Looking back at the relationships throughout my life, I see where my quick temper played a big role in doing some serious damage. It wasn’t until recently that I learned what to do with all the anger I have inside my tiny body. I’m just starting to process and use it in a healthy way, but that’s only after many years of hurting other people and myself.
I never learned to process anger as a normal human emotion. I would be amiss if I didn’t pause to validate how totally natural anger is. It’s one of the core emotions, and it’s very much okay to feel it. Part of my problem, though, was that my anger wasn’t validated by the adults in my childhood. Instead, it was egged on or shamed, which both lead to emotional explosions. I’m now learning to make room for anger in my life because when I try to push it away, it only comes back more exaggerated.
I come from a family of people who acted on their anger. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Both of my parents held tremendous amounts of anger that they acted on without any regard for the consequences. My dad would scream at strangers, threaten physical violence, and swear up a storm. My mom would appear kind when strangers were around, but otherwise she was incredibly emotionally abusive. So obviously, I thought that this sort of acting on anger was what you were supposed to do. I only knew how to act like the behavior that was modeled for me.
I was (wrongly) taught that anger is how you get what you want. I have a distinct memory of my father berating a pizza delivery driver because our food was cold. We ended up getting another pizza, so I made the connection that yelling gets you what you want. When I started having intimate relationships as a teenager, I would yell when I needed something because I thought that was how you were supposed to communicate. Turns out this method really didn’t result in me getting what I wanted, or if it did, it came at the expense of the other person’s trust.
I had no idea that feelings weren’t facts. When I was younger, anger was a common visitor for my mind. I thought that when anger reared its head, it was a message indicating I needed to demand something from my partner like more attention. My requests were usually unreasonable. I didn’t realize until many years later that anger and its accompanying thoughts don’t tell the whole truth. I could be angry because I didn’t get enough sleep, but I used to think that it was because my partner was doing something wrong. Now I’ve learned to feel out what exactly an emotion is trying to tell me before acting on it.
I didn’t learn how to regulate my emotions. I really had no constructive way to handle anger when it arose. Instead, anger came up like a tidal wide, ripping me underwater and causing me to gasp for air. I had no idea that I could practice distress tolerance or emotion regulation skills to either ride out the wave or dive into it tactfully.
My unmoderated temper has single-handedly ruined relationships. I’m speaking at length about relationships I had about a decade ago, but I’m not exempt from my temper getting the best of me now. Actually, during the last relationship I was in, I said something that was on my mind and told my partner I was “just being honest.” Really, it was a very mean and totally unnecessary thing to say. It was no wonder he broke up with me a few days later.
I’ve caused people to stop trusting me. Have you ever been in a car accident? It’s really scary and unexpected. Oftentimes, getting back into a car after the traumatic incident feels terrifying. It ends up being hard to trust yourself and the other cars on the road, even if you’ve told yourself you’re likely not going to crash again anytime soon. Acting on anger is kind of like this. I really used to love hitting people where it hurts. I’d say target their insecurities by saying things that I knew would really wound them. Even if I apologized and promised never to do it again, the friendship was damaged. They’d be very cautious around me, waiting for another metaphorical crash.
I had to fight to learn how to constructively release my anger. I used to just fly off the handle when I was mad, but now I’m figuring out how to channel it in ways that don’t destroy everything around me. For example, the guy I was seeing recently said something really mean to me. He clearly hadn’t thought it out and instead just made a mess of things. I immediately became angry. If I shoved down the anger, I may have burst or turned it inward. Instead, I did some deep breathing, said some prayers, then channeled the anger into communicating assertively. Without the anger, I may not have been able to be assertive. I used the emotion productively and gracefully.
I’m also learning that sometimes it’s okay to react with anger. I hadn’t had a yelling outburst in years until very recently. In this instance, I was in an inpatient psych ward and a family member was invalidating my experience, telling me to get my life together. Her response was completely inappropriate and I responded by raising my voice and telling her that her approach is why people don’t seek mental health help. I still don’t feel bad about how I acted. I really do think it was an instance where my level of emotion was appropriate.
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