was synonymous with violence. It was the precursor to abandonment. It signaled worse to come. It was a demon rearing its ugly head and shattered pieces left to be collected after the damage had been done. I didn’t want to be like that. I never wanted to be the reason someone felt as scared and helpless as I felt. And it was in my blood, after all, wasn’t it? Was that fury genetic? Was that destructive behavior passed down to me, and it just had yet to be triggered?
So I smothered every sign of even frustration. I disallowed myself the right to get mad over something. I was drowned in guilt in the moments of irritation with my siblings. I could not go to sleep at night if I had had an argument with my mom; the damage needed to be repaired just in case something happened while I slept. I was viscerally and unendingly terrified of this emotion. I avoided conflict as though it would kill me. I never disagreed with anything, even when it went against everything I wanted. I berated myself for feeling inconvenienced by my submissiveness.
As I got older, I began wishing that anger came more easily to me. I wished for that fire inside of me to burn away all of the other feelings. I knew that it was often a coverup so that someone didn’t have to face what lay beneath it, and I could easily see why it was the preferred emotion to combat. Pain and loneliness were a thousand needles scoring my skin, and for such a long time, I didn’t know how to make it stop hurting.
I couldn’t summon the fury. I’d done too good of a job suppressing it. I had no idea how to muster it, and now I had a reputation among my loved ones of being docile, passive, quiet, level-headed. To be anything else filled too much space in the box I’d willingly climbed into. It pushed up against the walls, threatening to tear the delicate material of my boundaries. I wanted to be small, unseen, compliant. I didn’t deserve to feel angry.
I began blaming myself. For every bad thing that happened to me, I found a thousand reasons why it was my own fault. I built towers out of should haves and could haves, forcing the responsibility onto my shoulders. It wasn’t some noble act. It wasn’t to be a better person and to learn to grow. It was because if I blamed myself, then I couldn’t blame anyone or anything else. I couldn’t be angry at someone else if I didn’t blame them for what had happened.
Maybe then it wasn’t an inability to feel anger but rather an inability to direct it anywhere but at myself. My inner voice was nothing more than endless commentary on my failings, tearing every aspect of myself down until it was all that I could believe. Stupid, idiot, worthless, weak, awkward, broken girl. I carved furrows into my skin, determined to feel as much pain on the outside as I did inwardly. Rage at myself spilled from my shaking hands, satisfaction only found in the crimson. I deserved it.
I felt angry today. It was in response to a reminder of a recent event, and I had to put my phone down and walk away from it. I was furious and, unlike when the event had happened, not at myself. I was angry at the ones who had hurt me so unnecessarily, so carelessly, so easily. I almost started laughing in the midst of the overwhelming emotion, unfiltered, hysterical laughter over the fact that it took me this long to view my own self as worthy of being protected. Why now? What changed?
I think the answer to that is ridiculously simple. I finally absolved myself of responsibility. I did nothing wrong. I didn’t cause it. I didn’t bring it on myself. It just happened, and I have every right to be angry.
This confidence to feel such defensiveness over myself is wildly unfamiliar. It feels foreign and uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit quite right over my body, and I question if it’s meant to be there.
I’ve felt better connected to the people in my life over recent weeks, and it is their steadfast support and determination for me to know that I matter that has blown my little comfort box to shreds. It is scattered around me, and I don’t know if I quite like this big world of possibility. I don’t know if I like this feeling that I matter and am significant. It’s a lot of responsibility, and not the kind I’ve been collecting for years. It’s the responsibility to take care of rather than degrade myself. It’s the responsibility to protect and honor rather than disparage and blame myself.
I’m sure it’ll get easier with time. Everything does. Anger is the furthest thing from a habit I want to acquire, but today I am grateful for it. Today I am grateful for that flash of intensity which burned away some of the self-loathing I’ve been carrying. Today I was angry, and I’m so glad that I was.