The Elephant in the Room: Anger

Posted: October 6, 2015 in abuse, anger, atheism, depression
Tags: , , ,


When I was little, I had quite the temper, and most of my angry moments were reactions to situations I considered unfair. That was a big deal to me, as a child. Fairness. I didn’t always have the greatest perspective as to what would actually be most fair, but if something seemed off to me, I certainly wasn’t going to be silent about it. This incessant need to correct all the supposed wrongs in my world brought me to a head with my mother as I hit puberty.

I clearly remember ripping into her verbally over what I construed as favoritism among siblings and unfair treatment. After speaking my piece, I walked away to go take a shower and let off some steam. Before I had locked the bathroom door, my father confronted me. His own anger was palpable and disconcerting, as my father rarely became angry about anything. He told me to NEVER again speak to my mother that way… and he handed me a piece of paper. He asked me to read it, informed me that my mother was unaware he was sharing this with me, and asked that I destroy it and not share it with anyone else after I’d read it.

I was too shocked to dwell on the “injustice” that had caused me so much distress, and after my father left the room, I began reading. It was a suicide letter that my mother had written and left for my father the night before. Apparently, under the guise of heading out to a church meeting, she’d driven to a bridge from which she’d intended to jump. I remembered my father leaving us home alone not long after she’d gone, and I put the pieces together. He’d gone looking for her. Either he’d found her and talked her down, convincing her to come back home, or he’d been out searching for hours as she had second thoughts and decided to return on her own. Whatever had happened, she’d left intending to kill herself but was now here… so I could yell at her. Her shocked and hurt expression just before I’d turned to walk away then became a permanent fixture in my memory.

I changed that day. In some ways for the better and in some ways … not, and all those changes were tied to the traumatic knowledge that my mother was suicidal. To this day, I am plagued with a sense of guilt for every action that has ever contributed to my mother’s depression. I spent the rest of my childhood and the beginning years of my adulthood feeling responsible for maintaining my mother’s happiness. An impossible task. She was never happy. Never satisfied.

As a teenager, I found myself walking on egg-shells. I was constantly gauging my mother’s emotional health and looking for ways to improve her happiness. Had my mother been remotely mentally sound, while this feat would have been unwise, it would not have been terribly difficult. As it was, the task and responsibility I’d given myself practically drove me insane, and it most certainly did drive me into my own state of depression. There was always something that would upset her, and as the years passed trying to figure out the precarious balance, it became clear that this was an impossible battle. And yet, it continued.

On the upside, I found myself striving to be a peacemaker among my siblings. I became very introspective, very thoughtful, very empathetic. I became very skilled at putting myself in other’s shoes and explaining opposing viewpoints in a way that all could understand and thus reach compromises. I became very patient. I was so patient that people did not believe me when I told them I used to have a temper. I began to pride myself on this patience and sought to cultivate it. I eventually convinced myself that I simply was not an angry person and that I was actually incapable of experiencing anger. By the time I reached young-adulthood, I sincerely couldn’t even remember what it felt like to be angry.

But I DID know what it felt like to be invisible. In my endless efforts to please my mother, I had shaved off nearly every shred of my individuality until I had become little more than an extension of her, because expressing myself – my wants, my personality, my desires, my interests – conflicted with keeping her happy. While most teenagers were acting out and journeying through their years of self-discovery, I was slowly giving up the pieces of my self, bit by bit.

My “rebellions” were tiny and easily squashed. I remember, for example, a shopping trip in which my mother insisted that I pick out a shirt for myself that I really liked. I was always wearing my older brother’s hand-me-downs and was perfectly happy with his clothes, but my mother wanted me to pick out “girl” clothes in an effort to drive me to act more feminine. I did find a shirt I liked – It was a form-fitting tee with a large motorcycle on the front in red, white, and blue stars and stripes and the word “REBEL” in bright, large lettering. She allowed me to buy the shirt, but after wearing it only a few times it mysteriously disappeared and I later found it in a bag of Goodwill donations. I said nothing, but I felt broken.

Similar small but significant scenarios throughout the remainder of my youth caused me to give up on expressing myself or even to allow myself to take interest in anything that might draw the ire of my mother. Instead, I sought to excel in the only pursuits that brought her any semblance of happiness – church. I spent my childhood ignoring anything and everything that might cause me to question the teachings of the church my mother cherished, and devoting my time to church activities. This only served to further shave away my individuality, as it conflicted with doctrine on “The Family” and gender roles. Personal success was measurable only in homemaking skills, temple attendance, and ultimately marriage and motherhood.

