It is generally considered that for our mental health it is advisable be in contact with our feelings. There has been an awful lot of talk about our need to grieve our losses in order to mature emotionally and let go of the past. Many suggest that anger is a major part of grieving losses as well as a natural human response to boundary violations. All well and good. However, for me, in my healing process I hit a big block to emotional authenticity. That block was my fear of my own anger and the cultural shame that led me to believe that anger should be controlled, suppressed or avoided. I am not a self appointed expert in psychology but I have an awful lot of life experience that has revealed to me what follows and my observations may or may not hold true for others. I have discovered that a lot of my self defeating behaviour patterns were fed by refusal to face this much misunderstood as malign emotion.
I have had the misfortune to need an awful lot of counseling and therapy in my life and had to work very hard to reclaim my emotional integrity. To the best of my ability I have taken accountability for my own shadow and the ways I try to control my feelings through various addictions. This as all I discuss here is an ongoing life process. I came from a very abusive family where both female and male adults were incredibly physically and sexually sadistic. I thus have had a lot of experience with the shadow of anger; the addictions that people use to attempt to bury anger and the outbursts of rage that such controls invariably need as a release. The unfortunate part of such a shame/release cycle is that it compounds the belief system that says that anger must be controlled at all costs.
What follows may seem challenging to many commonly held beliefs, I hope you can feel your anger as you read without running from the message I am trying to convey. If you think I'm full of shit that's fine, but please do me the service of reading to the end before reaching any conclusions about what I say. Try to stay with me a while despite any desire to invalidate or ignore these words based upon your own emotional reaction. If what I say here does not ring true for you fine. I live in a multicultural society that honours the individuals right to believe what ever they wish, it is certainly not my intention to alienate or attack anybody else for holding their own views.
Let us look at some of the myths about anger and also make it clear what I am not saying. The myth I received from my family was that anger is violence, that the only way to express this emotion was harmful towards others. I do not consider violence towards others a functional expression of anger except in such circumstances that are necessitated by a need to survive. Fortunately there are few circumstances in life where we actually need to engage in physical conflict to defend our lives or those we care for. For me violence is the final defence against another person who is exhibiting violent behaviour, violence breeds violence and for me real men know when to walk away. Yet the seeds of one of the problems I had owning anger is present in my last statement. Sane human beings may run from violence where possible but because I equated anger with violence it meant I ran from one of my greatest assets, my ability to feel my anger and express my human need for dignity and respect for who I am. Such self denial is for me pathological. Repression leads to depression and physical illness. Much violence may have underlying suppressed anger at its core but anger does not inevitably lead to violence. Far from it, expressed clearly it helps us define our boundaries and inform others of how we expect to be treated. Buried it creates and enables much suffering.
When people violate us in any way anger is an appropriate emotional response, anger does not need to be justified or require elaborate explanation, its purpose is a clear 'No'. Without feeling my anger I become locked into victim mode.
Children who are abused often feel powerless because the reality is that the meeting of their needs is under the control of adults. No matter how poor the parents information on parenting, the child seeks approval in order to live. To seek approval bruised hearts seek to withdraw inside themselves for protection. Without love infants will die, it is amazing how little love a resilient child can survive on. Far better for more love than less. I unfortunately had parents with particularly misguided understanding of parental roles. 'Little boys should be seen and not heard', as my primary caretaker, my grandmother would say. That was a tough message to adhere to when being tortured by her. Still big boys don't cry..... much!
In my childhood I buried my anger at being violated in order not to loose the approval of those who met my primacy needs. That anger was stored away until I was old enough to claim my personal power as an adult, power that comes with responsibility. A lot of the mistakes I have made in my life have had buried resentment at their core. I have projected or placed myself in abusive positions again and again in attempts to reclaim my basic human right to say 'No'. I have stayed in relationships where my anger was telling me to get the hell out and because I ignored my feelings acted in on myself using alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, work, sex, fundamentalism ( from various religiosae ideologies to the secular belief in the 'new man') and sports addiction. I have also had the privilege to learn how to take responsibility for the greater part of these behaviours and address these misguided attempts to control and suppers my anger. The truth is my early attempts at control set me up for the same release cycles as I saw in my family as a kid. As an adult I have had to let go of being a nurtured- victim and own my accountability for my own violent reactions. For myself as a male survivor of incest I was generally more prone to act in than out, it has been many years since I did such, but I used to cut myself daily, even hourly, in an attempt to release the energy of my anger. Such expressions of anger were incredibly resilient methods for a child to create in order to survive their environment. As an adult I have had to find ways that are self nurturing to express my emotions. This started with my getting sober off alcohol using 12 step groups , and entering counseling. I followed suggestions until I was ready to discover my own truth, a truth I have learned through my own experience.
