Righteous anger, AKA Loneliness?
November is a tricky month for me.
Anniversaries marking sadness, grief and loss abound. In a no man’s land between family holidays, the days getting shorter, darker and colder, I remember introducing my son to the concept of ‘pathetic fallacy’ at the ripe age of six. It’s the conceit that has always resonated most with me, and the stormy November blues never disappoint…
And yet for me, under the blues (seasonal or otherwise) are (as Holly Golightly coined in Capote’s masterpiece ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’) the ‘mean reds’. Anger - for me, is so intrinsically entwined. And I find myself spending a lot of time with clients trying to help them access their anger; it is, after all, a landscape with which I am very familiar.
If a family unit is a kind of ecosystem, doesn’t it make sense that certain relational behaviours are more or less tolerated in order for individuals to survive within the parameters of the whole? In my family it became very clear, very early on, that there wasn’t a lot of space for anger. We collectively (and tacitly) agreed that we wouldn’t tolerate it. Instead, there was room for passive aggression and depression - one could argue just two permutations of ‘healthy’ anger...
If outright anger wasn’t allowed, self-harm was. Whether in the form of incredulous disappointment, seething resentment, alcoholism, scathing self-criticism or crushing depression, we all adopted the form that most supported us. I chose a cocktail of self-criticism and a Herculean resistance to hopelessness (see my previous blog entry) - this, coupled with incredulous disappointment, looked very much like anger...and while it supported me (ie. it felt active, like agency, or a call to action), it really left me spinning my emotional wheels and served to reinforce my sense of isolation. However: it also shielded me from the more insidious and treacherous danger: profound loneliness.
Consider: if a child’s attempt to reach out for support, for connection, for safety, is continually thwarted - not necessarily from lack of love, concern or intention, but from lack of ability, awareness or resources - doesn’t it stand to reason that that child might turn inward for the support it craves? And isn’t this commitment to survival, while truly amazing in terms of the strength it represents, also tragic in its inevitable and perfect isolation? The exact opposite of the desired outcome: yearning for connection, we create loneliness.
Anniversaries of lost love, of a beloved mother, of roads not traveled...what they all have in common is my seeming inability to ‘let go’. Back in my opera days, my singing teacher once told me that ‘a lady knows when to leave the stage - and to keep them wanting more’. Well, clearly, I am no lady - and I can live with that. But maybe ‘letting go’ can only happen once the real feelings underneath - below the anger - are embraced, or at least acknowledged. And so maybe, if I can do this, I will realize that anger is only the symptom, and perhaps a necessary step forward. That in this exercise of ‘letting go’ it is loneliness that I truly must learn to tolerate. And forgive. Maybe ‘letting go’ is synonymous with forgiveness?
Forgiveness: a complicated business. But maybe anger, disappointment and loneliness are not really the problem; not barriers to forgiveness, but the ingredients that make it possible? On this bleak November evening, I think it’s something worth thinking about...
What is your relationship to anger/loneliness/forgiveness? As always, I welcome your feedback: please consider commenting below.