Updated: Jun 6, 2018
I’ve been conducting interviews with people who have been divorced. When asked to recall their feelings with regard to receiving the initial news of separation from a spouse, the emotion that showed up most commonly among them was anger. In fact, it was the most common emotion whether a person was the one left or the one leaving. Both reported being angry. So, this blog speaks to anyone who is experiencing or who has experienced anger in separation.
I recently participated in a stand up comedy workshop (more on that in future posts). My coach during the program gave me an exercise to work with my anger. I told her she must be joking. I don’t have anger issues! It turns out my anger was unresolved and compounded from childhood and adolescence. When it came to marriage and divorce it was expressed in emotional, passive ways as: Retaliation, revenge, and leaving relationships. I was righteous about it. Certain I was justified in my actions.
Anger is a favored mask for all of us. It works so hard for us, to cover up our sadness. It helps us tolerate rejection and loss. It supports us when we are being made a fool of or embarrassed. Most of all it helps us deal with the separation and estrangement from someone we love.
When our life is falling apart around us during separation and divorce, the impulse to survive kicks in. Anger can be what keeps us safe in times of imminent mortal danger. It is the emotion we are physiologically compelled to engage in order to survive. As far as our brain and nervous system are concerned, we are fighting for our lives. That means all hands on deck!
Whether you are the one left or leaving, anger is one way we process big changes that conjure feelings of insecurity and isolation. The Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges offers beautiful insight and understanding into how we humans and our nervous systems are constantly seeking safety and security. Knowing this helps us make some sense of why we experience so much emotion during extreme loss and change.
If you want to read a definition of anger follow this link http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspxto the American Psychological Association. Note: The anger experts tend to use expression, suppression, or calmness as ways to work with anger. I would caution anyone against too much suppression of an emotion. There are ways to have emotions seen, heard and learn about them without being destructive.