Accepting Our Anger During the Pandemic

anger about the pandemicThis January marks the 10th month that my husband and I have been quarantined in our home. Above all else, I am grateful that this has kept us safe from Covid. And in general, it’s been manageable. Lucky for me, I’m not a very restless person. Also lucky for me, I really enjoy my husband’s company.

In the beginning, I was busy adjusting to this new lifestyle. I figured out how to work from home. How to have groceries and any other necessities delivered. I got used to communicating with family members either in person by socially distancing outside or digitally on Facetime and Zoom. I enjoyed the simple pleasures of taking walks, cooking dinners, and following our favorite sports teams.

But after the summer, life seemed to hit a lull. There was an underlying loneliness, and I felt emotionally cut off from meaningful elements of my life. I wrote about these feelings in my October blog, “The Emotional Impact of the Prolonged Pandemic.” Interestingly, deeply feeling my sadness helped to lift me from this mood. And I took steps that I knew were good for me; I reached out to friends and family, engaged my mind in work, stayed physically active, and volunteered where I could.

But at the first of the year, I began to have other reactions that have confused me. I have felt frustrated; like I’m at the end of my rope. I identify with the newscaster in the 1976 film Network who finally snapped and yelled out the window, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

This just doesn’t make sense to me. Things are definitely looking up. Some of my friends have already been vaccinated, and I’ll probably be vaccinated soon. There is a sense that we can not only see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that in the next months, we will actually be there. So why the anger? Why the impatience?

In puzzling this out, I reflected over the last year and my different reactions to and ways of coping with the pandemic. I’ve been able to acknowledge and manage my emotions. I’ve been there for friends and family. I’ve done a pretty good job of holding a realistic perspective and staying out of a negative mindset. I’ve maintained a general attitude of optimism and gratitude. I’m very aware of how lucky I am to be safe and secure when there are so many people in the world who are not.

Then I realized that I’ve been so focused on coping and maintaining a positive outlook through this time period that I haven’t allowed myself to feel angry. How can I be angry when there are so many people who have real problems? I can’t get angry; getting angry is a weakness, and I need to be strong. Being angry means that I’m being selfish, childish and victimized.

But the truth is that I am angry! I’m angry that I can’t drop in on my children and grandchildren and hang out with them and be affectionate the way I always have. I’m angry that I can’t take off and travel when and where I want to. I’m angry that I can’t go out to dinner. I’m angry that I can’t go to the dentist to have my broken tooth fixed. And none of this means that I am a bad person. None of this means that I’m selfish or weak or indulgent or insensitive to the suffering of others. It doesn’t take away from the compassion, gratitude, and optimism that I truly feel. It’s easy to be judgemental and intolerant of anger. To lose sight of the fact that everyone gets angry, no matter how psychologically mature they are. Anger is a natural part of everyday life. In Daring to Love, I wrote:

Anger is an emotion that most people misperceive and have learned very little about. For one thing, anger is not a negative emotion. Some people regard it as bad or immoral and feel that becoming angry makes them a bad person…But it is not bad or mean to be angry. Angry feelings are neither right nor wrong.

In fact, a lot of our anger comes from being frustrated in our pursuit of what matters to us. In that sense, it’s an acknowledgement of what is personally important. In my case, I value spending time with my family; I love travel and adventure, I like socializing with friends. And I don’t like having a broken front tooth! When we deny our anger, we begin to deny what is meaningful to us, and we become dull and lose our vitality.

There are a few critical points to remember about anger. First is the distinction between feeling anger and acting on it:

  • All angry feelings are acceptable and should be allowed free rein in our consciousness.
  • The same freedom does not apply to our actions—we are accountable for our actions and bear full responsibility for all of our behavior and responses in relation to others.

Then there is the importance of feeling anger as an adult, which then allows us to let it go and move beyond it. The opposite of that is feeling anger as a child, which involves being victimized and holding a grudge, both of which leave us mired in a powerless state.

Maybe the fact that this nightmare seems to be coming to an end has allowed me to realize that I have anger. I’ve been surprised to find that I’m not the only one who’s experiencing this. People I’ve talked to recently have expressed the same frustration, impatience, and irritability. And they’ve also felt the same confusion and disapproval of their reactions. As much as I know that all feelings are natural and part of being human, I keep forgetting that it is okay to feel angry. I have to remember to accept anger as easily as the Dalai Lama, who reportedly said, “Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain.”

Daring to Love, Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability and Create Lasting Connection
Tamsen Firestone with Robert Firestone, Ph.D.
New Harbinger Publications, 2018

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One Comment

Virginia

Thank you for this post. I’ve been struggling so much since last month, especially with anger I thought I had been processing plenty (along with grief and fear and anxiety) – only to keep finding more of it, some of it in direct response to new events (eg Jan 6). But not all of it. I’ve been sheltering alone for 9.5 months – with likely 6 more to go. I thought I would feel more optimistic at this stage, for the reasons you list… Instead I’m in the darkest hour… At least I’m not alone.

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