Frisky Rant: There’s A Difference Between Being Critical And Being “Too Angry” — Trust Me, I Know

Some of the feedback I get online is that I’m “too angry.” When people tell me I’m “too angry” in my writing, my immediate thought is somewhere along the lines of “HA HA HA HA HA HA YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA.”

That’s because I know what “too angry” actually looks and feels like. When I was 20, I was treated with dialectical behavioral therapy for anger. I was, at the time, in the midst of an abusive relationship and had a lot of reasons to be angry — or, rather, was being intentionally provoked to anger on a regular basis. I know that now, I didn’t know it then. My ex had zeroed in on something he could poke at so that he could say that I was “acting crazy” and thereby invalidate all of my feelings, not just my very intense feelings of anger, while taking zilch responsibility for his own behavior, of course.

That looked like crying and yelling in public. That looked like throwing things and slamming doors. That looked like driving off in the middle of the night. That looked like scorched-earth policies with people who let me down. That looked like me finding whatever made the person I was angry at the most insecure, and twisting a knife into it verbally until they felt worthless. That is being too angry. I’m not proud of that behavior, whether or not it was intentionally provoked.

It predated the relationship, of course. I would physically threaten my sister as a child. I got suspended once for slapping a guy (I still say, in my defense, that I held off for days and warned him when it was going to happen), and once for squeezing another guy’s pressure points on his neck during physical altercations. I held grudges, I went on tirades, I wrote rants. I had so little shame when I was angry, and so much regret afterward. It was bad. It’s embarrassing to think about. And that, too, is being too angry.

Which is why I went to therapy for it. I worked on my anger for a year, and worked on figuring out what anger felt like in my body. When I could feel it coming, I learned to pause, step back, try to evaluate the situation objectively, and if I couldn’t, I would calmly tell the other person what I was feeling and explain what actions of theirs I felt had brought on those feelings, and ask them if my perception about their motivations was correct or not, and if not, to please clarify. Sitting with the physical sensation of not just anger, but outright rage, long enough to have a calm and clear conversation is really, really hard, and I’m glad that I learned how to do it.

I’m still not perfect, of course. About two years ago, shortly after I was raped, I was — justifiably — very, very angry, and was expressing to my friends anger at men in general. One of my male friends called me a misandrist just three days after I was raped, while I was still processing my feelings (I did not and do not hate men in general, and do not think that the vast majority of men would rape anyone, just so we’re clear). I proceeded to write him a long, vitriolic e-mail detailing all of the ways that he was a failure as a friend and as a person. I’m glad he’s not in my life, because he was, in general, a pretty mean person, but he was also at a point in his life when he was trying to figure himself out. I knew that, and I knew that writing that e-mail would make him doubtful about and unable to forgive himself for a long, long time to come. I regret that deeply. He deserved anger, but he didn’t deserve cruelty. And that, again, was me being too angry.

I haven’t done it since then. I’ve gotten better at identifying what constitutes rightful anger, and what constitutes just being heartless. I keep my heartless thoughts by and large to myself, and try to remind myself, when they come, that I really do believe that people are good, and everyone has a background that gives them a reason for their behavior, and that if I want to be granted the benefit of the doubt, other people probably do too.

I do, however, voice my rightful anger. And I do use my job as a platform for that, because I’m sure there are a lot of people who have the same bad experiences that I do and would take some solace in not feeling crazy or alone for being angry. Examples include street harassment, abuse, PTSD, or, most recently, being treated poorly by doctors. Maybe some readers disagree with me that my anger is justified, and that’s OK, but I know for a fact that there are many people who read these posts and appreciate seeing experiences that are very much like their own given a voice.

I care about those people, and I’m not sorry that I don’t care if I come off as “too angry” to others. I try hard to explain things in as clear and calm, while still passionate, a way as possible. And to me, it’s not an issue of me or anyone who lives the same experiences being “too angry,” it’s an issue of us having a very keen sense of what we believe is morally or ethically right or wrong, and it’s an issue of the offended reader having an empathy gap. I could be wrong, and again, it’s all right if we disagree.

Writers — or anyone, for that matter — have no obligation to be consistently pleasant or cheerful or breezy. No one has an obligation to be pleasant or cheerful or breezy even most of the time. Existing as a human being is more complicated than that, and if honesty and vulnerability are valuable in this field, consistent cheerfulness is cheap. I’m not a cheap writer, and neither is anyone else here at The Frisky. The things we write here aren’t cruel, aren’t scary, aren’t heartless, aren’t mean, aren’t even exaggerated — they’re our experiences, and we tell them as truthfully as we can.

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