The Anger Mask

Something a therapist once said to me was, “Anger is a secondary emotion. Something always lies beneath it.” I don’t know if I believe this or not, but I do know that have become angry before in response to another emotion: fear.

Take yesterday for example. (Actually it’s the only example I have – off the top of my head this morning I can’t think of another time this has happened, but I know it has).

I was feeling particularly low. Scary low. And so, I called my boyfriend. But when he answered the phone, I couldn’t find anything to say. He grew frustrated, and I grew frustrated, and long story short I grew angry and silent and my boyfriend hung up on me.

I thought I’d blown it. I burst into tears and hugged my pillow. I thought my boyfriend had had enough of my moping. I convinced myself that I had irreparably damaged our relationship, and that he was tired of my moodiness and wanted to break up because I was essentially a raincloud personified. I was feeling terrible before, and I felt like dying after. I felt like I had no one but my parents. I was scared that my boyfriend didn’t love me anymore.

And then I grew angry. I was angry with him for being angry with something I couldn’t control. I switched back and forth from anger and despair. I finally went to bed to escape the negative emotions and woke up three or four hours later, still upset. And then, I focused on the anger, because it was easier to be angry than to be scared that he was going to break up with me. At least with anger I could convince myself that I didn’t care if he left me.

When I checked my phone and saw that my boyfriend hadn’t sent me a message at least acknowledging hanging up on me, my temper flared. Impulsively, I sent him a massive text message describing how he had upset me and to just break up with me if that was what he wanted. He called me just as I hit send. I curtly told him to read my text and then call me back, said goodbye, and hung up the phone.

When my boyfriend called me back a few seconds later, at first he was angry. But then his tone softened and he asked me to explain why I sent him a text essentially goading him to break up with me.

I felt my anger melt away and my fear return. I started crying and told him that I was scared I had finally gotten on his last nerve and that he didn’t love me anymore. He calmed me down and told me that just because he got frustrated with me doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me anymore or is going to leave me. He told me that he loved me and just wanted me to be happy, and that I was the most important person in his life.

After hearing that, I felt myself calm right down. I told him that I was just scared of losing him. He reassured me that I wasn’t losing him, and promised to call me before I went to bed. And he did. And we had a nice talk, like we usually do. Everything was wonderful again.

Looking back, I don’t know why I doubted his love for me. He’s proven again and again that he loves me, by his words and his actions. But at the time, the fear was real. When I’m in a bad place, it’s easy to forget the good and hyper-focus on the bad, and start to doubt everything good in my life. I’m just lucky that I have a boyfriend willing to give me the reassurance I need right now.

Sometimes anger is easier to tolerate than fear and pain, but anger usually leads to regret. I am working on remembering that.

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