The myths I had learned as a child about anger being 'bad' are endemic within our society and thus are present in almost all of our ideologies concerning emotional healing and balance. One resilience of my early experiences is that I learned to question the value of what other people tell me, to seek my own truth and integrity. For me the implicit cultural message about anger is one of violation, 'there is something wrong with you for feeling anger' is just another way of saying 'I don't care what you feel about what is going on, shut the fuck up.' For me, I subscribe to the idea that we are taught the fears and shortcomings that lead to violence, that the belief system that leads to violence is that our instinctive release of emotions is wrong, that we must pull ourselves together and 'grow up'.
For me, I needed to grow down and return to my senses. That requires that I am physically and emotionally grounded in my life. For me this takes a lot of effort but the rewards are spontaneity, creativity and intimacy. As already stated I numbed early but it was not just my sadness that I needed to own in order to grow. I cried for years in therapy in an attempt to heal and that was only part of the story. Many view anger as a 'secondary emotion' that hurt always lies beneath it. For me this description shames anger further. It relegates it from the position of a primary and therefor equally valid emotion as any other. In my experience my anger and sadness are interdependent of each other, as is my ability to experience awe, love or any other human feeling. If I negate or deride any of my feelings I loose my ability to fully experience all of my energies. Anger is a primary human emotion and there is nothing wrong with it.
Let's look at some of the cultural messages more closely. Misinterpretations of spirituality teach that it is the emotion itself, rather than the way we may fall short of our ideals in how we express anger, that is sinful. This message is present in many 'new age' philosophies, eastern and western dogmas alike. Control and rigidity are considered paths to serenity by many, my experience challenges this assumption. I believe we fall short of the mark through mistranslating the message of spiritual hope when we label anger a sin, violence falls short, anger is just a feeling. For me spiritual freedom embraces our humanity, it doesn't reject our feelings, to forgive ourselves and find peace we need to earth our lives not deny our selves. Without a shadow who is there to stand in the light? It is our acceptance of our humanity that can lead to peace. Look at any child who is allowed to express themselves freely, they will go incredibly red, shake, scream, run around, take a stick to a tree, throw teddy across the room or wave their arms around to release the physical energy of anger, none of which really harms anyone. Violence is usually wrong; children need to receive that message through example as well as teaching but safe expressions of anger needs to be affirmed. As a child I needed to learn that violence is not the same thing as anger. It is the way we act on feelings, not the emotions themselves that are the problem. Anger is just an energy, no more, no less. I don't believe that a loving creator would make damaged goods. In itself anger is a perfectly good human emotion and thus must be a gift like any other, be it love, sorrow or guilt over genuine wrongs.
It is not just religious ideologies that can toxically shame us. Feminist ideology has perpetrated emotional abuse by supporting myths that engender negative beliefs of inequality between the genders regarding various emotions. If I sound like a misogynist to you, just remember I learned it from my grandmother not the men in my family. When you've been fucked by a woman with a stick by the age of 7 it tends to make one a little wary of the idea of women on top. The ardent feminazi view espoused is that anger is a 'masculine' energy and thus not nurturing like 'female' feelings of sadness and compassion. Interestingly such views support the old lie of the nursery rhymes, 'Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that's what little boys are made of'. As anyone who has loved a woman or had an honest look at female identity and behaviour must surely admit, women are certainly not made up of 'sugar and spice and all things nice', no more than men are. The other myth perpetrated by such dogma is that men are less emotionally mature or expressive than women. See a father clutching his new born son in his arms or go to any sports stadium and feel the energy present, hear the indignation of many men about abuse to women, children and themselves, men unfeeling? Maybe men and women express their feelings in slightly different ways but that is just cultural mores, and those are changing quite naturally without any need to rush or control the process.
