My husband Angus said to me recently that I have not been myself. He said I have had more an edge, been more critical, more impatient, more controlling, and more condescending than usual. What surprised me is that I had not noticed it. I didn’t think I was perfect, but I also didn’t think I was any different than usual.
We all have our blind spots. Someone might talk over people and not notice it, another person might not listen and still think they are a good listener, for me I often don’t see my anger. I notice it in my husband very clearly, but because my anger doesn’t usually take the form of an outburst, it is often invisible to me.
This can result in conflict when Angus reacts to my criticism and judgment. If I don’t realize I am behaving that way, and he reacts, it feels like I am being hit by his anger out of the blue. I genuinely feel like I haven’t done anything untoward and his reaction seems very unfair. So instead of acknowledging his experience and apologizing for my behavior, I try to explain how what I did made sense to me. This tends to be like adding gasoline to a fire, and then we are off to the races, or in the “dance of death” as one of the couples we work with calls it.
The simple truth is, I can act like a controlling, critical, condescending bitch at times, and treat Angus like a moron or a half-wit, and, even worse, sometimes not even realize I am doing this. It is so hard for me to own and acknowledge these behaviors because I have so much shame around them. I have to be a closet bitch because I want to see my self as a nice woman who is kind, loving, and SPIRITUAL. My poor husband bears the brunt of this because I come out of the closet at home.
After one of these events this past weekend, when I went into control mode over not having my papers touched on my desk and Angus melting down. I took pause to reflect and see what new might occur to me. In my fresh thinking, I recognized it is my inability to accept and be okay with my feelings of anger that gets me twisted up inside. I am much better at being okay with feelings of sadness, insecurity, and hurt, but anger less so. This is my new frontier and that for many women.
My struggle to be okay with my own anger is not unusual. There is a double standard in Western culture, maybe all culture, regarding women and anger. Women have been punished severely over the years for their anger. They have been hung as witches and diagnosed with hysteria. An angry woman is perceived as unattractive and ugly. Laurie Penny, author of Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults, says that female anger is taboo. Women are taught not to express anger or even acknowledge it themselves. Penny states, “They [women] have learned that showing their anger is an invitation to mockery, shame, or shunning, so they displace their anger, try to smother it into silence, because they’ve learned that nice girls don’t get cross. Nice girls don’t speak out or stand up for themselves. It’s unladylike. It’s unbecoming.”
It is understandable then that even though I did not wittingly choose to judge myself for having feelings of anger that I did. It also makes sense that I was afraid of the depth of my capacity to feel rage. In my desire to be good, my wisdom found a safer way to let of steam. Have my anger be invisible to me or at least sanitized, and let it come out as little jabs and tiny slices so I can ignore that it is even happening. Facing it head on would have meant having to look shame directly in the eye.
With fresh eyes, I see I haven’t really been hiding anything from those who are close to me. Instead, I have been caught in a misunderstanding that constrains and limits me. A misunderstanding that my anger is ugly and unacceptable. I have tried to bottle it up and compartmentalize the intense raw emotion of anger and repackage it in a logical form, but it still hurts.
I want to be clear, I am not advocating for me or for others to discharge anger in harmful ways. What I see now is that with the understanding that emotions are like weather that pass through me as the thoughts that cause them move through my consciousness, I have more bandwidth to weather the storm without needing to act or react to my feelings. Also, understanding that as human beings we have infinite potential for new thought and that we are designed to stabilize in a good feeling. This gives me more internal freedom and certainty in my wellbeing, so I don’t have to try to cut myself off from any of the feelings I don’t like.
There is no shame in having anger. My shame and desire to be blind to what I perceived as the dark, ugly parts of myself was unnecessary. The darkness is not real. It only exists in my judgment. As Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Seeing beyond my shame around my anger feels lighter and more freeing. Paradoxically, I can see that this has me less inclined to behave in ways that are unkind and hurtful and opens me to learning from the gift of my emotional experience.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.