If you’re used to feeling like it’s your fault in difficult situations, you might also have a complicated relationship with anger.
I don’t ever remember getting angry as a child.
I have no doubt I got angry. I’m sure if I asked my mom, she would offer story after story about my childhood tantrums. But those stories do not remain as memories of mine.
My memories from childhood are brief and scattered, but what I do remember from back then was getting upset. Sad and hurt. Never angry. Wounded.
I know now that I am a highly sensitive person, so this makes sense to me now. My emotions run at high a level.
I often find it hard to understand the emotions I feel. Because it’s hard to understand, sometimes I will “shelve” emotion in the wrong category, so to speak.
Anger is an emotion I shelve incorrectly, often.
I will instead feel hurt and ashamed when anger would be the most fitting emotion given the circumstances.
I am an introvert, but also was extremely shy as a child. I preferred a very small circle of friends when I was young, and still do.
When I was 10, I had one close friend, who I’ll call Tina. We had been best friends for two years.
Tina and I lived in the same neighborhood, our houses were steps away from each other. Hardly a day went by that we didn’t play together.
Tina was everything I was not. She was loud to my quiet. She was outgoing to my shy.
She was social, she had lots of friends she could have played with. But for some reason she always chose to play with me.
Then, a new girl moved to my school.
Tina hit it off with the new girl instantly. They were similar in personality, and it was an easy fit. She lived close by, so she began to be around a lot.
It didn’t take long before I was feeling like the fifth wheel. And, It didn’t take long after that, before they began getting together by themselves and not inviting me.
I felt it deeply. It hurt.
One day after school they set up a visit for just the two of them. As we walked home, they excluded me.
It didn’t feel intentional. but it was careless. I hurt very badly inside.
Deep down I was angry: “How dare this new girl come and steal my friend?”.
And even more angrily, I thought: “How dare Tina toss me aside so easily. I have been her loyal friend and this is how she treats me?!”.
But, by the time my feelings of anger filtered up to my conscious mind, they became twisted.
Instead of feeling angry, my thoughts went toward how very unexciting and boring I was. I compared myself to the new girl, and each time I did I came up short.
My feelings of anger twisted into feelings of shame, as though I had done something wrong. As though I was something wrong.
I felt bad about me.
I felt desperate because I saw my friendship with Tina slipping away, and in my mind, it was my fault. I placed the blame for their actions onto myself.
Desperate people do desperate things. I thought the new girl was way more exciting and fun to be around than me.
So, for that walk home, I became a different person. I laughed loud. I said “hey, look at me!!” while trying to do cartwheels down the road.
I pushed myself to become a person I thought they would want to be around.
The clearest memory I have from that walk home was after I had been loud and showing off for a while. Tina and the new girl were walking side by side.
I had been walking in front of them, backwards, facing them. I had run out of things to say, so had turned around to walk facing forward.
When I turned back around to face them again, I caught them exchanging a look. It was one of those “what is wrong with her today?!” looks.
I can still see the look on their faces, clearly in my mind. It makes me chuckle now, because I do understand why the look was there.
I was not being myself, and I was acting strange from trying too hard.
But at the time it didn’t feel funny. It stopped me in my tracks figuratively. It hurt. It was the final slash of betrayal from Tina.
I felt defeated. I stopped my performance. I walked home the rest of the way quietly. Boringly. They walked the rest of the way side by side and went to Tina’s house together.
The situation actually settled down after a few weeks, and my friendship with Tina was not ultimately damaged.
At that time, I did not know how to use my anger in a constructive way.
Anger can be used as such a good thing in our lives.
It can be a motivator, pushing us forward. It can be a safeguard, keeping us out of harm’s way. It can be the driving force behind helping us to take a stand or draw a line.
Anger can help us form firm boundaries against poor treatment.
But, these positive, productive results can only happen within our lives if we are directing our anger correctly.
For myself, and for so many other highly sensitive people, the problem is that it’s so easy to direct our anger at ourselves.
How could I have done that? How could I be so stupid? I should’ve done.. How could I have screwed that up?
As a highly sensitive introvert, having compassion and empathy for other people’s emotions comes naturally. When I am angry at someone else, even rightfully, it can feel as though I am doing something wrong.
I begin to feel shame. Once shame develops, I begin to direct the anger inward instead.
It feels more natural to avoid the potential conflict and avoid hurting someone else with my anger.
It feels more natural for the problem to be my fault…even in scenarios where it’s not my fault, and where my anger at someone else is warranted.
More natural, but not necessarily healthy.
This is an area of struggle for me, even today. I can look at my struggle with allowing myself to feel anger, and analyze it. I can discuss the problem, and theorize.
But I don’t have anger under wraps. Not even close.
Because when you’re used to feeling like it’s your fault, even in a scenario when it isn’t, shame seems to hide under that anger.
And shame twists anger so that you can’t direct it correctly. Shame twists anger so that you can’t form those firm boundaries.
Shame makes it hard to get anger under wraps.
Image Credit: Ryan.Berry
A bend in the road led me to embrace my introversion, and to discover my identity as a highly sensitive person. As I have moved along the path in learning more about who I am, how to take care of myself as an introvert, and how to handle the challenges of life as an HSP - my love of writing has been rekindled and embraced once again. It intertwines with the journey I am on, and is reflected in what I write.