Anger didn't surface much chez nous when I was young. Very few emotions were actually encouraged (I can't think of any approved ones, at the moment) but anger was particularly banished.
This doesn't mean that anger didn't exist in our family. Look at any family—or any family of six noisy children and two clueless adults—and you'll know that anger is always floating around. But overt anger was not allowed.
Never, in the 18 years I lived at home (plus the remaining 17 years before my parents both died) never did I see or hear my parents fight. (Whooops! "Never" alert! I know this must be an exaggeration.) But my inference was that good people didn't argue, didn't get mad at each other, didn't confront one another.
We children did know anger when we heard it. Here's how my mother, Eileen, showed her anger. When Eileen retired to the kitchen and the kitchen began to shake and rumble with the sounds of slammed cupboard doors, pots banged onto the stove and lids onto pots, bowls and utensils whacked onto the work surface, oven door clanged shut—then we knew to stay out of the kitchen, because Eileen was on the warpath. So you see, right there I've made a liar of myself. Irish Eileen DID get angry. But she just never told anyone about it. As far as I know, she never said to our father, Myron, "You treat me like a workhorse. I'm a workhorse in the poorhouse! I need . . . I need . . . I need . . ." Instead, Eileen just went to the kitchen and banged her pots and pans. And to my knowledge, no husband or child ever said to her, "What's wrong?"
That is all I ever learned about anger during my childhood. It took me a long, long time to discover that anger was not forbidden. A long time to recognize it in myself and (the hardest part of all) to learn what to do with it. I learned to confront when necessary, and to let it go when I could—after acknowledging it in the very first place.
Recently, within the space of five minutes both anger and guilt came leaping over the fence to land on top of me. Well, well, I thought, look at this. What is more surprising? The fact that these two breached the defenses and landed here at the same time, or the fact that you recognized them right away? And what do you do with them now that they're here?
The anger was occasioned by an acquaintance whom I find difficult to talk to. I made a comment, and then she triggered my anger by behaving the way she always behaves. Thus, my anger was brought on by my own actions. (Isn't there a theory that insanity is when you do the same thing over and over and expect to get a different result?) I left myself open to her comments and then expected her to respond differently. Well, insanity or not, it still made me angry. So that was the anger that hit me.
The guilt was a double-guilt. I became aware of loud and lively birdsong nearby and immediately felt guilty that I had failed to educate my children about the natural world. I'm not a great birder at all, but I did know, at one time, a few bird calls beyond the cardinal and the chickadee, and I never took the children birding to teach them even the little that I knew. Guilt. There had recently been a walk-in-High-Park tour on the topic of the passerine birds. It was at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, and I could have gone. I thought about going. But I had a ticket for the opera that afternoon and it all just seemed too complicated and rushed. Also, I have attended a couple of birding walks before and have felt awkward and unwelcome. I didn't go to the High Park bird walk, and I felt guilty about having missed it. Thus I was hit by a double-bird kind of guilt. Two guilts with one bird? Two birds with one guilt?
There I was, feeling my anger and guilt. I gave them both a thought, briefly; I recognized them both. I felt them in my body (isn't that what you're supposed to do?) and then I just said, "Begone!" or words to that effect, and I let go of it all. Anger gone. Guilt gone. The rest of the day was just a walk in the park.