What does it mean to be angry?
I used to live with a girl who was always angry.
"I hate you!!!" she'd scream, as she tossed a chair across the dining room.
"You're an ass!" she'd screech to her boyfriend on the phone.
"Screw you!" she'd sneer at her parents, who seemed perfectly lovely to me.
I remember being sort of terrified of this girl. She seemed to revel in her anger, moving through the house with a permanent snarl and a twitchiness that made me uneasy. She had long, thick blonde hair and a trust fund and the kind of body that made men turn their heads when we went out for ice cream. She was smart, and stylish, and wrote stupendously brilliant short stories that left me speechless. I could not figure out what she was so angry about.
Despite our shared living space, we never really became friends. I tried to talk to her. I tried to relax as we watched episodes of Law and Order and went out for pizza. But I was afraid of triggering her anger, of being at the receiving end of her rants and snarls and biting insults. And there was an irrefutable part of me that was jealous. I secretly wanted to be able to flip off the driver who cut me off in traffic and tell my mother exactly what I felt about her hair. I wanted to hurl profanities at my boyfriend when he didn't call as he promised he would.
Even today, when I remember my roommate's self-indulgent fury against whomever had wronged her, I feel a gnaw of envy.
It seems like everywhere I look, people are getting angry. On the highway, they tailgate and flip each other off and swerve chaotically between lanes. On television, reality stars throw drinks in each other's faces and talk behind their backs and flip tables over. Secrets and gossip turn friends of mine into frenemies, seemingly overnight.
I once saw a couple fight and break up in a frozen yogurt shop. They spit insults at one other as their cups of double chocolate swirl melted into sad heaps.
Sometimes I think I don't know how to be angry. Because I can't embrace it in the way everyone else can. Being angry makes me feel suffocated and nauseous and guilty, instead of superior and self-righteous. When I'm really angry I can't eat. I can't sleep. And I can't talk about it.
My husband and I got into a big fight over the phone last week. I had been angry for days, employing the silent treatment in that ineffective sixth grade passive-aggressive way of being anger without showing it. Our fight escalated quickly, in the way only fights over the phone can. I called him an insensitive ass; he insinuated that I was a moody, unstable bitch. We went for each other's throats.
Eventually we paused, catching our breath.
"Why are we fighting?" he asked. It had been thirty minutes since we began.
"Because I'm angry!" I snarled. I was embarrassed. And frustrated. And confused. But I couldn't back down.
I was too far gone.
Later on, I felt terribly guilty about our fight, and the anger I experienced. Was I really a bitch? Did I overreact? The guilt was almost worse than my frustration about my inability to resolve the argument. It festered in the corners of my brain, tormenting me. I felt out of control.
Over the years, I've made concerted, ridiculous efforts to ignore the feelings I experience when I'm angry. I notice that bubble of hostility fester up and roll around in my stomach, but do nothing to relieve it. Confronting the source of my anger feels terrifying, like triggering a crazed monster lurking in my emotional closet. So I've engaged in all sorts of dysfunctional behavior to hide from it. Much of my eating disorder was a coping mechanism against anger. When I was sick, controlling what I ate felt less dangerous than getting into an argument. When I whittled my diet down to lettuce and fat-free turkey breast, I didn't worry about fights or being mad because I was only capable of concentrating on my anorexic behaviors. When I was starving myself, at least I knew what to expect.
The fact that this seemed totally rational at the time was enough for me to warrant a lesson in how to experience anger without hiding from it.
There doesn't seem to be a manual for learning how to be angry in a healthy way. Maybe it's just something you grasp as you get older. I want to learn how to be angry without turning into a scary angry person. I want to be able to tell my friend that his insults against my shoes piss me off without fearing the loss of our friendship and the fear of being a bitch and the guilt that inevitably follows after a fight. Because this inability of mine to be angry is embarrassing, and immature, and silly.
How do you experience anger? Have you ever had difficulty expressing it?