It is my belief that the continued shaming of men by perpetrating the myth of the 'bad man' may in fact create conditions where young men may be more prone to violent outbursts. The more we teach boys to disown their anger the more likely they are to abandon respect for themselves and others. The cultural shame that has been created regarding male identity in our time is causing massive problems of increase in young male suicide. If you look at truly representative statistics regarding abuse of children and violence against partners women are clearly as prone to violence as men. There is very little difference between male and female capacity for violence. The myth that men are by nature out of control violent testosterone driven animals is quite frankly bollocks. The emotionally neutered male looses his ability to respond to his own feelings and those of others. Submitting to feminist ideologies may create self fulfilling prophecies for young men. Oppression invariably leads to revolt. Much so called men's movement therapies just pander to or mirror the feminist myth that there is something essentially wrong with men. We don't need to work too hard at changing. The fact is we are already the real men we were always meant to be. Time to affirm that we are Ok and that our anger is as valid as that of those women expressing a desire for genuine equality. Men have a voice, it is high time to use it to protect ourselves and our loved ones from domination by extremists. Political correctness is an authoritarian attempt at control that makes swearing all too big and clever.
I personally used to be a 'new man' because that ideology was dominant in the media and education system as I grew up. I believed that if I was true to my gender identity that women wouldn't love me and I believed because I was abused I would have to work hard at denying my 'masculinity' in order not to become a perpetrator. I have never committed any sex crime, including so called date rape, kind of dispels the later delusion.
In my early consensual sexual relationships with women I tried to control and hide my 'masculine' emotions. Anger was something that I surely couldn't show to my partners. Prince Charming's flowers soon wilted as experience taught me to take women off the pedestal. I discovered I needed to keep my armour on in order to survive the dragons that lurk at the base of many an ivory tower and that wicked witches can steal away the magic from behind the veil of the sweetest of smiles. Chivalry is fine, falling on ones own sword to protect the myth of female vulnerability is quite another thing. The age of chivalry is not dead, we just need to tend to our wounds a bit from recent campaigns before we can accept the token of a genuine lady.
I played the game of the slow suicide/wounded romantic right up till I began to see how I confused anger with passion and picked partners that were so resentful towards men that they were toxic for me to relate to. We quite literally tried to fuck each other to death, after all, the sexual and physical assaults by my grandmother on myself as a child had left more than a fare share of repressed hostility towards women. Sure, I was responsible for staying in those relationships. It wasn't till I started to wake up to owning my anger that I could walk away from such situations earlier and prevent playing out the old conflicts forever in an attempt to 'work things out'. The battle of the sexes may be as simple as our owning our mutual anger and then learning to love each other for being who we are, warts and all. It is impossible to be intimate with people who are emotionally inauthentic. In my teens in the 1980's I learned to lie about who I was to try to fit an image of what women seemed to want. Funny how the women I met sure did seem to like kicking the shit out of the passive 'new man' I attempted to be.
I believe we are all only ever 50% responsible for any relationship but I now have learned to not stick around in mutually abusive relationships. Much couple counceling supports the idea that it is men who are 100% responsible for making the changes to create intimacy in relationships, this is a form of abuse. If I am in a relationship with someone who I feel is emotionally unavailable that is my fault and it is I that needs to change instead of trying to change who my partner is. The change required may include leaving a partner even if I do feel some love for them. When the main ties that bind are unspoken resentment what chance has love to mature? I believe mediation counseling for people wishing to work on their relationships should be facilitated by two counselors, one male, one female, advocating for the needs of both parties, how else can you get a balanced discussions. You think any sane man isn't going to be resentful having two women (or worse some strange guy supporting his wife) pointing out his short comings in relationships? No wonder many guys are resistent to going for counseling, how is the prospect of being torn down by two angry women likely to appear to him? Especially when his anger is liable to be labeled as a 'dysfunction' in communication. I see this triangulation of communication as a mine field of emotional abuse.
