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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 026 ~ anger + femininity

I began this piece in September amidst an upheaval of my brain, an awakening of dormant anger and a series of thoughts I had around this. I left it sitting in my (ever expanding) folder of unfinished posts until recently, when I felt propelled to write about it again, having spent the last months interrogating it. I have spent significant time this year investigating the spaces anger takes up in my brain, and my avoidance of it. I have seen such a rise in the dominance of anger within me as I've allowed it space to show up, and I am doing everything I can to welcome it, cherish it, and learn from it. This post is about the discomfort, fear, and panic I possess when it comes to embodying anger.   



September 2023 

 

If I hear that time heals all one more time I might scream. Whose concept of time? What measure exactly? Will there be a sign when the endless waiting is nearly over?! AHH! I've waited. Oh I have given it plenty of time, nearly eight months of hoping that time will wash away my sorrow. But I am still hurting. So much. I still wake up thinking about him in a way that immediately sends my heart into nauseating panicked flutters. Writing this now, there is a deep ache in my stomach. It physically hurts to turn my attention for even a moment to the array of emotions rotating between my body when I think of him. When I notice the anxiety returning, edging towards me with deviance in mind, I scramble to capture it in a box I can stuff somewhere deep inside my brain. Up until a few weeks ago, I had been overseas for three months. There, it felt much easier. The physical distance between us, my surety that I could not bump into him with a new person, was deeply soothing. I felt utterly, blissfully free. For the last couple of months of my time not in Melbourne, I felt further along in the break up 'journey' than I do now. I felt sure that probably what I actually needed, was to not have him in my life in any capacity. It wasn't that I didn't want him in my life, I desperately did, but I couldn't. I couldn't disconnect myself from him and find any freedom in myself if I had any kind of relationship with him.  

 

And in offering myself genuine space, I found anger. I found bucket loads of it, Olympic swimming pools worth of it, more than I could hold in my body. I found years of stale, outdated anger. Anger that had festered and grown exponentially within the caverns of my brain. I am a soft person. I can also be a loud, emotive person, but I have never ever been comfortable with anger. I am afraid of anger in other people, and I am completely disconnected from anger in me. I don't allow it. Especially when it comes to this person. In my mind, he is pure, and good. I am able to justify any and all hurt with reasoning, because of his circumstances, because he is inherently good. Anything that I felt about myself, became overshadowed by the hefty weight of his goodness. There was no space for hurt, because he is good. There was no space for anger, because he is good. And so I spent the last year building the idea that I am inexcusably not allowed to feel anything but sadness at my own failings, because he is good. There has been a binary in my brain that has dominated and dictated my own grief, because I have held him to a standard higher than any human can actually reach. In my mind, he has always been perfectly imperfect, and if I had an issue, it was mine, not his.  

 

But where do you go to mourn a relationship and be angry and joyful and grateful and confused, if you see the other person as incapable of anything but perfection? You go somewhere deeply lonely. You abandon yourself. Months of disjointed attempted to grieve shifted my external brightness into shades of grey, while my psyche created unsolvable knots. The moment I noticed any unpleasantness, it was violently shoved away. I felt that I couldn't simultaneously be angry at him, and hold deep respect for him. So there was nowhere to go with it but inwards. I developed a new paradoxical way of coping: the growth of blossoming, hopeful self-compassion, and a refusal to engage with my grief without repeating the same unchanging points obsessively, he is good, this is not his fault, he would never intend to hurt you 

 

In noticing the surge of fierce and abundant surfacing anger, I became overrun with terror of my own capability to go down this path. I couldn't engage at all in the complex ways in which a person can feel both things at once: hurt, and care; acceptance, and sorrow. I didn't allow myself any space for nuance because the occasional sighting of anger in my body felt so unnatural, and so shameful, that I immediately retreated from it. On one of my last days overseas, my body already deeply fearing the return to Melbourne, I attended a women's circle in Edinburgh. A courageous group of women sat and discussed their healthy relationships with forgiveness and anger, meanwhile I felt trapped in a slowly bubbling furor that I just couldn't address. The combination of my body knowing I was so close to having to return to the reality of Melbourne, and the realisation that I have been hiding from anger for most of my life, sent me spiralling. As someone who has been going to therapy for nearly ten years, finding another channel of work to be done, an untouched area of struggle, was momentarily debilitating. When does the work end? When do you just get to be self actualised and happy?! The underlying theme of the women's circle was embodiment. How does it feel to embody anger? I didn't know. I had no clue. I only ever let anger touch the edges of my skin, before throwing it into the air away from me. I do not let it penetrate me. I am terrified of being an angry person, of unleashing all the anger that has been trying to get my attention for years, of not being a soft and malleable person, flexible to the people around me. As a result of this, once every so often, as happened during those days in Europe, I have a micro explosion of heat and rage in my body that feels cyclonic, other worldly. I cannot stop it, I cannot stay calm, how dare they, how dare I? I hate every second of these moments, ashamed of what is within me; certain that I am flooding my body with such volumes of cataclysmic cortisol my whole body will crumble and break out for days in punishment for my outburst.  


