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Stop Telling Me to Stop Being Angry

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Stop being angry.

I hear these words all too often, especially when my anger is squelched down by someone who doesn’t truly understand it.  To others, my anger usually feels foreign, misplaced and unwarranted, but I’m never angry without good reason.

So please stop telling me to stop being angry.

Anger is a natural human emotion.  To some, it may feel volatile, unnerving or unbecoming, but it doesn’t warrant judgment.  Anger may feel unpleasant to both experience and witness, but it often comes from a place of feeling hurt, frustration or being wronged.  And when we’re in the thick of anger, we usually just need someone to listen to us and validate our feelings.

Unfortunately, those of us who live with mental illness — myself included — are rarely allowed to feel angry.  When people with mental health conditions express anger, their emotional release is often viewed as a symptom of their condition rather than as a universal feeling.  But this approach to anger has a glaring flaw: conflating anger with mental illness completely negates the ordinary occurrences that rightfully make many of us angry — forgetting our car keys, disagreeing with our partners and being too bogged down with work to truly enjoy life.  Contrary to popular belief, when we’re told to “stop being angry,” our anger may be more likely to come out in ways that reflect our illnesses.

I’ve seen this belief that anger is nothing more than a symptom of mental illness play out again and again and oftentimes, it substantially affects my mental health.  While my mentally healthy counterparts are typically allowed to yell or vent without repercussions, I don’t seem to have the same privilege.  No matter how calmly I try to express my anger, I constantly hear that I need to “act skillfully” or “take medication” or quite simply “stop being angry” instead of expressing my emotions.  And when I’m essentially told that my anxiety or depression is exacerbating my anger and I need to “fix” my emotional state in lieu of receiving validation of my everyday problems, the anger I feel becomes far more intense.  It’s in those moments that I feel hopeless, helpless and trapped — emotions that in turn lead me to engage in symptomatic behaviors, like restriction and suicidal thoughts.

I don’t need to stop being angry. I need others to accept that sometimes I will feel angry and understand that as long as I cope with my anger in an appropriate way overall, my choice to express anger is completely OK.  My anger typically has nothing to do with my mental illnesses “showing” and everything to do with ordinary frustrations heaping up and becoming too much to handle, the same way it presents in many mentally healthy people.

I have every right to feel angry, especially when my anger itself is invalidated or wrongly attributed to my mental illnesses.  My anger isn’t a result of being “out-of-control,” “too sensitive” or “undermedicated.” It arises from feelings of frustration and misunderstanding, just as it does for many people who don’t live with mental illness.

Stop telling me to stop being angry. My anger is just as valid as yours, and I deserve to express it freely.

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

Originally published: May 26, 2021
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