Guest Post: Anger Management

Update 2/11/2019: This post was originally submitted anonymously, but I now have the author’s permission to share their identity.  Credit for this piece goes to Eve Rickert, writer and editor.  My thanks for trusting me with this piece in its early days.

Written October 2018

He said he loved me. But he could not love me as a whole person. He had to kill part of me, to love me.

And he did it. I did it for him. Bit by bit, over years, he taught me what it was acceptable to be. What it was acceptable to feel. I amputated feelings that displeased him.

“Conceal, don’t feel.” Don’t be angry. Don’t. ever. be. angry. Anger was the forbidden emotion. The cardinal sin. Anger brought swift punishment: Coldness. Hardness. Withdrawal. Demands for explanation. Demands that I prove it, prove why I had a right to be angry. Reminders of all the times I had done him wrong. Stories of how many people disliked me, mistrusted me (but never why).

He set up a little watchdog in my brain. Policing my feelings. If I started to feel angry, or even hurt at something he’d done, it started asking me all those questions: Why do you feel this? Aren’t you overreacting? Are you trying to control him? What’s the big deal? Can’t you just take it? (take it. take it. take it. take it, bitch. What’s wrong with you?) Why aren’t you stronger? The watchdog would redirect the anger to shame, self-loathing, in a deadly spiral. What’s wrong with me? I would choke. My thoughts would knot in a ball in my head. I could feel the anger in there, somewhere, buried beneath the layers of shame.

Sometimes the anger would find its way out–and then, immediate punishment would come. So the next time, I’d try harder. Hate myself more.

I could make the punishment stop, if I gave in, gave up. I had to apologize. Cry. Beg. Plead with him to come back. And then, oh yes, he’d come back. The switch would flip again: cold to hot. He’d be there for me. Holding me while I sobbed in confusion and despair. He’d be such a good partner: Aren’t you so lucky he’s willing to put up with you? Who else would tolerate someone so difficult? Who else could love you the way he does?

We’d never, ever come back to what I was angry about. After all, I never had a right to be angry to begin with. Did I?

“An anger problem,” he said. A woman’s anger is a problem. I’d explode at nothing, he said–because none of the things I ever tried to tell him were real. Not real, not important, not enough. Nothing. None of it happened. None of it was the real reason. None of it was good enough. “What is this really about?” he’d say. Because if he didn’t agree that something should hurt, then it wasn’t allowed to. If he didn’t think it was worth being angry about, then it wasn’t. And nothing was ever worth it. The problem was me. Always me. me. me. me.

For him, I went to anger management classes. “Women’s healing anger,” was the name of the course. Yes, I wanted to heal my anger. But none of what they taught was acceptable to him. “Take a break,” they said, “walk away,” but he wouldn’t let me. He’d come after me, make me come back, confront me. Explain. “Go by yourself and scream into a pillow,” they said, but he wouldn’t let me. It was abusive to scream, he said. Ever. No matter what, no matter where. Even by yourself.

There is no right way to express a forbidden feeling.

Seven months since it ended. To others, from the outside, I look like a person, but I’m not. I am hollow inside. How can they not see? I sit, and I feel the emptiness. It’s not him that’s gone; it’s me. I amputated the alive parts of me in order to be acceptable to him. When I sit, when I’m quiet, I feel the empty space inside me. My body is a shell. Gutted. Open me up, and there’s nothing there.

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12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Anger Management

  1. My heart goes out to Eve <3. I'm not sure if she'll read this, but I want to say: I see you, I believe you, and I am so happy to be supporting you from afar. Thank you for sharing all of this and surfacing things that sound incredibly painful in order to do so. As someone who is emerging from a toxic, abusive relationship that shared so many traits of the relationship you're describing, I also want to express deep gratitude for you coming forward and helping the rest of us who have dealt with this kind of abuse. I felt like I could've written so much of this. I don't mean that to take away from your story, your life: just to say that not feeling alone in something that can feel so damn isolating and confusing and maddening and 'hollow-ing' feels like a gift that only another survivor can give you. I hope you've found strength from other survivors' stories.

    I remember reading something Eve wrote a few years ago, something about how female-identified people are often the scapegoat and how we need to reconcile how toxic hetero mono dynamics get replicated in polyamorous ones. I hope many of us can continue to do that. Or just start.

    My partner also tried to tell me that my hurt feelings weren't ok or justifiable unless he decided they were, and of course, they never were. He blamed me for almost every conflict, accusing me of being "out of touch with reality" and a selfish monster and projecting my past traumas so many times that I've lost count… I hear the "me, me, me, me" in my head, too…and if I ever reacted, which was usually to get sad, he would accuse me of "violating his consent to engage emotionally." And I felt so awful, because you take consent seriously, so I would work really hard to repress all of my needs because of course I believed that I had clearly done something wrong. The scary thing is that my partner was a soft, sweet, feminist involved in social justice, and he knew all the language. I hear about this kind of abuse a lot. None of us are alone.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Eve, I am so sorry for the pain you felt, still feel. Many of us have experienced the same, or similar things, and regardless of how empty you felt, may still feel, those roots of inner self are still there. They WILL come back,

    As far as anger, may I recommend Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her. I have been proudly and happily reclaiming my feminine anger, about so many things.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Eve, thank you so much for sharing your story. I believe you. I have definitely had some of the experiences you mention. So many men feel that they have a right to control and define our feelings for us. That has to end, full stop.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you for sharing, Eve. You have my deep condolences on this experience. It sounds utterly shitty. Anger is valid. Anger is OK. I hope you can in time recover those amputated parts of yourself, and become whole again, scars though there’ll surely be.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I see you. I was there the day that he met you, long long ago in Atlanta – I was one of his partners back then, you see. I cut off all ties to him/the poly community for the most part after we parted ways. I’ve never felt so much like driving my car off a ramp as I did when I dated him. It is terrible that other people experienced this same thing. I thought it was *ME* I thought I was wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

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