The fragile relationship between anger and vulnerability

Koraly Dimitriadis: "I am warm, shy and timid. Yet if someone pushes my vulnerability button, I can explode."

Koraly Dimitriadis: "I am warm, shy and timid. Yet if someone pushes my vulnerability button, I can explode." Photo: Stocksy

I have an anger problem. It's taken me a long time to say that. I am warm, shy and timid. Yet if someone pushes my vulnerability button, I can explode. This isn't always an instant reaction. Sometimes I don't even know my button's been pushed until I'm snapping at others who have nothing to do it.

I feel an overwhelming exhaustion in these moments. It's as if my current emotional state has snowballed with the wounds of my past. I tell myself this feeling will pass. That I'll feel better in a week. And I usually do. Until the next time. But the older I get, the more I find my behaviour toxic.

This kind of anger shouldn't be mistaken with empowerment. There's a difference between defending yourself and being an angry person. Women especially have been silenced for generations. We should be vocal. But where does it stop being about speaking up and start being about something else?

According to clinical psychologist Adrienne Brown, one of the most important steps is recognising that anger is a normal and natural emotion and differs from aggression, which is a behaviour. 

Advertisement

It was only recently I noticed a pattern: I fight with a lot of people. More people than your average person. The internal monologue often goes something like this: "They hurt me. They did something to me. They wronged me."

Not too long ago, I found myself home one weekend crying because I was engaged in fights with three people who are important in my life, in three completely separate situations. All of a sudden, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that all these situations had one thing in common: me.

When I was young, I didn't get angry, I just cried. I was told I was a sook, that I was weak, so I believed I was. I silenced my feelings and did what others told me to do. So it's of no surprise then that when I broke free from my former self-defeating cycle that I also became vocal and very, very enraged. Had I been raised in an environment where my words were worth as much as a man's, had I been empowered, taught not to be afraid of my emotions, that it was okay to cry, then I don't think I would have become such an angry person.

"In my experience women may be more likely to avoid the expression of anger (potentially leading to passive aggressive behaviour) while men may be more likely to lose control," said Dr Brown "This would likely relate to societal gender roles and acceptability of overt anger and aggression in men compared to women."

I saw the fights with the three people on the same weekend as a blessing, and an opportunity to delve deeper into the way I operate, to help myself evolve. 

Acknowledging the problem was the first step. When I looked closer at all three situations, I'd felt let down because someone had said or done something that didn't align with what I expected from them -- and it hurt.

When this happens, I realise I have a tendency to completely disregard everything the person in question has done for me in the past and focus on the present, negative event. As hard as it is to admit, my anger becomes a form of retaliation: "You hurt me so I'm going to hurt you."

Sometimes we expect more than what people can give us, and that has a lot to do with a need for validation that is often unmet in our early lives. 

I have since apologised to all three people for my behaviour. Vocalising the problem helped, as does giving them permission to pull me up on it when it happens again. The next time someone say something to me that pushes my button, I will breathe through it. And instead of focusing on what they had just said, I will focus on staying calm and assertive -- safe in the knowledge that I will be heard.