The Unloveable Little Girl
I am not allowed to be angry. I don’t mean I’m not allowed to yell or break things or act out, though that is strictly forbidden as well, obviously. I mean I am not allowed to feel the emotion itself. It has no place in my being, no space it can comfortably take up. Instead, it squeezes into other homes, transforms into anxiety or rejection or, a personal favorite, self-loathing. Anger has been so thoroughly scrubbed from my repertoire of emotions that I no longer recognize it. I do not feel anger. Or, I do not realize I feel anger, and I definitely don’t talk about it when I do. Because if I did, you might not love me.
I did not want to be one of those girls, shrinking herself in order to be worthy of love. Those girls are weak. Dependent. Shallow. Of course, that’s not true, but by the time I realized that, these ideas had been thoroughly internalized. We talk about it as a personal failing because doing so abdicates society of any responsibility, and it further gaslights these women to prevent them from speaking out. After all, who cares if someone who shot themselves in the foot complains of foot pain?
My parents love me very much, but they were not prepared to raise such a dramatic, sensitive person, and as a result, I grew up hiding in more and more elaborate ways, until I became an adult with a lot of problems. My parents always told me the right things: that they believed in me, that they loved me, that they supported me—but that support and love did not extend to my emotions, and as a deeply emotional person, that wounded me in ways I am only now starting to figure out.
The emotions I remember being shamed for as a kid were mostly sadness and fear, so it isn’t really much of a surprise that I’m now a very anxious-depressive adult, but I was shocked to find out that I am also a deeply angry person. For a long time I didn’t see this, and when it was gently pointed out to me by husband, I was insulted and defensive—one might even say angry—if that one were not me. Because I am not allowed to be angry.
I don’t have any defining memories of my anger being shut down the way I do about my sadness or anxiety, so all I can do is observe how I react to my own anger now, as an adult. It’s been a very enlightening and infuriating process. When something happens to make me angry, the emotion of anger doesn’t even get a chance to fully form. Something deep in my subconscious cuts it off, redirects the force of emotion to a different tunnel, and I end up feeling horrible about myself instead of feeling horrible about whatever made me mad. When I’m supposed to be feeling angry, I sometimes find myself feeling dizzy and disconnected, a feeling I’m slowly learning to recognize as mild dissociation. Other times, I do get mad—but at myself, for being too sensitive, for reading too much into the situation, for not sticking up for myself over the thing that I’m definitely not even mad about.
Basically, I am one of those weak, shallow, dependent girls. Because why am I doing this? Why not just be mad? Because I need my emotions to be palatable to the people around me. So they will love me.
Growing up, I was told both directly and indirectly that emotions are bad, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to be any less emotional. In fact, knowing my emotions were bad only made them stronger, because I would panic about feeling something I shouldn’t. I just couldn’t change who I was, I couldn’t act “right,” and so I was wrong. Like I said before, I know my parents love me, but their dismissal, and at times, ridicule, of my emotions defined a core belief somewhere in my subconscious brain: who I am is bad. There is a little girl inside me who always feels unlovable, and she will do anything to make sure people don’t see how awful she is.
This means I cannot be angry. It’s not just that I’m not allowed to yell in public because of societal expectations. Or that I’m scared to speak up when a relative is being racist because it disrupts the status quo. I can’t be angry because people might realize what I realized long ago: I am too much. Too sensitive, and I do not deserve their love.
None of this is true. I know that now, or at least part of me knows it. I don’t think it’s quite absorbed into my core yet, but it will get there. Because I love that little girl, and she deserves to know that she’s okay. I still can’t get angry, but I’m getting better at recognizing when I should be and identifying which emotion I’m feeling instead. I’m getting better at accepting that I’m an angry person, and that there are plenty of things for me to be angry about, so that’s okay. Basically, I’m getting better, and so is the little girl, and soon we will be able to feel what we feel, even if it’s rage.
Megan Griffith is a poet and freelance writer working out of Dayton, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Mock Turtle Magazine, The Mighty, and on her own blog at meganwriteseverything.com. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found re-watching the same four shows over and over, playing D&D, or eating ice cream.