I am deeply and painfully aware that my rejection of anger is almost certainly a flow on of my internalisation of binary patriarchal ideas of femininity and masculinity. One is gentle and passive, the other edged in hardness, assertive. I have always wanted to exist collaboratively with femininity. Even within my family unit, my fierce and remarkable sisters and mum embody all the anger I cannot. They unapologetically assert their feelings and ask for what they need. Extraordinary. I am the peace maker, the go-between, the people pleaser.  

 

In my relationship with femininity, I am largely comfortable with submission, and extremely uncomfortable taking up space with my 'needs'. If it was up to me, I would be a façade-less creature who ebbs and flows into the spaces around me that lends me most to being loved. I can love like my life depends on it, because to me, my life does depends on giving and receiving love. What I, and so many of the women around me struggle with though, is showing up with our needs intact and asking for space to be carved out for reciprocity and vulnerability. I find it nearly impossible to communicate anything that is not the easiest option for everyone. My thoughts feel overcrowded by a fear of confrontation, and so the thought of being angry at someone terrifies me. On the other hand, I ooze with systemic anger. I can and will be furious on behalf of someone, I will advocate for someone else's needs to be met, I can write a very fucking strongly worded email for a client, but I cannot do the same for myself. No way. What would it take to allow myself to do this? I wonder how it would feel to let my blood course with hot anger until it softens, satisfied it has been given ample attention in my body. I worry that if I let myself become truly angry, I would be debilitated by this, it would never go away. I am so concerned with being a 'good' person, that I find it very hard to imagine that the anger I might have for someone is justifiable, there's always a way to explain away someone's behaviour with empathy. Always. I can nearly always see two sides to every story, to both my detriment and theirs. But I back myself into a corner in doing this, because there is a part of me that gets angry when my needs aren't met, and if I don't ask for my needs to be met, I cannot expect them to be met.  

 

So in the weeks since returning to Melbourne, I haven't been able to hide anymore from the reality that I am still grieving because I have so much anger I have kept buried. I thought by now, I'd be on the other side of the bulk of the pain, but new pains continues to bubble to the surface, I can't keep on top of them all. I have to let them in. My issue with anger is an issue with myself.  

 

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December 2023 

 

 

In these last months, I have found new ways and reasons to feel anger. Once highlighted months ago, it has begun to routinely demand attention. I am incredibly uncomfortable with this. Streaks of narratives of varying dimension and time flood my eyesight, my bottled rage now un-ignorable, unavoidable. I feel angry right now, for not one particular reason. I am frustrated with the things I cannot change, raging with a sense of the unfairness of humanity, fuming at the state of the world and my own small world. I can direct burning anger at a collective, or vaguely at people I don't have to interact with, but I am still struggling to allow myself to see a world in which I hold the people around me to standards that don't hurt me.  

 

I have spent the last few months ebbing and flowing with anger and peace, finding more peace in my breakup than I thought would appear for years, but stumbling upon new sources of discomfort. I have been curious about my anger, and why it stagnates, fails to emerge beyond pulsing brain waves, and doesn't translate to communication or boundaries. I am so conscious of rejection, that I have created and subsequently believe a narrative which tells me the only way people will stay with me is if I quake with blurred softness and passiveness. I knew this already, but in trying to create a version of me that feels her anger fiercely and compassionately, I realised that there was not a version of me that I thought could feel anger without consequences. It is not that I don't think I deserve to feel anger, it's that I don't think other people think I deserve to feel anger. I am, as with so many people I know, nearly crippled with terror of being perceived as burdensome. I can't think of anything worse, and as a result, associate this with complete and total rejection.  


