Wednesday, June 3, 2015
The messy bits of anger
I was considering anger the other day, since I have felt such a great deal of it this week. I questioned the best methods to express anger, and the appropriate levels of that expression. I worried over how I sound in my blog posts- whether I sound angry or outright hateful and spewing vitriol. I always strive for balance and making arguments and expression logical and not unfounded assumptions that I have run wild with. I try to not make statements that cannot be proven with fact. I do believe that doing so is important to being able to hold worthwhile discussions. Not only that spewing nonsense and vitriol unchecked means that you either rile up a crowd or no one hears anything you were really trying to say. But do you know what I am also worried about? Pleasing others, and not being seen as hateful or bitter. I am afraid of making critiques that others find offensive and without any base. Finally I'm afraid of critiquing my own religion, even when I often do so publicly. The fear is grounded in an experiences where critiquing or questioning things, including my faiths beliefs; somehow made me bitter and angry. The fear is also compounded by my childhood lessons about emotional expression.
In my experience quite often the type of response or feeling created by questioning and critiquing was "how can you be questioning God"? If you were questioning God, angry with God or frustrated with Biblical principles; it was heard and interpreted as a stubborn rebellious heart. It was seen as a lack of submission to God, or that an individual had personal problems "heart issues" and were directing that at God. All of this seemed to lead to the belief that you didn't want to believe in God, because if you did you would not be having such an angry reaction. This kind of anger, rebellious disbelief made you a struggling sinner who needed to turn their heart home and be obedient, re-align your will with that of God. There wasn't really a discussion to be had, as God's rules were solid and that's the way it was. When you questioned things because there were issues or problems; It was seen as not questioning the issue itself but the whole of your religions beliefs. Because if their faith and spirituality comes from God, and God is good, saying there are issues is often seen in these black and white terms. Suddenly its as if you are saying there is an issue, therefore God is not perfect, God is not good. But also when you questioned an issue you were implying that their interpretations might be flawed, and this causes upset because they seem to feel that they are interpreting truth from a perfect God. So if you are saying the interpretation might be flawed, then what does that say about God? It brings into question their ability to accurately interpret scripture, and being wrong is very scary when you believe you will go to hell. Easiest solution to that potential chaos and dissolution of belief? Blame the one asking all the questions. Label them as hateful and bitter!
It is not only questioning things that brings about that label, it's also your attitude and the beliefs around emotions. Even in Evangelical Christian Churches and homes, and in particular my Church there was the belief about keeping a smile on your face and never having a bad attitude. Expressions of anger or any other emotion a child might go through were considered choices and a choice of sinning. They weren't a normal part of development, their were seen again as rebellious, willful and a child's natural wicked nature that needed to be re-shaped.
I know I say this and in a sometimes heavily dramatized or sarcastic tone, but growing up in an Evangelical Church and faith as a girl then young woman had everything to do with how I was treated. I could have at times an air of independence, be obstinate and had a willingness to question the status qua quite brazenly. I also at times fearlessly aired my families dirty laundry in order to get help and be heard. This last thing I think was the most shocking thing for the Church community. Children who said things like that about their parents were shameful, disrespectful. It wasn't seen as a cry for help, it was seen as this disruptive behavior. You weren't supposed to question parental authority, and whatever was wrong you could work out as a family in your own home. And parents were to be held in respect and esteem no matter what difficulties-which everyone assumed were minor at the most. But being as a girl, then young woman, that really labeled me as over reactive and emotional- and not someone to listen to or believe.
My lessons about anger and expression were topped off by being in an abusive home, where the already troubling beliefs about children were put into the hands of those who should have never had any. You can blame my parents for their dysfunction and site that a true Christian would never harm their children in such ways. But the problem is the beliefs handed to them were like a recipe book, with all the ingredients to for abuse in it. In fact I know now of stories in which parents who were not for all intensive purposes abusive- this type of parenting recipe book caused an extraordinary amount of damage in their children and even death. Anger was seen as an outright flouting of my parents authority, stubbornness and being rotten. The one that was harped on the most was whatever was seen as a bad attitude, in fact so much so that Other Child and I started using it on each other. The accusing phrase was always "your attitude stinks right now". A lot of emotional expression, normal childhood meltdowns and temper tantrums was seen as disobedience and our being bad. It was seen overall as inappropriate and their was a mandate to never embarrass our parents with any such thing in front of others/ publicly. Anger and expression could be seen as downright shameful behavior, especially on my part. So imagine that! I still can feel shame or worry that I have been too outspoken and that I am being bad when I express myself.
My antidote to these feelings is to think through what I know about emotions, expression and how important that is, and how normal to health and well being. I also think about Jesus the day he was in the temple and had this huge temper outburst- he flipped more tables than the Italian New Jersey Real Housewife Teresa Guidice. He wasn't just angry he had a serious temper flair up, and he didn't just say he was angry he ran around showing it in this powerful outburst. If Jesus is allowed to be angry and can flip tables, I can be angry and say so. I was thinking this week about the thing that really caused him to erupt in a blaze of fury was the money lenders in the temple, and the self righteous Pharisees lurking about. I wondered what would he think of Christians and Faith oriented Politicians in a similar setting as that temple- the public arena, legislative buildings and media. What do you think he would say to these "money lenders" and often hypocritical pharisees about their response to the five girls that were molested? If he was upset about the desecration of his Fathers house, how much more upset would he be about the desecration of an even holier temple; that of the 5 young girls bodies?
The things that happened to me growing up and how my church was not there for me, but instead another source of abuse- those things were hurtful. It was also painful and inflicted a lot of damage. Wanting to be helped but no one being willing to hear you, and then sometimes having them send you right back to your abusers; that was not only rejection but betrayal. It was also negligent. Their not speaking up for me, or helping or deciding on anything was a choice. This kind of pain would make anyone angry, I am starting to hold onto the belief about the normality of that. I was taught to hide the mess, that anger was messy, inappropriate, not lady like or mature. But that's the truth of things, sometimes they are messy. Healing is messy, imperfect, up and down. I am learning that I can stand in my anger and it be messy for a time. I'm learning that it's okay- it's a moment and it's where I am at in that moment. I think we really often believe that we are never supposed to be angry, never supposed to be messy, that being angry makes us not nice. For women we often have the "Nice Girl Syndrome", and we think we have to be sweet, nice, sugar and spice all the time or we've morphed into a version of ourselves that we are afraid to meet and looks strikingly similar to Joan Rivers.
The final thing I am realizing is that while I do want to strive to create balance and discussion when I blog, there are others who already do that amazingly well. In my blog I want to create a space for the parts of spiritual abuse and childhood abuse that are emotional, and sometimes have a tone of raw honesty. Often we see abuse survivors in the media being portrayed as saints, that they have healed, blossomed and everything is beautiful. But we don't see the messy and hard parts of their healing or truly talk about them. Anger seems to get shuffled under the rug in our culture at large. It's a problem having survivors reactions, emotions, and experiences sanitized; due of the uncomfortable nature of the subject matter. I know how much I appreciate hearing other survivors express themselves in a way that helps me feel I am not the only one, and in a way that shows realness. That's something I want to hold onto in my blog. Ultimately though the purpose of this blog is creating a therapeutic space for me. I am able to channel emotions, and express myself. This is how I heal; even if I occasionally sound like Joan Rivers unfiltered.