• What I felt wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t grief or being overwhelmed by all these things, it was something else. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
When I think of anger, like most people, crying isn't the first thing that comes to mind.
By
Shona Hendley

10 Sep 2020 - 8:38 AM  UPDATED 10 Sep 2020 - 3:53 PM

I recently sat in my psychologist’s office sharing with her how I had been feeling lately. I described a combination of unfortunate events that had occurred this year – multiple deaths of loved ones, the impact of living through Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown in Victoria while attempting to juggle work and helping my two children do remote learning, not to mention the issue I have carried with me for years. Then I began to cry.

What I felt wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t grief or being overwhelmed by all these things, it was something else.

“I think you’re angry,” my psychologist said. Although at first, I wasn’t sure what she meant by ‘angry’. I didn't think I was angry. But after a few minutes contemplating, I realised that she was right. I was. I was so angry about all of these things that I was…crying.

At the time this reaction didn’t make sense to me. When I think of anger, like most people, crying isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, we often think of yelling, aggression, maybe even physicality through actions like hitting or punching, or even the colour red – red faces, red flags; but it is usually not blubbering and crying your way through an entire box of Kleenex like I did.

I didn't think I was angry. But after a few minutes contemplating, I realised that she was right. I was. I was so angry about all of these things that I was…crying.

It was when I agreed with my psychologist but said I didn’t understand why I was expressing it this way that she told me something that felt like a light bulb switching on to illuminate an entire new realm of my emotions.

“Anger gets a bad rap,” she said.

“People are often taught that feeling angry is a bad thing or to feel it is inappropriate. In fact, it is the opposite and not feeling it or letting it out can be really damaging to your emotional state and mental health.”

Because just like I did, people repress their anger. They don’t let it out or express it. By repressing anger, you can adversely affect your self-esteem, mental health and the way you view yourself.

This explanation, an anger epiphany if you will, was an amazing moment in my treatment, in the therapy that I have been undertaking on and off for years. It finally made me realise that this longer-term issue, the one that has been with me all of my life and affected me accordingly, has made me feel a lot of things, but perhaps one of the main ways, that I had never realised until then, was that it made me feel angry.

This explanation, an anger epiphany if you will, was an amazing moment in my treatment, in the therapy that I have been undertaking on and off for years.

I was angry. Really angry. And I had been angry for years. I was angry at a person, for their treatment of me, their decisions, their absence, their rejection, their choices. I was angry at them for not caring about me, not loving me. I was angry.

While I understood how I felt, I still wondered, why was I crying?

According to clinical psychologist Dr Linda Davey, “anger is a motivating emotion. It can be expressed in both an unhealthy and healthy way. One unhealthy expression of anger is when the person turns that anger in on itself and it manifests as negative self-talk, low mood and depression.”

And just then I understood why I was crying. This was exactly what I had done for years. My anger about this issue, this person, had turned in on me, on myself and instead of saying - hey I am angry, and I will process this, I blamed myself instead.

In my mind, I was not worthy, I must have done something wrong, I would never be good enough. I judged myself to the point I became depressed.

“Anger is a very important emotion,” Davey said. “Learning to express this anger in an appropriate way is fundamental in dealing with it. First, we need to recognise our anger and feel it and then we need to express it in an appropriate way.”

In my mind, I was not worthy, I must have done something wrong, I would never be good enough. I judged myself to the point I became depressed.

For me, I chose writing to express how I was feeling. But you could also turn to drawing or talking to someone – professionally like a psychologist or to someone you could trust.

It also helps to learn to become assertive – from claiming your rights without being offensive and utilising communication skills without blaming others.

But key to all of this, Davey said, was acceptance. “You have to accept that you may not be able to change it [the cause of the anger].”

And I suppose that was the hardest part for me.

But with this knowledge, I knew that by identifying my anger and expressing it in a healthy way was a step in the right direction for my mental health. 

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer.

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