Get Mad: There Is Rage in Courage


Up until last week, I hadn’t done rage.

Polite ladies don’t go there.

Anger turned inward

Some say the definition of depression is anger turned inward. I suppose, then, my rage has been tucked away inside my tears.

The other day I spoke with a group of women about handling negative thoughts.

“When I am late for an event and I can’t get around a car, I lose it,” one said. “I start yelling profanities at the car in front of me.”

Her comment illustrates the difference between people who get mad and folks like me who get sad. I would never think to yell at the car in front of me because I am too busy bashing myself for not forecasting heavy traffic and leaving the house 10 minutes earlier. I am too busy calling myself an idiot to yell mean words out the window or give someone the bird.

Somewhere I learned that I should assume all responsibility, so I blamed myself for all the bad things that happen to me.

Stop complaining – You brought it on

In high school, when I summoned the courage to tell an adult that, although I blacked out and had no memory, I believe I was the victim of a sexual assault, she said, “Why is that a big deal?”

During a summer college internship, my supervisor clearly abused his power. My mentor at the time asked me, “Why do you need to say anything about that?”

Only in the last few weeks have I begun to see the pattern of wrongdoing and shame, and to speculate both why these events happen to me and why I don’t get mad.

No victim of sexual assault or another tragedy causes her misfortune. Let me be clear on that. However, it’s my belief that those of us with early trauma are extra vulnerable to them because wrong boundaries often feel right and familiar, whereas right boundaries feel wrong. In other words, we are missing the “Get the hell out of here” cue. Even when we recognize a violation, it’s incredibly difficult to assign any injustice to it and to shed the layers of shame that don’t belong to us. Too many times we own it all.

Get mad not sad

My marriage has provided a safe testing ground to express anger.

I’m growing more comfortable at recognizing and speaking my truth.

“What about the other people who have treated you unfairly?” my husband said to me yesterday. “Don’t just get mad at me. Yell at them too. Especially the ones that never took ownership or apologized.”

He is hardly the first person to encourage me to get mad about certain situations, especially those that have brought me loss and altered my life in ways I wasn’t prepared for. My doctor and my therapist continually prod me away from shame and toward anger.

Seeds of rage

A small annoyance the other day allowed me to see my rage block. I was trying to move past ruminations of self-doubt triggered by this event.

“Do you not see anything in this situation that could be considered an injustice?” A friend asked me.

“No,” I responded. “I feel like a stable and self-assured person would not be bothered by this. It’s my job to get to a place of emotional resilience so that petty things like this don’t throw me off.”

She saw it differently. “I think a self-assured person would certainly be angry by what happened,” she said. The difference? She would be screaming instead of crying.

As she was talking, I finally caught a glimpse of her view and felt irritated. Then I saw the injustice in something that occurred awhile back and I felt rage. It was like one of those 3-D posters where the whole rainforest becomes visible when you relax your eyes and look at it from another perspective. By the time I returned home, I was so full of emotion that I wanted to kick down the closet door like my son did during a temper tantrum when he was five, or to punch a hole through the wall.

Glennon Doyle, New York Times best-selling author and founder of the nonprofit Together Rising, once said that anger is “a gift that’s pointing us in the direction of the change that we need to be a part of making.” It’s the impetus that leads to healing and transformation.

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, anger is also the second stage of grief. It is the critical bridge between denial and bargaining, which prepare us for depression and acceptance. I consider them the five stages of courage, as well. We start in denial and then get mad. Our anger propels us forward to change.

“Courage — it’s always got rage in it,” says Doyle.

Anger is surely part of healing.

So get mad.

That’s what polite ladies do.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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9 Responses
  1. Laura

    Another good article…I have also heard the statement that anger is depression turned inward. I think I held a lot of anger in as a child, and wasn’t allowed to get angry either. I also often rationalize that I am at fault, when maybe I am not in actuality. Don’t be sad…get angry!

  2. Lizzie

    My husband said the same thing to me Therese. Why do I only get mad at him? I have noticed other people seem to be able to say whatever they like to me. But if I try to do the same it backfires.
    Then my anger is turned on to myself.
    I think when feel angry with anxiety it is often because you are not being heard and with depression it is turned inwards on your self.
    When you are getting better you find your voice like you mentioned in a previous article.
    I now can say to my husband it’s a sign of getting better. THank you Lizzie

  3. I’ve never “been good” at anger, but I could never figure out why. This post helps me see it a little more clearly. Maybe that IS part of my depression – I’m going to explore this with my therapist. “I was trained at a very young age to assume all responsibility…Too many times we own it all.” Yep. I think I need to learn to get mad.

  4. Heidi Smith

    Right on, Therese! What a wonderfully written article. I’m going through a depressive (severe)
    episode now and so much of the deep hurt and pain is from the anger that got pushed down.
    Being a “nice person” is deadly to my psyche. I’m mad as hell now, but really cannot do
    much about it at this point to remedy the circumstances. Mostly angry with myself.
    Have to forgive “ME” and move on.
    My therapist and I are trying to work this out to allow the anger to be recognized and deal with it. I pray that in our sessions some of this anger is allowed to come out to allow
    me to be free again. Of course, behind the anger sits my hurt. Lots of work to do, but I’m using the Serenity prayer and moving one day (or hour) at a time.
    Thank you for your most wonderful articles. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Patricia Schwimer

    This piece touches me deeply. I was raised to never show anger. And now in my 70’s I still resolve into tears and the shame/blame place. Six months ago the pastor of our church again deprived me of my voice re: a totally false accusation made 3 years ago when I was chair of a committee working with parish mergers. I had been dismissed from all ministries under the guise of leaving the parish.
    This pastor was not there at the time. I spent 3 years “under the radar” . When opening the discussion he began shouting and shaking his fists at me. My husband jumped to my defense as I crumbled. I did put my reaction and feelings in a letter a few weeks later. But now am shopping for a new faith home, each Sunday finds me choked with tears, having been evicted from my faith home where I was a steward for 47 years!! I am still reeling, and I have been working on this piece of my response to intimidation.

  6. Cherlyn

    Hi Therese, I wanted to thank you for this post. I’ve always been taught that if you get angry then you can’t be a follower of Christ. I was and still am afraid to show my anger. But sometimes I feel like screaming and afraid if I do they’ll lock me up. Life can be hard sometimes.
    Also Therese I wanted let you know that I am getting a notification that your site is not secured and it needs to be upgraded to a secure website.
    Just thought you might want to check this out.

  7. Cynthia S Alden

    I like this ~ lots to think about, return to, reread, consider & reconsider. I remember thinking, believing & actually declaring: I never get mad. NOT TRUE! Denial had me convinced + I couldn’t identify feelings beyond ‘I feel good’ & ‘I feel bad’.

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