It was not easy to carve away all the things that made me “me”, and I still had my moments of minor rebellion. But each conflict led to my further compliance, and a deeper and deeper emotional unrest. I escaped in books, academics, and wildlife rescue, my guilty pleasures, as these interests were shared and encouraged by my father, and eventually I went away to college. What a time of turmoil and discovery!

Out from under the thumb of my mother and the constant need to please her, I finally started to explore my interests. I took joy in my classes and new-found friendships. I engaged in extra-curricular activities I’d previously denied myself. And… I stopped going to church. I allowed myself to question. And guilt started to eat me up. Still, I attempted to hide myself from myself, and when I started developing interest in sexual topics I hid and repressed and repressed and hid until depression started interfering with my ability to keep up my grades. And I practically ran back into the arms of the church in a desperate effort to find someone with whom I could find sexual release in the only role that would please my mother – marriage.

Of course, I blew it. In my unsound mental state, I attracted a predator and found myself in a relationship with an abuser… not that unlike my mother or the religious institution she cherished. Only where they used manipulation, guilt, and emotional blackmail to coerce conformity, the man I married used his fists to force it. And still, through it all, I felt responsible – this time for my husband’s happiness. I felt guilty when I failed to predict what would upset him, and I continued to shave away my individuality to meet his expectations. And… I continued to pride myself on my patience, literally turning the other cheek and tolerating physical blows as I found myself striving to understand the perspective of my abuser and correct my behaviors to ensure his happiness.

This toxic relationship did not last long, resulted in severe trauma, and… opened my eyes. As I started seeing therapists and working towards recovery, slowly, it became clear that the root of my problems lay deeper than the abusive relationship that caused my trauma. Being around my mother and going to church both brought up constant triggers. When I stopped trying to convince myself that I was overreacting and instead took the time to recognize and dissect the behaviors and teachings that were making me so uncomfortable, I realized that I’d been dealing with subtle abuse my entire life.

As I’ve started uncovering the truths about myself and the world around me, I’m finding a need to acknowledge something that has been years in the making. Anger. My entire life, I’d been squelching anger. I’d convinced myself that anger was B.A.D. bad, all because I had blamed my mother’s suicidal thoughts on my twelve-year-old outburst. I had become so concerned with keeping others happy, that I was unwilling to do or say anything that would rock the boat or cause distress. I had refused to allow myself to feel angry about anything, and now… I feel angry about everything.

I am angry with my father for putting such undo responsibility on a child’s shoulders.

I am angry with my mother for never acknowledging, loving, or nurturing the child she had and instead striving to shape and mold me into what she considered acceptable.

I am angry with my ex for taking advantage of my youthful desperation, naivety, and inexperience.

I am angry with the church leaders that drove away a lesbian friend with their bigotry.

I am angry with the authors of The Family Proclamation for defining gender and gender roles in a manner that is counter to science and an attack on my own personal identity.

I am angry with the Mormon prophets for discouraging critical thought and demonizing those who’ve left the “fold” in their ever increasing efforts to tighten their hold on the membership and keep them from seeking truth.

I am angry with apologetics for all their excuses and cover-ups attempting to justify the blatant immoralities of their scripture.

I am angry with the originators of the various religions for all the misogyny, abuse, sexism, racism, homophobia, genocide, bigotry, and more perpetuated in the name of “God”.

I am angry with creationists for their denial of sound science on the age of the earth, evolution, and climate change which perpetuates fear of vaccinations, genetic and stem cell research, and halts progressive action.

I am angry with religious leaders that perpetuate rape culture with teachings of “virtue” and “modesty” that place all responsibility for sexual misconduct on the shoulders of the victims.

I am angry with theists for turning tragedies into messages about the “love of God”.

I am angry with individuals that consider foul language more offensive than apologetics.

And I can go on and on and on. So. Much. ANGER. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want to go back to the status quo. I don’t want to go back to trying to keep everyone happy. I don’t want to go back to ignoring. I don’t want to go back to hiding. I’ve used up all my patience, and I’m all out of fucks to give.


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