Throughout my youth, anger was my #1 most repressed emotion. Having grown up in a household where anger was often present, I internalized at a young age that expressed anger = emotional damage to loved ones. As a result of this, the pendulum of my psyche swung as far in the other direction as possible. I was “nice” to a fault, my backbone having been dissolved into a formless goo. In elementary school and the first two years of high school I operated as a human doormat, terrified that I would cause even the slightest emotional discomfort to anyone. It wasn’t until a couple of consecutive bad relationships shocked me awake to the fact that my lack of boundaries was causing me immense unhappiness.
I slowly came to the realization that I was weak. My chronic inability to stand up for myself was not me being truly kind to others, but rather an attempt to manipulate everyone around me through the only tool I felt capable of using, being “nice”. I had built my personality around the thesis that if I gave everyone around me exactly what they wanted in any given moment, it would equate to them giving me what I wanted. Of course, that is not the way the world works, at all, and so I found myself repeatedly disillusioned.
I had to come to some new understandings about anger in general to move forward and debug the faulty code in my human operating system.
Anger itself can be thought of as either being either expressed or repressed. First we will talk about the expression of anger, and then about the repression of anger that I experienced personally.
Expressed anger, as an emotion experienced inside your body, isn’t inherently a positive or a negative thing. For example, if I was to use righteous anger to defend my family from an intruder and the rage blocks out the pain from a gunshot wound so I could overcome the invader, then my anger acts as a shield and is a positive biological trait.
Conversely, if I was to become enraged at someone who cut in front of me in the grocery line, losing control and starting a fist fight with them, then my anger acted as a sword and was a negative trait.
The negative, damaging forms of expressed anger almost always come as a result of a lack of inner emotional awareness. This type of anger typically functions by having an external trigger, but also a subtle component of the internal that amplifies the emotion beyond what is reasonable. I’ll give an example to illustrate this; would you imagine that you’d be more or less likely to react with rage towards someone who cuts you off in traffic if you were already angry with yourself for not standing up to your boss at work?
When the Ego feels anger directed inward for actions not taken or personal mistakes made, it does everything in its power to externalize an aggressor and project the anger onto that target. Like a heat-seeking missile, it will invariably find a mark. Often the rage will become amplified in an effort to smokescreen the original internal spring from which the anger arose.
Said in a less flowery way- your Ego wants to protect you from feeling anger at yourself, as a result it will find people or things in the outside world to be angry at, and then it will double down on the anger to try and hide that you feel you have done wrong in some way.
The really insidious part about this negative anger aspect cycle is that it can self-perpetuate. Over time one can start to view the entire world as “out to get them”. They don’t realize that all the while they have been actively manifesting the “bad guys” by approaching life with a generally prickly, combative attitude.
This can be the much harder side of the spectrum to balance because a person stuck in the expressed anger loop is constantly getting confirming evidence for their theory of how the world works.
There is also the polar opposite of expressed anger, repressed anger. For me, the Ego would show up by seeking to be as inoffensive as possible, so there would never be a cause for anyone to be angry with me, and thus, never be forced to do any self-examination through conflict or boundary setting. It sought to make everything perfectly peaceful and to yield at the first hint of any potential disagreement.
This repressed anger cycle, unlike the expressed anger cycle, is an inherently unstable system because you will eventually run into some dis-confirming evidence in the world. If you are operating with the theory of “I’ll be as nice as possible to every person I meet so they will treat me well”, you will undoubtedly run into someone who even after your best efforts to be “nice”, treats you like crap. This breaks the cycle and allows a gap in which self-analysis can be done.
For me, this was in my first real relationship where I was cheated on. It woke me up to the fact that me being as "nice" as possible didn't guarantee the result which I was seeking. (ego validation)
I was suddenly very angry, both with the woman, but also on a much deeper level with myself. I knew on a fundamental level that I had called this into my life by setting poor boundaries and not standing up for myself.
Armed with this new revelation, I set out to make myself strong. I became fiercely individualistic for a long period of time, seeking to do what was best for me and only me in any given moment. It comes as no surprise that this was not the answer either, and I couldn't sustain being a lone wolf in perpetuity.
Over time, I started to find balance. I set clear boundaries, but I was also kind to those around me. Unlike my initial "nicety" born out of weakness, this became a true kindness born out of compassion. I found myself happier and my relationships thrived.
There is a set of questions I asked myself to achieve this balance that I'll leave you with to end the article, with some slight modifications in case you find yourself to be someone on the expressed anger end of the spectrum.
When in my day-to-day life do I find myself feeling the most unheard (or angry)?
Why do I tend to repress (or express) my anger in the way that I do? Where in my upbringing does this come from?
What do I fear about expressing my emotions and boundaries honestly?
What am I (and my Ego) trying to accomplish with the way I currently interact with the world? (Peace, Being Loved, Validation, etc.)
Who is a person whom I admire? What traits do they have that I wish I had?
How can I begin to allow the healthy expression of my emotions? What is the first small step I can take today?
Much love everyone. As always, don't hesitate to reach out with questions!
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Tap into those emotions, and I'll talk to you soon,