Anger is on my mind, as you’ll know if you read my previous post, ROAR!
Why is it that when everything in me is screaming, ‘That’s not OK!‘, or ‘You’ve got to be kidding’, or ‘WTF!’ (excuse my French), I smile and say ‘That’s OK’, or ‘Don’t worry about it’, or ‘I understand’?
Why is it that when I know instinctively that someone else has crossed a line or is taking the mick, my first reaction is to assume that I’m in the wrong, that it’s my fault?
I’m not the only woman (or man) to do this, as evidenced in this courageous piece of writing for The Guardian by my former Westminster colleague Jane Merrick, who Sir Michael Fallon MP, ex-Secretary of State for Defence, tried to kiss. Had I led him on in some way? She asked.
I must have done something wrong. It must be me.
In my case, this impulse to blame myself and to exonerate everyone else goes way back.
When I was a little girl, I spoke my truth to an adult. I said what was on my heart, freely, without censorship. I pointed out something that I didn’t think was right, that I didn’t think should be happening, that was making me sad. I must have been seven or so.
In response, I was shouted at, dismissed, told I’d got it wrong and that I shouldn’t be so stupid to suggest such a thing. I won’t go into details as it involves someone else’s story too but it was a frightening moment for me.
As a young, sensitive child who was still at the stage where I depended on adults for everything, for my very survival, that altercation, that flash of conflict had a damaging effect. There were other situations too, but this memory is especially vivid.
In that moment, I decided I would never speak up again. I’d never speak my truth. I’d never call anything out that I thought was wrong. It wasn’t safe to do so. I’d be met with anger. I might not survive.
What’s perhaps more damaging is that I also decided that my instinct couldn’t be trusted. That my feelings were wrong. That my gut told lies. That whenever I felt that tap on the shoulder suggesting something wasn’t as it should be, it was most likely I was mistaken and everyone else was right. I should ignore it. Whatever feelings were coming to the surface, I should push them back down.
The same goes for anger. Back in that moment when I was told off, I had every right to be angry. But it wasn’t safe to express it. At least, it didn’t feel safe. I felt the other person’s anger and assumed, as the child in front of the all-powerful adult, that their anger was justified while mine had no place.
And as I became scared of everyone else’s anger, I also became scared of mine.
So I swallowed my anger and I’ve been swallowing it ever since.
In my case, the phrase swallow my anger is pretty literal. I developed an eating disorder from a very young age. I began by starving, which, if you think about it, is an attempt to become small, to become less visible, to shrink, as well as an attempt to find some form of control. But then, at a crucial moment in my teens, I began to binge. I ate on my feelings. In fact, I ate my feelings. I stuffed them down with bread and sugar. I smothered my anger with food and an extra layer of fat, which gave me another reason to dislike, dismiss and mistrust myself.
I don’t do that anymore. I am pretty much free of any food obsession or any desire to stuff my feelings down. Yes, there are times when I’m tired or anxious when a little bit of extra food seems attractive and sometimes I succumb, but that’s fine. It’s nothing like it used to be. I don’t worry about it.
Unsurprisingly, as I’ve put the food down, the feelings have come up. That’s what happens. That’s why alcoholics, when they put down the drink, find they have a food problem, or vice versa, or why former druggies get addicted to running marathons. For some of us, feelings are intolerable so we’ll do anything to avoid them, moving from one substance or compulsive behaviour to the next. We keep switching crutches until we run out of choices and have to face our feelings and process our pain.
Initially, in the early days of my personal development journey, I felt grief, so much grief and loss that it floored me. So much pain and so many tears I thought I’d sprung a leak. I thought they’d never stop.
Much of that is out now. Much of that pain has been released, although there are always new layers of the onion to peel off. As an aside, if you have feelings to feel or grief to process, find some support. The feelings are there and they’re going to come out, one way or another, so get yourself into a safe space so that you can feel them. They won’t kill you. I know, it sometimes feels like they will. Believe me, I’ve cried from such a depth that it was frightening. I’ve howled. But the feelings didn’t kill me, although I was always scared they would. I came out the other side. You can do the same. But it’s good if we don’t do it alone.
As I say, much of mine is out (I hope), but what’s left, what’s still there and just making it’s way out is the anger.
I remember my very first therapist in the UK (I briefly saw one in Brazil before moving back here in 2002) mentioned anger to me and I couldn’t understand what she was talking about, at least not how it related to me. I don’t get angry. I don’t have any anger.
I was in denial. I had stuffed it down, buried it inside, ignored it in whatever way I could.
I had turned it inwards – binge eating, binge drinking, a punishing exercise regime and an even more punishing work schedule. I had run from it, avoided it, distracted myself from it, and from all the other feelings I didn’t want to feel.
But I am finding my voice. And I’m finding my angry voice. I am connecting to my anger. I’m not about to explode or rage at people. My long journey of recovery has taught me to pause and reflect and to work through feelings before I take action or say something to the person who I feel deserves to hear from me.
But from now on, I’ll speak my truth, with integrity and dignity. From now on, I won’t assume you’re right and I’m wrong. I won’t ignore that feeling in my gut or that tap on the shoulder. I won’t stay quiet to avoid your anger or an adverse reaction.
I’ll speak up. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my present self, my past self and my future self. I owe it to other women and men. It won’t be perfect, but I’ll do my best.
As Melody Beattie writes in today’s entry in The Language of Letting Go:
“What do we want to do or say? What are our instincts telling us? Trust them – even if they don’t make sense or meet other people’s rules and expectations … We can convince ourselves that people-pleasing, going against our nature and not being honest, is the kind, honest thing to do! Not true. Simplify. Back to basics. Let go of the confusion. By honouring and respecting ourselves, we will be true to those around us, even if we displease them momentarily. To thine own self be true. Simple words describing a powerful task that can put us back on track.”
So how about you?
Are you in touch with your anger? Or where has your anger gone? Have you stuffed it inside with food or with too many glasses of wine? Have you run from it? Have you distracted from it by staying so busy that you don’t give yourself a second to feel or to think. Are you pleasing others, playing by the rules, not rocking the boat? Where is your anger?
Or do you have other feelings buried inside that you’re running from or hiding from? Grief, loss, pain, anxiety, loneliness, sadness? Are you able to find a safe way to express them?
If you want to join me on this journey to full self-expression, stay in touch. I am putting together some Women Who Roar workshops. I might even write another book (my first one is here). So subscribe to this blog or sign up on my mailing list: www.howtofallinlove.co.uk or www.katherinebaldwin.com.
Your anger is there for a reason. Don’t push it inside. Don’t turn it on yourself. You deserve so much better.
If you’d like more support to be real and live authentically, I have a free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole.
If you’re dating or looking for a relationship, I have an online membership community for a small monthly fee in which I coach and support women to find love. It’s called the Love Ladies Community.
I’m also running two retreats by the sea in Bournemouth – I have two spaces left for Nov 17th and plenty of room still on my Jan 12th retreat.
Finally, my How to Fall in Love course begins again for six weeks in January. As I mention above, watch out for Women Who Roar workshops in London very soon.