Why Expressing Anger is an Essential Step Towards Healing

November 8, 2016, is a day that will be remembered in infamy.  We all likely remember the exact time and place we were when we learned that the 45th president of these United States of America was not Hillary Clinton. For me, it was actually 7:19am of the following morning, as I could no longer force myself to “sleep” to avoid confirming what I already knew. Upon reading that headline, scrawled so menacingly across my phone, I felt something inside of my being shift—a foreshock that ran far deeper than the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I struggled through the rest of that day, I started to make sense of my emotions: fear, anger, hurt, and the dejected realization that I was not at all surprised. I had, in fact, been walking around for months, with an ominous cognizance of what was coming.

I tried to warn others, but they didn’t believe me. I tried to quell my anxieties, by listening to the experts in political analyses and prediction, only to be lulled into a false sense of security at the eleventh hour. Looking back on that morning, as I read, bleary eyed and heavy hearted, that headline declaring the end of democracy of this Republic as we have known it, for all its sins and failings and victories, I now understand what the seismic shift that I felt was. It was rage. I’m not talking about the type of rage with which I am accustomed[1], the kind that bubbles up like a chemical reaction into a hot and bright flame, hurting feelings and searing edges, before it burns out as quickly as it arose. No no…this a rage I have never known before. A rage that percolates from my gut, like crude oil, and courses its way through my body, numbing my senses and rattling my spirit. In the days after the election, I found myself overwhelmed by the countless think pieces and analyses written about how and why this happened. Of the few I could focus on long enough to read, some were sound, some were trash, others only made me more agitated, and not a single one of them brought me solace. As the days turned into weeks, I found myself struggling to abate the growth of that bitter seed[2] that we, the targets of the structural and individual “isms” of this Republic, are implanted with often at childhood. This is a battle I have been losing.

 

When I stop to think about it in a logical manner, I realize that I have been fighting this battle with the wrong strategy. You see, I have been in state of unadulterated rage, because a naked racist, misogynist, rapist, robber baron, intellectually challenged, orange-faced, cotton candy wig wearing, orangutan in a cheap suit that was made in Mexico, is the president of the United States of America. And as president, he is joined by a venomous, gay bashing bigot, the mouthpiece of the white supremacist movement who may or may not be suffering from tertiary syphilis, a 31year old, openly hateful, senior policy advisor who has neither a graduate degree nor professional policy experience, and an entire cast of comic book villains who can and will wreak havoc on people’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Pandora’s box has been opened, and the best we can do is brace for what is coming and resist when we can. And as a woman of sound mind and logic, these facts make me want to fight everyone who made this nightmare our reality. Sue me. The problem is not inherently that I have rage, but in what I have been doing with said rage. After much thought, a thoughtful exchange with my best friend in response to a Facebook rant, many bottles of wine, and several conversations with a licensed, doctorate-holding, mental health professional[3], I have come to learn that my anger serves a purpose—and that means yours does too.

 

But to get to that purpose, one must free their rage.

Take it from me, the woman with thirty two years of anxiety driven behavior patterns and a long history of a short temper, you cannot let your anger stew. I first found my way to blogging by way of ranting, and today I have returned to those roots. When I first conceptualized this post, I had planned on sharing a thorough and excoriating rant about the “silent majority” and other complicit factions of American society who made cheese crunch-Satan[4] the president. But in the interest of time, and the hopes of actually being published, I’m going to keep my name calling to my unpublished draft, because it was cathartic AF to rightfully call everyone who voted for this racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, nationalist, Christian supremacist, fact deficient, fear mongering, megalomaniacal, sociopathic, and oligarchic administration all of these labels that they voted for.

 

…Oh wait, I just did it anyway. And it felt real good, #kanyeshrug. Whew! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I do want acknowledge that yes, I am clear that there is empirical evidence to support that it is counterproductive to label people in these ways, because white fragility. In the aforementioned exchange with one of my besties, who happens to be white and from a family with a mixed voting record, I learned that I cannot subdue my emotions around the fallout of this election in order to meet people where they are. I am not Van Jones. I do not possess the patience to coax anyone to cross the starting line from deplorable to non-deplorable. And that’s OK, because that is not who I am. I echo the sentiments of Toni Morrison, as quoted by Ava DuVernay in a recent episode of Code Switch, which convey that trying to persuade racists of the value of your humanity is an exercise in futility. For those who would dare to cry, “I’m not a racist, I just voted for an explicitly racist candidate because xyz…”, my resolute response is best captured by this quote from the late, great, James Baldwin, “I cannot believe what you say, because I see what you do”. People vote their values, and America certainly showed us what and who it still values. The flagrant denial and willful obtuseness that far too many white Americans engage in around the realities of racism, privilege, and how we got here is honestly what fuels my rage the most. In recognizing the source of my indignation, I release myself from it. It is neither my job nor moral obligation, nor yours, as a POC to kumbaya with folks who with either malicious intent, or passive participation, support(ed) the rise of fascism in America.

 

So now what?

For starters, figure out what exactly is the root of your ire, because it may be different than mine.

Then talk about it, rant about, write about, sweat it out, cry it out, scream, shout, or anything else that is cathartic, legal, and healthy. And do it repeatedly, as this it will be an ongoing process. Whatever you do, do not bury it, or run from it, even feel guilty for having it.  Look into the depths of your rage, and decide that you are better off without it. If you don’t purge yourself of much of this acerbity, it will consume and destroy you. It will burn you out and leave nothing but bitter ash. I work for a civil rights agency, and see first hand what time and sustained anger can do to people. You don’t want that life and I don’t want that life.

Next, decide on what purpose your anger will serve, because it won’t nor should it dissipate in its entirety.

Anger spurs progress, and it fuels resistance—so go forth, and resist! Lastly, choose yourself over rage. Love yourself in spite of rage. Live your life as if you don’t have rage. It’s what we must do in order to live fully and be able to fight on, another day.

 

[1] Anyone who knows me well can tell you that my longest and most significant relationship is with the emotion of anger. I’ve made significant progress over the years, but as you may have noticed, this new reality is testing my limits.

[2] “But it wasn't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside a me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore.”-Abileen, The Help

[3] Yes, I just told the whole internet that I’m in therapy. Because therapy is good, and shame around mental health care, specifically in the black community is outdated and counterproductive.

[4] By now, I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve Voldemorted him. Because the allegorical tale of Harry Potter, fighting the rise of an evil autocrat is now a frightening reality. Also, I will not use president and his name in the same sentence or blog post cuz I’m petty.


Bernadette is true Jersey girl — impatient, unfiltered, and infamously averse to mayonnaise. Her affinity for the finer things in life include high-end leather boots, jamón ibérico, and all things bourbon. She and her miniature poodle Kona, currently reside on the wrong side of the Atlantic in Baltimore, MD. But Madrid is their spirit city, and they plan of finding their way back in the future, this time for keeps. You can find more of her work here.