Supporting divisions, in ourselves and our society, be they between good and bad feelings, or male and female can deny our essential equality as human beings. Yang is present in yin and vice versa. Marxist dialectic (the core philosophy of much so called feminism) creates conflict between people through dividing us, it promotes views of inequality between people. How we can trust each other to lower our swords I do not know. Until a truce can be reached as a man I must stay in the conflict and hold my ground in the hope of reaching some form of resolution. The fact is as a society we are all interdependent on each other and at core, regardless of our circumstances or gender we are equal in human potential. I believe gender politics needs to reach a conclusion of mutual respect.
We all have something to offer society and we all have basic human rights and responsibility. By attacking male identity and perpetrating old myths regarding human inequalities, ardent feminism has created further inequalities in social policy and the way we view ourselves as human beings. Women are not a separate social class. Women and men deserve the same respect and human rights. We are all human and although we would all like to deny our capacity for violence and the passive aggression we conceal through our attempts to control others, we all have an equal opportunity to perpetrate atrocities regardless of our gender. Reinforcing divisions by labeling or segregating our emotions as bad, masculine, dark etc. creates divisions within society as well as in ourselves, such denial of human rights and equality can create revolutionary tensions. Nature abhors a vacuum, the more we try to negate ourselves of anger through intellectual means the more the pressure builds and we may see it in others easier than in ourselves.
The polarization of emotions into good and bad is the same, be it fundamentalist religious ideology or secular, it leads to the myth that control and suppression is the key to peace and moral integrity. If we can just control 'violently predisposed individuals' through chemical or physical incarceration surely we can all live in a safe society. So the myth goes. Surely we can predict using cascade personality tests the path of a child into maturity. Totally ignoring the fact that there is any spirit that leads to the creation of our adult identity. We pre-dictate prison cell futures by childishly trying to join up the dots, charlatans using geomancy to confine personality to simple products of nature and nurture. We deny the human spirit with such presumptions, our own limitations to truly understand the mystery of human nature and the learning process of our life journeys.
There is nothing more violent than the means we try to control others in our society and is it not really ourselves that we fear the most. Such abuses as ECT to 'cure' depression and other 'illnesses', clearly show just how our denial of our own anger leads to the abuse of others. Depression clearly indicates a dissatisfaction with our society, suicide is as Camu's novel 'The Rebel' clearly shows a very angry action. Yet we seek to ignore dissatisfaction, denying others anger. If some one has a 'problem' with contemporary lifestyles, well it's obviously something wrong with them, something we can illiminate through social controls. Just how great this desire to ignore facing the challenges of living in community with others by addressing social ills is reflected in the share prices of corporations who fund much of the 'empirical' research into 'curing' depression.
Depression is no more than a covert, all be it self defeating expression of chronic anger and sadness at the state of our lives. By ignoring the symptoms we fail to embrace an opportunity for change. We consider pushing such things out of sight and out of mind far more commendable than finding the courage to face personal and societal problems. Isn't this false logic, people are unhappy so we move to the quick fix of psychopharmacology. We place our faith in commercialised 'empiricism' to remove our suffering. Can life really be reduced to a set of chemical reactions and if so can we trust those with a vested financial interest to offer us the Soma to still the restless heart. Wouldn't we better off trusting that if things don't change they just stay the same, drink of the elixir of life and face the message of our 'symptoms', self care rather than cure. Of course someone has worked out a way to extort money out of our fears about so called 'negative' feelings, best not to haggle for the black egg. Leave the chemical marriage to those obsessive reductionolist's questing for the philosophers stone. For mere mortals like my self turning lead to gold is a slow process of self acceptance and the value of my life.
As to our neighbour so too ourselves, we want to control what we fear, we label it as dark, or dysfunctional and try to cover up or justify ourselves when our true feelings leak out. Passive aggression for me is one of the most toxic forces present in today's society, it leads to depression, social exclusion of others and as with all other misplaced attempts at emotional control, toxifies our lives and relationships with others. What we try to brush under the carpet in our own homes we invariably want to clean up when we see it in others. Physician heal thyself, first remove the beam in our own eye before seeking to alleviate the suffering of a splinter in the eye of another. The verbal shaming of other people expressing their anger appropriately is one of the ways I used to hide my own shame and fear about anger. Once I started to learn to own and express my anger I got to experience just how much fear people have of appropriately expressed anger. Valid fear is a great emotional response and tells us we have violated someone's boundaries, are treading on dangerous territory or may reveal a need to protect ourselves by leaving a situation, nothing wrong with that.
