Not too long ago, I found myself in a dispute with someone, conducted mainly via email. As my anger level rose, a lawyer was eventually brought in, a legal warning was sent, and then the electronic fur really started to fly.
After receiving one particular email, my hands and fingers shook with anger. I couldn’t even hit the keys on the computer keyboard when I tried to compose a response! I then understood that my anger was deeper and stronger than I had thought. To discharge some of this anger energy, I stood up and shook out my hands. Then, I took some deep breaths, and stomped my feet on the floor. Once grounded, with most of the anger energy discharged, I could then type the first draft.
But the memory of my shaky hands remained. The more I thought about it, the more I saw this as a marker of how far I’ve come in my lifelong journey of recovery. I had experienced anger at such a deep level, but with no desire to use food to ease the discomfort of such a strong emotion.
Anger is often a very difficult feeling for many women to accept, tolerate and articulate, whether or not they have food and/or eating-related issues. Men, on the other hand, have been culturally conditioned to view anger as one of their few allowable emotional responses.
Traditional stereotypical roles seem to have divvied up emotions in this way. Men can feel and express anger, but not sadness or vulnerability. Women are permitted to feel the latter two, but if they express any anger whatsoever, they are often referred to as witches or bitches, or some other similar denigration. That’s why many women, myself included, have tended to “get upset” instead of angry. This often reminds me of the early 1990s Saturday Night Live sketch “Coffee Talk With Linda Richmond,” created by Canadian comedian Mike Myers. Linda would often get “verklempt” (Yiddish for upset).
Despite cultural conditioning, many men and women find it difficult to accept, tolerate, manage and respond appropriately to their feelings of anger. I think its because anger energy can be so very strong. In the past, men handled their anger mainly with physical fights to let off some steam. However, women were in no position to do so. Nowadays, however, many of us – both men and women – find it tricky to navigate angry waters.
In my younger years, I began to pretend (to myself and others) that I didn’t feel angry. I also learned that eating/overeating made most feelings disappear from conscious awareness. But this strategy ultimately backfired. I ended up having no idea what I was feeling emotionally or physically. It also led to weight gain and ultimate obesity.
This excess weight, often a symptom of underlying unfinished issues, created many problems. It also served some useful purposes. On a purely physical level, it functioned as a kind of double-sided protective shield. As a buffer against the slings and arrows of daily existence, it absorbed some of the external anger energies circulating in the environment. It also prevented an awareness of my own inner turmoil.
In addition, my physical heaviness grounded me. Out of touch with my feelings and emotions, I lived inside my head, and experienced myself mainly through my thoughts. (Many people today operate this way, with or without extra weight, and with or without eating-related issues.) Have you ever noticed that some people don’t seem to have their feet planted firmly on the ground? And that some people give the impression they might take off any minute and fly through the air? Well, being heavy kept me weighted down, closer to the ground. It provided a sense of psychic solidity and safety (necessary because I felt unsafe). Safety isn’t really possible when you’re cut off from your main information system – your feelings and emotions.
All of this flashed through my mind shortly after I noticed my shaky hands on the computer keyboard. I realized how strong these anger energies are, and how quickly and silently they passed through my body, seeking release. I also understood I might not have realized their strength or intensity had it not been for my trembling fingers.
No longer that obese young woman with so much excess weight to buffer me through life, any anger energy I now experience has less matter to travel through. I also have less weight to keep me solidly on the ground. I must therefore make conscious efforts to ground myself in healthier and less destructive ways (than overeating).
I’ll close with the following quote, from one of my favourite people, Ms. Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
How do you manage your angry feelings?