My History with Anger and How I Let Go of It, Part 1: Growing Up in a Household of Anger
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This is part 1 of my 5-part series sharing my history with anger and how to let go of anger for life.
- Part 1: My History with Anger and How I Let Go of It, Part 1: Growing Up in a Household of Anger
- Part 2: My History with Anger and How I Let Go of It, Part 2: The Damaging Effects of Anger
- Part 3: My History with Anger and How I Let Go of It, Part 3: Healing From My Anger
- Part 4: How to Deal with Anger: Your Gentle Guide to Removing Anger for Life
- Part 5: What to Do When You Live with Angry People: 7 Tips
Anger. What a volatile and destructive emotion.
Yet, many of us seem to carry anger with us like it’s a part of our identity. Many of us seem to wear anger like it’s a self-enhancing booster, an accolade of superiority, and a natural part of being human (it isn’t).
I used to too, until two days ago (Oct 15, 2012), when I consciously decided that I will no longer live with anger in me from now on. Where I’m conscious of it, I will no longer let anger rule my life, impact my decisions, or be a part of my emotional vocabulary. Where I’m can help it, I’ll not allow anger to sit inside my heart. I will only allow emotional goodness, and only emotional goodness, to fill me moving forward. Where anger stirs up in me, I shall actively process this emotion on the spot, release it to the universe, and hope that it gets recycled into positive energy in time.
Most importantly, I shall let go of all the anger that had built up in me since I was young, and begin to live life with renewed eyes and a renewed heart.
Past Anger in My Life
Perhaps it will help if you know about my history with anger.
You see, I used to have a very intimate relationship with anger. It all started when I was a kid.
Growing up in an Angry Household
My parents would argue the whole time. Thinking back about my childhood years, I vaguely recall a lot of shouting and heightened emotions hurled from one family member to another on a near daily basis.
I recall a couple of points (when I was a kid) when I snapped and threatened to kill myself in front of my parents if they didn’t stop shouting. I literally walked into the kitchen, grabbed the kitchen knife, angled it at my wrist, and told them that I was going to “end it all” if they didn’t stop shouting right at that instant. I didn’t mean to kill myself or even touch myself with the knife of course; it was just my last ditch effort to get them to stop yelling.
My stunt would work, but only for a short while. The arguments would begin not long after, sometimes as soon as after one to two hours. As a helpless kid watching this unfold without being able to do anything about the situation, I would feel deeply scrunched in my soul.
I didn’t realize it at that time, but I grew up collecting the residual anger from my parents and their recurring arguments. When you are constantly in the face of people arguing, it doesn’t matter even if you are not the subject of the arguments—the angst will eventually rub off of you. This was what happened to me.
Even though my parents mainly argued between themselves when I was a kid and they never took their anger out on me (nor my brother; it was only when I was an adolescent that my mom began hurling anger at me as well in the sense of yelling/shouting, not hitting for sure because my parents were never physically violent), it didn’t stop me from taking after their (actually more of my mom’s) angry personality.
Taking After My Parents’ Anger
Looking back, I could see displays of anger in me as early as in my early adolescent years (nine to twelve).
It might sound crazy, but for a period of time when I was nine or ten, I would subconsciously sprawl notes telling my mom to go to hell, then plaster them all over the house. I seriously didn’t know why I did that at that time; there would simply be something in me driving me to do it, after which I would act on that instinct. My parents would be appalled when they saw the notes, then desperately try to tear them down, after which they would either reprimand me or try to talk sense into me.
Thinking back, I could see that it was likely a subconscious expression of all the angst that had built up in me at that time.
Again during my early adolescent years, I developed the habit of cutting up my dad’s and brother’s clothes whenever they pissed me off or whenever I was pissed off. Again, I didn’t know why I did that then. I just knew that there was a lot of anger in me and I needed to do something physical, something drastic, to get that anger out there to the world. I needed to express my anger and I needed someone, anyone, to receive my message, loud and clear.
As I grew older into my late adolescent years, at the same time when my family shifted to a new home (still in Singapore), these volatile expressions of anger stopped. One might think that this meant my childhood anger was gone and I was no longer an angry person. For a while, I thought that was the case too.
On hindsight though, I now know that that wasn’t the case. My angst had never disappeared—it had merely receded into a deeper part of my subconsciousness as I developed the other parts of my identity during my teenage years. My anger was still there, right inside of me. It never went away. It merely laid dormant, ready to be triggered anytime the right conditions were in place.
