Learning to read my body

It’s so strange how sharing your experiences to another person, and having them repeat back to you what your body already understands can produce such dynamic breakthroughs. 

I met with my therapist this weekend. It had been a while; I assumed they would be busy with the onslaught of newly depressed people given everything that’s been going on. But I needed to follow up on the feeling of being stuck in my trauma.

Repeating what the leadership coach had told me, about experiencing a traumatic response to a work situation, I confessed my frustration that I seemed somewhat out of control of myself and my emotions. I have an issue with anger. Maybe most people do?

I never saw healthy examples of anger, growing up. Or maybe I did, but couldn’t recognize them, because all types of expressed anger frightened me. In my home, anger was expressed by short outbursts (never violent), and long periods of simmering rage. Lots of uncomfortable silence and passive aggression. In my neighborhood, anger was expressed in violent ways, by boy fightings, adults screaming and slamming doors, maybe screeching off in the cars. In church, anger was expressed terrifyingly—as a vessel of love. Hate the sinner not the sin, hate the devil, hate, hate, hate. 

It all swirled around me as a mixture of unexplained violence, hatred, and silence.

Understanding righteous anger was a heavy lift for me at the beginning of my therapy journey. Learning that anger wasn’t a “bad” emotion—it’s what you did with it that matters most. Learning that anger could be legitimate felt like staring into an abyss. How could most of my understanding of anger be legitimized? 

Still, my motivations for learning to have a healthy approach to my emotional life were directly tied to my mission of parenting: give my daughter all the necessary tools in life to be a successful and healthy human. 

Understanding that there’s a gender bent to anger, because of course there is, further enraged me. What might be viewed as a man expressing an opinion in a “direct way” magically turns into an ”emotional outburst” if a woman does the same. Knowing this in an intellectual way, and witnessing it first hand are two totally different experiences. If you don’t want to get a reputation for being difficult, you have to learn to swallow your rage, while smiling in someone’s face and politely determine the safest and most advantageous way to express your anger. 

I suck at this.

Recounting the experience that triggered my trauma, my therapist asked me where in my body I felt anger. “Everywhere?” I replied. Anger, unlike anxiety doesn’t live in my neck. She nodded.

Anger covers a wide range of harder to express feelings: fear, hurt, injustice. These feelings, along with disrespect and being attacked, are common causes of anger. Once we drilled down to these deeper feelings, I knew. It was hurt.

Hurt that I had once had a close relationship with a mentor and it ended. Hurt that I tried to do the right thing and it caused me a loss. Hurt that I hadn’t grieved the end of a period in my life and those relationships lost. This new incident inflamed that loss and hurt, and it now returned to my body.

I felt in my chest. 

But it also lit up my mind with the new realization of my path forward: grief. Working through the five phases of grief is my way through and forward. I think I have anger covered. But wow, would I have always been stuck, reliving that pattern of getting triggered, flaming out, trying to step back…until the next time I got triggered, if I hadn’t pursued digging deeper? I can’t live that way. 

I don’t know why but I need to feel like I’m moving forward and replacing the bad in my life not with the good, but with the solution. I mean, who wants to work through grief to resolve their trauma? 

But here I am, feeling the hurt in my body, and looking forward to acceptance. 

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