How Childhood Affected My Relationship with Anger
I got thinking about this because I’ve seen a number of people write about anger recently, and it’s not an emotion I’ve ever been comfortable with.
Anger is a basic human emotion. We all experience it sometimes, and it has an associated facial expression that is universally recognized across cultures. Yet anger is far from basic in that we often have a lot of other mental baggage attached to it.
My relationship with anger began in childhood. My dad has always been very quick to anger, and tends to shout loudly when he’s angry.
As kids, it was directed more often at my brother than at me. I remember times when we were up at my Grandma’s for the weekend, and my dad would flip out at my brother and then we’d have to abruptly go home. As a teenager, there was a time I didn’t want to go to some activity that I felt pressured into, and for whatever reason my dad blew up, started ranting, and then punched a hole in the hall closet. That’s the only time I remember him acting out physically with his anger.
What I learned from this was that anger is frightening, both in myself and in others. I also had no model of controlled anger that was channelled effectively; what I saw was uncontrolled anger.
Often, in situations where the more logical response would be for me to get angry, I instead react with my little girl response of crying and feeling afraid and under attack.
Supposedly women tend to look for partners like their father, but for me the opposite is true. I don’t think I could be with someone who angered easily or often. Looking at the two long-term relationships I’ve had in the past, neither of them had angry tendencies.
I’ve dealt with plenty of angry patients over the years, but that was different, probably because it was clearly driven by illness. There was one occasion when a coworker went on a lengthy rant directed at me, but I was so frozen that the crying response didn’t kick in.
I seldom feel anger directly. I’ll feel annoyed/irritated over things that don’t hit close to home, but it rarely progresses to anger. Or maybe my whole idea of anger is skewed, since I equate angry with being out of control.
I think controlled anger can be most useful in fighting for social causes, where the anger can be channelled in a constructive rather than a destructive way.
Anger is probably the only emotion that I’ve created such a story around. It may be because it was the only highly overt expression of emotion that I was regularly exposed to in childhood. It’s fascinating how even non-traumatic childhood conditions can do so much to shape us in adulthood.
Originally published at https://mentalhealthathome.org on October 7, 2019.