Recently, there was an incident in my life that resulted in more sustained anger than I have possibly ever felt. If I were to explain it to you, it likely wouldn't seem justifiable that I had the response I had, but years of compounding similar circumstances had left me with an eggshell coating. I became completely consumed by blood curdling, cortisol drenched emotion. Nothing helped. I walked, I wrote, I talked, I breathed. For nearly four days straight, I couldn't focus for the anger demanding my attention. It felt fucking horrific. And yet, wondrously powerful. In those days, I decreed to myself that I deserved more, better. I believe it wholeheartedly, and broke down the enduring ideas that had got me to this place. Of course, as the days went on, ickiness crept in to my body and selfishness arose from the ashes. Or perhaps that's too strong a word. It felt righteous, undeservedly so. A reoccurring chorus of 'it's not fair' rang in my ears until my tongue was coated with the sound of the words. I visualised patterns created as an infant continuing to hurt me as an adult, and frustration that I did not have the skills to yank myself out of my enabling. The more angry I became, the more I realised I was angry at myself more than anything. Angry at the insecurities this incident had brought out in me, angry that I couldn't sit safely in my emotions without berating a lack of 'chill' that I will never know, angry that I needed to feel appreciated, angry that I could not accept someone else's mistake, angry that it raised an ache of discontent I have been hiding from for months. And then, as intensely as it came on, it vanished. And the guilt swept in, a hangover. I felt sick at the way I had been acting, horrified that I had wasted precious days demanding more for myself, deeply apologetic that I had let chaos rule me. I don't know which phase felt worse, honestly.   

 

The cognitive dissonance between angry Sarah and guilty Sarah, felt unfathomably large. Guilty Sarah felt entirely symbolic of the constant need to slot back into a safe, people pleasing place. Angry Sarah felt primal, an awakening rooted in power and poison. I am not entirely comfortable yet with either, but I am conscious that I'm going to continue to erupt in uncontrollable ways by constantly silencing myself in fear of humiliation and rejection. I want to gift myself a space to feel all my emotions, including the ones that make me nervous. I know I desperately need this, but know that first I have to believe I can do this without my world crumbling. Am I like this because I am truly sensitive to the bone? Or because I am particularly attuned to the universal drive for connection? Or, boringly, is this another element of anxiously attaching to this world and myself? I know that I can feel anger. The last few months I have enforced this learning and fought to build a relationship with it, but I've got a ways to go before I accept that it is healthy and actually quite wondrous to (safely) embody anger.  

 

I know that the anger I was hiding from in September, and the months before was actually crucial to absorb so I could genuinely integrate messages of self-compassion, grief, and newness. From speaking to other people, I can see the necessity of anger to move through intense emotions, and the catharsis it can offer. I want this for me, and I'm committed to offering more space for anger. I still second guess myself, and feel immediately apologetic and uncertain when it shows up, but I'm trying. I'm really trying. As per usual, the more I detach from unhelpful messages I/we have been internalising for the last twenty years, the greater chance I have to genuinely work through the things that hurt me. I know this will be a path that requires years of unwinding. There is so much tied up in the space I occupy in this world. I see the women around me struggling with the same things. Both sure that their emotions are valid, necessary, powerful, and terrified that they are being 'too much' when they do embody their intensity. I want more for us, and I want us to be in relationship with people that encourage the awakening of needs and unpleasant emotions. I imagine that with the welcoming of anger, it will become less frightening to me. I fundamentally believe that there is a necessary place for all emotions, none are better than others. Genuinely opening myself to the sensation of fury however, has been unbelievably challenging. And so, it seems that we just have to continue trying to see ourselves with more care and tenderness, more respect and curiosity for all that we show up as in each moment. I cannot promise that I won't spent years continuing to fight this battle within me, sometimes suppressing emotions that terrify me, but I am going to keep trying to offer myself space to be unpleasant, unkempt, undesirable, imperfect. The women I admire the most are wondrously connected to their light and their shadows, their egos, their desires, their fury, their hearts. And so I will keep aspiring and fighting for that level of connection and safety within me, always learning, always trying, always awakening.  


How comfortable are you with anger in your body? Do you welcome it, or do you hide from it? Maybe you're indifferent. What does it feel like to let anger run through your body?


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