Anger: The Cage and the Key

I’ve read and researched a lot about anger but it’s still, by far, the emotion I struggle with most. The Tara Brach quote “Anger is armour” comes back to my mind time and time again: I get it on a conscious level: anger is the protector, it shows us where we are vulnerable. In this way, anger is both the cage (protecting but hindering us) and the key (crucial in pointing out places where we need extra care or work). But I don’t truly get it on a subconscious level: Why do I get SO angry at the thought of being misunderstood, alienated, isolated, left alone with my unbearable emotions?

When I am sad or depressed and allow myself to show it in front of my husband, and he doesn’t seem to feel the same thing strongly enough or understand enough (classic BPD, of course no one will ever understand enough), part of me literally hates him: I want to hurt him, make him cry, make him share this awful feeling with me.

I recently found two great articles—“What Your Anger May Be Hiding” and “Afraid to Rage”—and I go over and over them, trying to digest every word in a way that lets it seep down to the deepest level of my brain… sometimes words sit on the surface of my mind (the logical/”ego” part) but they can’t seem to permeate the part that really knows and understands them—the part that feels things, and uses those feelings to decide what is really true. As a result, I can hear all the “I’m here for you”s and “I love you”s in the world and still feel empty, alone and resentful of how little someone cares. So on my part, anger is my default response to gestures of care or attempts at connection when I already feel awful.

It must be beyond frustrating for those who love borderlines to say these things—to put such care and vulnerability into their words and actions—and get, at best, no response (if the borderline tightly suppresses their anger) or at worst, a blowout (if the borderline lashes out). So on my husband’s part, (suppressed) anger is both his response to my anger, and he also feels furious at himself for his inability to help me.

I’m not describing this particularly well (sorry I get rusty when I don’t post often), but you can see that the situation we’re in is hardly a honeymoon phase first year of marriage; it’s more like a spot where two forest fires meet, saying and doing hurtful things until the whole area around them is scorched and dead. Throw in the fact that we’ve moved countries (we are now virtually each other’s only support system and do not know anyone else very well here), and suffered a difficult loss this past summer, and the emotional soup has been boiling over pretty fucking frequently so far in our marriage.

I’m not sure how many borderlines can identify with me on this (I suspect quite a few could) but these are the things I notice about my anger:

-I notice that when I get angry, I immediately feel better if I hurt someone (by saying something incredibly cutting, for instance).

-I notice that once I’ve hurt someone in anger, and the emotion cools/the high wears off, I actually feel awful. My self-esteem plummets and I’m consumed with guilt about what a terrible person I truly am, deep down.

-I notice that when my husband gets visibly angry, my own anger almost instantly evaporates. It’s as though I’ve learned to stop exhibiting (or even feeling) anger once the relationship genuinely seems to be in danger (i.e., once the other person isn’t “safe” anymore and he really does seem angry). This is described in “Afraid to Rage” as a classic feature of passive-agressiveness, which develops when children feel that their anger isn’t acceptable: if anger endangers the child’s relationship with a parent, it puts their very survival is at risk (we can’t live without care when we’re young), so they start channeling the anger into “safer” expressions (heartbreakingly, it’s often against themselves/their own bodies).

-I notice that it REALLY bothers me—like to a nigh unbearable level—to NOT say hurtful things and lash out when I’m hurting. It feels like I’m invalidating myself and my emotions, and like venting them will give me power again. Never mind the fact that I logically know how awful I feel every single time I’ve verbally blasted some undeserving person in anger.

-For whatever reason, I don’t clearly remember a lot from my childhood, but I do remember feeling unmanageable levels of anger as a child and especially as an adolescent; I also remember taking out that anger on people who did not deserve it, and getting a sense of gratification from controlling or manipulating the people that I could (read: felt safe enough to) control or manipulate. To this day, I feel tremendous guilt about this misdirected anger.

-I also remember lying and stealing as a child, both of which are identified in “Afraid to Rage” as passive-aggressive ways of acting out grievances—of “stealing” or “grabbing” power back in a way that is much safer than overt rebellion.

-Without a doubt, my parents’ ability to express or respond to anger isn’t the best—but I don’t really know how to address/fix the impact that has obviously had on me. My mom is very much an avoidant person who feels uncomfortable with anger, and while my dad can be the same way, he also has a very bad temper that mostly comes out in sarcasm, bitterness, and harsh remarks. I get the sense that my husband and I learned similar “lessons” in different ways—i.e., that anger is dangerous and should ideally be suppressed.

All of this turmoil = increased depression and quite a few steps backwards for me in terms of BPD behaviours. Meanwhile, I see my husband suffering in many ways that are characteristic of suppressed emotions, or always being “the strong one” (chronic exhaustion, physical health ailments/rundown immune system, and gut issues/weight loss). More than anything, I think we both fight the exact same awful thought: that each of us is the reason the other person is suffering. I know that it’s not true for either of us to think that. But holy shit, sometimes it’s so bloody difficult to imagine how people do this for years and years on end (carry on a marriage complicated by emotional/mental health issues, I mean).

As I say, I know full well that anger is actually a symptom of how much I care, and how painful it is to feel the most vulnerable I have ever felt. Getting married is a pretty clear and scarily open declaration of your feelings for another person, and I suppose that this backlash was inevitable. BPD-me—the one saying “everyone will hurt you in the end, no one understands, no one could actually love you, etc. etc.”—cannot stand being wrong. I love my husband and I know we are destined to keep fighting through this storm together… but how do I keep anger from repeatedly setting us back along the way? Any tips from other (or former) borderlines?

-Cat xx