“Elle Grant” is the pseudonym of an award-winning author and journalist. In 2009, she created Betrayed Wives Club, an online community where women like her, dealing with a partner’s infidelity, could come together and heal. The following is an excerpt from her book Encyclopedia for the Betrayed:
I hated waking in the night to my parents fighting. The yelling. The thuds on the wall that divided our bedrooms. The slamming doors.
I hated the switch that would flip in my brother’s eyes, when he would suddenly turn from the guy I adored to someone I feared. Once he battered me so badly that my mother suggested a trip to the ER but nobody was sober enough to take me.
So the calculus in my head goes like this:
Anger = Chaos + Violence
In my world, if someone was angry, anything could happen. Marriages could go “poof.” Friendships could dissolve. Brothers could betray. It could all fall apart.
I didn’t want my childhood shaken. As long as nobody was angry, I could pretend that everything was fine. It wasn’t, of course. My mother drank to quash her anger and hurt. My father drank to forget his frustration. My brother drank and smoked pot to numb his anger and confusion.
But girls aren’t supposed to be angry. And so I drank too. I drank my shame. And I drank my hurt. And I drank my disappointment and my fear. Mostly I drank my fury.
I learned to not rock the boat. Many nights alcohol allowed the wall I’d built around my feelings to dissolve just enough, and then my grief would pour out. Or someone would say something I took offence to, and my anger, grateful to have a target, would unleash.
I internalized a second equation:
My Anger + Expression of it = Shame
And then I learned of my husband’s cheating. I swung wildly between paralyzing emotional pain and a blazing fury that consumed me. I destroyed an expensive watch. I trashed a diamond necklace. I knocked a television set onto the floor. I threw a hot pizza at my husband. I felt crazy. I was crazy.
My anger spent, I felt empty, void of anything except a deep shame at my lack of control.
My therapist taught me how to feel my anger without breaking things. She taught me that my anger was legitimate, that it had something to teach me. She gave me a new equation:
Healthy Boundaries + Violation of Those Boundaries = Righteous Anger.
I started to pay attention to my anger before it consumed me. I tried to notice when I’d get that flicker of irritation because my husband said something, or did something, or didn’t do something. I’d check in with myself: What was my anger telling me? Was I being disrespected? Taken for granted? Devalued?
Anger, my therapist reminded me often, is a mask for hurt and fear. It’s what she called a “secondary emotion.” Except. Except when it’s not a secondary emotion. Except when it’s a signal of something that deserves our attention. Except when it’s signalling that we’re in danger of betraying ourselves.
I don’t always get it right. I’m still guilty of dismissing my anger, sometimes until it makes itself known in unhealthy ways. I recently lashed out at my son for leaving his clothes lying around the house because instead of addressing my frustration early on, I’d muttered to myself as I picked things up. My anger was telling me that I was feeling disrespected. Taken for granted. He deserved my honesty. I deserved courtesy. Instead, I got angry, he responded with anger and little got resolved.
So…I’m learning. Anger might always be a problem for me because those early-life lessons leave deep tracks in our hearts and our brains. But, slowly, I’m learning to use my anger to stand up for myself, to be certain that I’m heard.