Yet that is not the fear people show if you express anger safely, no the fear on their faces is of violence. The association runs so deeply precisely because we have buried anger so deep that in is 'unacceptable' to express in 'polite', 'civilised' society. We have no trust in ourselves or others, a very sorry state of affairs. Sure, people need to be held accountable for their actions but isn't all the control of feelings just pouring petrol on the fires. You know, a society where more and more people are in prisons, forced to take medication or in some countries executed for their mistakes. All victims of a culture that disempowers people's voices to have their needs respected, dividing communities through an inability to feel safe and understand the message of expressed anger. Dividing ourselves to keeping up appearances in the facade of assuming the moral high ground. As above so below. We are convinced that such people are deviants and yet in our guts we know that given the right set of circumstances, be it poverty or other social ills we are all capable of committing crime.
So enough about what we have been taught anger is. Let me re-affirm the positive message here. Anger is a natural human emotional response and it can be expressed appropriately and without harm to ourselves and others. How? Well lets look at children again and keep it simple. Screaming and physical activity to discharge the energy help. Once we are done we may yet see where we can channel our anger creatively towards others to assert our rights. Nothing wrong with beating a punch bag, screaming in our cars (probably would reduce road rage if nothing else!) or throwing cushions around the room. . For those of us traumatized in childhood we need to re-learn how to express our feelings. To the degree we have experienced suffering in our lives, be it as children or adults, if we were unable to release the energy at the time our anger will have frozen as resentment stored deep in our bodies. Manifesting as physical pain, illness or lack of energy. I have spent years teaching myself that it is OK to feel angry and learning physically safe methods of releasing the energy. I still love to make plastecine models of people who I feel pissed off with and give them a good squishing. Certainly not as destructive as squishing my feelings with drugs or someone else's face. At first I was terrified when I began this release of emotions. As I cleaned out the valves in my emotional engine a whole lot of stored up pressure was released. As I released it further and moved through my fears eventually the volcano settled to lay the bed rock for rebuilding a more stable life on the ashes of the past. I have learned to channel anger it into my creative work as a writer, in sculpture and painting. As a social animal I have been able to channel anger into an expression of love, if I see someone in hardship I can write a letter to a politician or channel the energy to start up support groups or get out into the community and start giving time to hear others woes.
Anger and love are not of necessity mutually excluding emotions. For intimacy in any relationship we need to own our true feelings. Confronting my family about the abuse was an act of love, a refusal to stay a part of the game of hide the thimble (or rather the secret). The family-are repressed game that leads to the continued reenactment of abuse from generation to generation has to start right here, right now, with ourselves. By calling my family on their stuff I was able to break the cycle and as a consequence perhaps they too have found support to share a little of the pain of what they too endured. I feel I have honoured my ancestors greatly by expressing my anger and breaking the chain of denial that suppressed our hearts for so many years. I'm no expert, I'm just some guy who had to really take a good look at himself through circumstances I would wish on no one. Your truth may be different but I hope that I may have dispelled a few old word games about our feelings. No doubt people who believe themselves intellectually superior would challenge my views but my observations are based on experience, no matter how it is critically labeled, that cannot be taken from me. The experience of a man relatively free of addictions and dependency on others to tell him he is ok. If others don't like me or my truth that is their problem but I know I haven't cut myself or hurt anyone for years and in that I place my trust in expressing anger safely. I am so grateful that I have reached a point where most days resentment no longer dominates me, by surrendering to my own anger I have been released from the bondage of many of the consequences of emotional abuse and suppression. Rather than keep getting shot down in the no mans land of denial I am slowly winning my own trust and respect.
In a world where anger was affirmed as a feeling I wonder if I would have had to endure so much pain of my own making or if my family would have created such damaging means for expressing their own anger and hurts. My final word here on the subject of anger is that I feel angry that anger is so mistreated and suppressed. That is the feeling of anger that promoted me to write this short essay. That anger is OK It's nice to be heard even if sometimes I get tired of all the screaming. Thank you for having listened and take good care of yourselves on your life paths. At times now I feel fully at peace even in the midst of experiencing my anger. At the centre of the whirlwind a stillness lies. The fire doesn't need to be put out, it is there to maintain my warmth. The missing peace from the child's jigsaw has been reclaimed and you know what, I love the picture that is being revealed through my honest attempts to find wholeness. Anger can protect and enhance our lives and those of whom we love. I am (on a good day!) grateful for my anger today.
