self-respect

Living with our anger as marginalized or abused people

When you’ve been mistreated for a long time, it can be hard to notice that something is wrong. 

Even if you do know it’s wrong, even if you hate it, even if it makes your life awful, it can be very, very hard to realize that it’s ok to object. It can be hard to be upset or even actually *mind* what’s going on in any active way. (And, if you’re like me, you might feel like the problem is that you’re just too broken, and try to shame yourself into becoming someone else)

And then maybe you finally start to get angry. And maybe you meet other people who are angry about the same thing.

And maybe - you start to say so. You find ways of expressing anger. You say the angry things and you even tell people they’re hurting you and that it’s wrong. And you yell and express yourself in emphatic terms in other ways. And you don’t die. You learn that it is, in fact, actually possible to say these things out loud and actually press the issue and win from time to time. And that even when you lose, you survive.

And at first it’s exhilarating and liberating. Because it gives you really, really important things that you’ve never had before.

But sometimes, for some people, this can lead to a place where most of what you have access to is rage. And.. that’s not a great place to be in either. It’s dramatically better than not being able to get angry and express it, but it’s still pretty horrible.

And, a caveat here. Do not even think of using this post to shame people for their anger, or for the amount of time they spend being angry. People have damn good reason to be angry, and sometimes anger is all you have and it is a terrible, terrible idea to try to stop being angry in those circumstances. Anger is important.

Anger is also exhausting and draining.

And anger is not the only way to be able to say what’s wrong without backing down. It is possible to get to a place where you can do that, *even without being actively enraged*. It’s very, very hard to do that, and it’s not always even remotely possible. But it’s a useful skill to acquire and use sometimes, because it means you can sometimes fight these battles without it costing you as much all the time.

It doesn’t mean you stop getting angry. We all get angry, even enraged, sometimes. Trying to eliminate anger is incredibly destructive. Don’t do that, and don’t pressure others to do that. We need anger. We have reason to be angry. Anger is not a failure.

There are other tools, in addition to anger, that we can use to protect ourselves and fight these battles, for instance:

  • Avoiding or limiting emotional entanglement with toxic or dismissive people
  • Spending time explaining things to people who are worth talking to and actually give a damn
  • Spending time with peers who understand and face the same things, and doing things other than being angry about the things
  • Emphasizing and appreciating the value of people like you, even when everything in your world is trying to tell you not to. (Eg: celebrating your culture, eating your food even when it’s stigmatized, body positivity, supporting businesses run by marginalized people, seeing unique value in the perspectives you have)
  • Saying no to things that hurt you even when you’re calm
  • Telling people that they’re hurting others and need to stop even when you’re not enraged by what they’re doing

These tools do not replace anger, but they are also helpful. And so are others. There are a lot of reasons it’s worthwhile to learn additional approaches, for instance:

  • Anger is expensive. It is not as expensive as seeing yourself as someone who isn’t entitled to anger and suppressing it at all costs, but it is expensive and being angry takes a tole.
  • Anger can center the villains more than the good guys. We have damn good reason to be angry. But, push come to shove, good is more important than evil and sometimes it’s worthwhile to center the worth and lives of our own rather than focusing on those who seek to harm us (we can’t ignore them; this is not about positive thinking or pretending that if we don’t acknowledge evil it will go away or any of that BS. What it’s about is making sure we’re remembering to value the people we’re fighting for)
  • Sometimes anger isn’t as effective as something else could be. (It’s more effective than doing nothing, and it’s absolutely legitimate so don’t even try to use this to tone police people. And sometimes it *is* the most effective available tool. But it is not *always* the most effective approach, and it’s good to have other options sometimes)

This is hard. It is also worthwhile.

Sometimes distance is better than forgiveness

Sometimes, someone hurts you in a way that’s permanently and forver dealbreaking.

Some people will tell you that you have to forgive the person who hurt you in order to move on. Sometimes, they will put lots of pressure on you and tell you that if you’re still suffering, it’s your own fault for bearing a grudge.

But… you don’t have to forgive someone to get distance. You can do that by creating a boundary. Sometimes that means you limit contact with them to areas in which they’re safe for you. Sometimes that means you break off contact entirely. In any case, it’s something you can do unilaterally. 

You can break away and build a life that has nothing to do with them. They don’t have to loom large in your life forever. 

And you don’t have to get closure or resolution or anything like that in order to move on. What you have to do is move on and do other things.

It takes time and it doesn’t fix everything (neither does forgiveness, despite cultural tropes). But it allows you to build space for yourself, without that person’s hurt taking over everything. And you don’t have to forgive them or do anything at all regarding them to get that space.

Your life is about you, not the person who hurt you.