That I was (still) a deeply angry person was something which I would only realize many years later.
Awareness of the Anger in Me
My anger was mainly latent anger; meaning I wasn’t an angry person at my natural state. In fact, quite the opposite—I would almost always be bright, cheery, happy, and upbeat.
My anger would only arise when things didn’t go my way. Even then I would never direct my anger outward unless I was really, really frustrated. My anger was mainly kept to myself and managed within my consciousness.
Even during the times when I had lost it, I would not direct my anger at others. I would get angry at situations and/or people yes, but I would not direct my anger at people or the person per se, unless the situation had gone completely out of control. Having grown up with anger hurled around/at me on a daily to near daily basis, I didn’t want to inflict the same treatment onto someone else.
In my mind, I never thought of myself as an angry person. I simply thought my occasional anger to life’s little hiccups were highly normal and simply a natural human reaction. Unfortunately, this wasn’t true at all.
A Simple Conversation
About a year ago, I was chatting with a good friend (B) about a common friend of ours (C). C was a very dear friend of mine and like a little brother to me. There were some things he did where he utterly let me down and wasted my trust in him. I was just telling B how disappointed I was at C for his actions.
As B listened, he asked for my permission to share something which had been on his mind for a while. “What?” I quipped. He said that I tended to have very harsh expectations of others, and it could be quite tough to live up to them sometimes.
I thought for a while. “Don’t you have expectations of other people?” I asked.
“Yeah I do,” he responded. “But I don’t get angry when people don’t live up to them.”
Ah. I thought.
“Why not?” I probed. “I mean, if someone doesn’t live up to your expectation, you would naturally be angry, wouldn’t you?”
“Nope,” he said. “It would just make me feel sad.”
A New Seed of Thought
B’s answer was mind-opening. The issue here wasn’t that I had harsh expectations, but that I had harsh reactions to people (or situations for that matter) falling short of my expectations.
This was revealing for I had always assumed that anger would be a default emotion for situations gone awry. It didn’t occur to me that my angry reaction was a reaction specific to me and not a default reaction for others.
I found it fascinating that B said that he would not react in anger, only sadness, if things fell under his expectations and/or if people failed him. And he wasn’t just saying it either. When I reflected to a time when his ex-girlfriend did him wrong by a thousand miles (she had another boyfriend for the entire length of their relationship of some 4-5 years, and was even engaged to that other guy until my friend found out from a common friend), he did react in sadness, without an ounce of anger. At that time I couldn’t fathom why. I thought he was a saint. How is it possible that someone isn’t angry with someone who cheated and wasted him of so many years of his life? If it were me, I would have exploded in anger.
Observing People’s Different Reactions to Situations Gone Awry
After that discussion, I began to reflect on other people’s natural reactions to situations that violated their expectations. It corroborated with what my friend had tried to tell me.
While I could think of people who would react angrily to situations gone wrong, the intensity of their anger would vary. Most would never react with the same level aghast as I normally would. Some would be slightly frustrated, but even then their frustration would quickly taper thereafter.
I also observed people whose reactions to situations gone awry wouldn’t even be of anger at all. Some would be disappointed. Some would be sad. Some would be apathetic. Some would be fearful. And some wouldn’t even know what had hit them until it was already over (usually people who are spacey and oblivious).
For me to react in anger whenever things went against my expectations, it meant that my anger wasn’t caused by situations or people, even though it might seem that way at first. If those situations or people were truly the cause of my anger, then everyone should rightfully react with the same intensity of anger when put in the same circumstances. However, this wasn’t the case, as I had shared above.
The varying reactions of other people to situations gone awry, from varying degrees of anger to non-anger, made me realize that my anger wasn’t external; it was internal. There was something, inside of me, creating my anger each time. Or rather, there was something in me that was constantly angry, and the situations had merely brought the anger out of me, onto the surface.
It made me realize that—wow—as much as I had thought that I was quite a pacifist, and that I had been working on being a better person filled with kindness, respect, and appreciation of other people, I was actually very much an angry person on the inside.
Part 2 of the Anger Series
Continue on to Part 2: The Damaging Effects of Anger, where I share the effects of anger in my life, after being conscious of its presence.
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This is part 1 of my 5-part series sharing my history with anger and how to let go of anger for life.