Oh and just to put things in perspective regarding the consequences of abuse, I've been working at 'letting go' of resentment over my childhood for about 11 years now. Sure a lot of the intellectual models of forgiveness I got fed from therapists kept me stuck for a while but the fact is I still am not done expressing my anger on those issues and the society that enables them. In particular I need to voice the anger I feel towards the mixed survivors groups I attended for support, only to be silenced and out grouped for being a male survivor of female sexual abuse. The facilitators didn't like my message because I didn't conform to their political agendas.
Apparently sexual abuse by women is considered so rare, (as was all sexual abuse till recent years, thanks for that work ladies that was great stuff), that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Well I don't like being used as a human sacrifice to the shadow of feminism. They alleged false memory syndrome; not about the male abuse, oh no, that was PC, only once I got safe enough to start on the even more shamefully taboo stuff of what my grandmother and aunt did was I ostracised. Fucking mad bitches.
Please don't forget, spurious PC linguistic deconstruction theory makes that last sentence far bigger and clever than it would have sounded twenty years ago. I can't imagine why I feel so angry. And yes the exact etymology of the word 'sarcasm' did influence that last comment.
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For academic types, worshipers of printed word and psychobableophiles, some further reading/ influences on this work:
'Facing The Fire' John Lee (leant it to a fun-de-mentalist so no ISBN)
'I Got Tired Of Pretending' Bob Earll ISBN 0922641692
'For Your Own Good' Alice Miller (borrowed it to read so no ISBN)
'The Sex Change Society' Melanie Phillips ISBN 187409764X
'Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims Of Sexual Abuse' Mic Hunter ISBN 0449906299
'The Sleeping Dragon' Taped talk by Robert Subby. NACOA
'Shame Faced' Stephanie E. (a Hazeldene pamphlet)
'Not Guilty: In Defence Of The Modern Man' David Thomas. ISBN 0297812165
(Currently out of print but they are talking of reprinting.A fucking tremendous book that needs to be back in circulation if possibly needing updates on the statistics. The first book I read on mens issues and for me still the best. Besides he's British unlike that pretentious old fart Bly.)
'Bittersweet' and 'Ways we denied/reasons to deny anger' Survivors of Incest Anonymous leaflets available from www.SIAWSO.org
'Maps To Ecstasy' Gabrielle Roth. ISBN 0 7225 3873
'Care Of The Soul' Thomas Moore ISBN 0749911689
'The Everlasting Gospel' William Blake from 'The Complete Poems' ISBN 0140422153
'The Gospel Of Thomas' verses 3-5/25-28/37-40/55-59/66-70/98/101/103 from 'The Nag Hammadi Libray in English' ISBN 9004088563
'The Soul's Code' James Hillman. ISBN 055350634X
'Men In feMenism' Jacques Derrida. (borrowed it. May be out of print in UK.)
'Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors' Fish from the album of the same name EMI Records.
'Credo' Fish from the album 'Internal Exile' Plolydor Ltd UK.
'What Colour Is God?' and 'Brother 52' Fish from the album 'Sunsets on Empire' Dick Bros Record Co Ltd.
'Fugazi' Marrilion from the album of the same name. 'Childhoods End?' Marillion from the album 'Misplaced Childhood'. EMI Records.
The Oprah Winfrey Show (NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
The Roseane chat show, just because I want to be interviewed by her so I can ask if she spits or swallows after giving head since the stomach operation.
'Amnesty: Human Rights Worldwide' the Journal of Amnesty International. Of particular interest 'Land of the free?' State promoted abuse of child prisoners and of psychiatric patients in the USA.
The film 'Fight Club' because the first rule of fight club is that there is no fight club. Yeah, right.
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Back To Share Your Experiences Or To Pierrot's Poems
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This page was posted with kind permission of the author
on 18th March, 2000