For years, my tendency for delayed anger reactions has puzzled me. For example, I can spend an evening with a friend who makes a mean comment to me, or pressures me into doing something I don’t want. I register this on some level, but I feel no reaction to it except for a certain coldness or sadness. The same thing can happen if for example my boss explodes for no reason and yells at me. I react very calmly. I don’t cry, don’t storm out, I stay completely rational and reasonable and I can still think logically.
Next morning, or next week I wake up shaking with anger, throwing things at the wall, trying to figure out what just happened. Alternatively, anger just comes over me at random times, like in the subway, and I feel the urge to hit people in the face, just because they are standing there.
Apparently I suppress anger so much that I don’t even get the chance to feel it before it is stored away, only to resurface later at unfitting times. I have never read about this phenomenon or heard from anyone else having it; but then I discovered this interesting post about delayed emotional reaction from another blogger with social anxiety. So it seems the problems are connected. It makes sense to me: We are controlling ourselves so much that we even don’t feel our feelings anymore.
People maybe think I am very nice, cool and mature if I don’t get angry about things. But the opposite is true. I can get extremely angry, maybe more angry than the average person, just later. And normally I never tell them, and so the thing can never be sorted out, and I never, ever forgive them. People probably wonder why I am suddenly so detached with them.
I only slowly start to understand how central feeling and expressing anger is to being a healthy person and how much it is related to my social anxiety. Without anger, we are prone to getting manipulated, mistreated and yelled at and we will forever wonder why people are so mean. Anger protects us, naturally signals us when our boundaries are breached, when we are manipulated and treated unfairly.
I tended to think that I am ‘just a naturally nice person’, nicer than most others, but but in truth, nobody is naturally nice. All three-year old children can scream with anger. Niceness, on the other hand, is a learned thing. And it is only necessary towards people that are nice to us themselves.
Realizing this is already helping me. I have recently actually managed to express anger with someone at work for the first time since I started working. Seriously: In seven years at work I have never one expressed anger with anyone, although I had plenty of reasons to do it on uncountable occasions. Doing it for once was a wonderful experience. There was some fighting, but the thing I wanted to get done finally got done. And everyone is still speaking to me. I feel happy and alive thinking about it. As if I finally have a little bit of my own space around me.