Why can't I be angry?
August 28, 2016 12:23 AM   Subscribe

I was dating someone I really liked for a few months. He ended things by saying via text we needed to talk, and then ignoring my texts (one in which which I agreed to talk and one in which, after several days had passed, I reiterated that I was available to talk). I know he is alive because I saw him once when I was out (we did not acknowledge or speak to each other, though I'm sure he saw me too).

I've been told vehemently by friends that what he did was very shitty. Objectively I can see that this is true. I'm sure I would say the same to a friend in my position. But I can't feel angry. I just feel very hurt. And the hurt is dragging out for a long time - it's been a few months and I'm having trouble moving on, and I still wonder what went wrong.

I think it would be healthy to feel angry towards him, perhaps even contemptuous, and I wonder if my lack of anger is rooted in low self-esteem. I wonder if I believe on some level that he was correct in his behavior because I am not deserving of respect.

Has anyone else had the experience of not being angry when it makes perfect sense to be angry, and the anger would be healthy and protective? Have you managed to stir up some anger? How Did it help? Did something else help?

Note: I am perfectly capable of being angry in other situations.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's OK to just let yourself feel the emotions you are feeling. You can be sad for a while. Maybe you'll be angry a few months from now. After a while, it will be mostly indifference, and that will be good.

I've been in a similar situation, and you can't just force yourself to be angry. I don't think that's a good way to approach it, anyway. It's ok to be sad, even if rationally you don't know why the sadness is sticking around so long.
posted by hydra77 at 12:53 AM on August 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

The thing is, he totally ghosted you. You never had the experience of him saying shitty things to you, or even of him dumping you in the conventional sense. You were dating and he was nice to you and everything seemed lovely, and then suddenly he was just gone. It's not so weird that might leave you in a kind of emotional limbo.

I've certainly had experiences where people treated me terribly and it wasn't until years later that I realized just how shitty they were to me. I've also had experiences where I held a grudge against somebody for years only to finally realize that I was the asshole. Emotions are hard.

The anger may come to you, but don't try to make yourself mad. You won't really gain anything by being angry. Cultivate indifference toward him. He's earned it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:44 AM on August 28, 2016 [37 favorites]

Could it be that you're not angry because you weren't all that invested in the relationship yet, and so not terribly bothered by the relationship ending?

Ghosting is pretty unclassy but it happens more and more often lately - so the ghosters must think it's becoming more acceptable (like a lot of other negative things people are doing lately - dick pics and so on). Good for you for not being bothered by this guy's actions, he doesn't deserve your sweating this.
posted by lizbunny at 5:18 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The guy is a total shit and you're better off without such a dip in your life.

You are doing fine. You don't sound like someone with low self esteem. You feel hurt, as you should. The anger will come. Believe me, it will come and it will be wonderful, but it will fade just as quickly.

Get out there and find yourself a man, not some boy.
posted by james33 at 5:33 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm agreeing with hydra77, sadness is what you feel and usually underneath anger there is the sadness anyway. So you may actually be even be closer to dealing with this already by feeling sadness. Maybe if you would still have to deal with him, anger would be of use because you'd have to assert boundaries in some way. But now, since he's simply disappeared, maybe you don't really "need" anger. And you can just be sad (that someone can betray your trust so quickly? That you were mistaken? ...).
So it may help you just to figure out what is at the heart of your sadness, what really makes you the most sad in this situation, and you'll know yourself and the world a little better. I've felt hurt by people and have also discovered (much later) that I've let people down myself by holding off contact of some sort. You may just be discovering something important for you, because this feeling has lasted long already (which means it's important and maybe needs to be understood better than you do right now). Maybe journal, talk to people that know you well?
posted by Litehouse at 6:00 AM on August 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not angry 'cause you didn't really care all that much.
posted by fixedgear at 6:22 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding what Litehouse said above. A lot of contemporary psychology approaches anger as a "mask" that is really hiding some vulnerable parts of ourself. We respond with anger when we are hurt, insecure, grieving, or afraid. If you're feeling sad and hurt right now, that seems like honestly the more authentic reaction.

That being said - don't let your lack of anger keep your from defining this kind of behavior as unacceptable. What he did was super crappy.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:24 AM on August 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I was recently ghosted on, and was feeling sadness for several weeks. I also was hungry to feel angry because sadness hurts but anger can feel more empowering. At some point the anger did finally kick in, leaving sadness in the dust. Anger is like a fire that cleared out all my sadness. For me that transition from sad to angry happened when I reached out for one more desperate conversation with my ghoster about our relationship. He said shitty things which pushed me into the angry category, and now I have self-justified a reason to be glad our relationship is over. Anger makes it feel like leaving is a decision I am also making. But if you're looking to be angry you need to find that tipping point. Reach out again and stir up a fight? Or maybe there was something in your last interaction (where you both pretended to not see each other) that can trigger some healthy anger. Find your anger and then be done with it.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:49 AM on August 28, 2016

Yes, I've felt sad and wounded before coming to an understanding of things that allowed me to see that I had been disrespected and poorly treated. It took, I don't know, maybe a year for this perspective to settle? And then I came back around to a different understanding after that.

I don't buy that anger is somehow "masking" sadness (except when it is - maybe more for some groups than others, groups who've been socialized to limit their expression [and perhaps thereby experience] of emotions to a socially acceptable range - but I don't believe it's the rule). I think anger is about perceiving that an injustice has been done or that a boundary has been crossed, and then defending that right or boundary. It presumes a self worth defending.

I think that if this event has led you to recognize that you have a deep-down feeling that you're not worth defending, yes, I think this is something to address.

But as Ursula Hitler says, you weren't aggressed upon, you were shut down by silence and rejected that way. Maybe that feeling is triggering memories of other times you felt that way? I think it's worth exploring. You can't force a feeling but you can reconsider the perceptions and beliefs that give it rise.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:57 AM on August 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, this happened to me after a devastating sudden break up with little sensible explanation -- including wishing to God I were angry, knowing I should be angry but being able to sustain anger for more than a few seconds.
The reason in my case: I was feeling the part of myself that had been investing in a dream about this relationship, not the part of myself that felt dissed; what was most pressing for me was the fact of the dashed hope, not the fact of being mistreated. I knew that it was true I'd been treated in a shitty way, but the part that was more important to my own life was that my story had been altered without my wanting it to be. And that was really really sad for me, not angering.
I've never managed to muster much rage against the man who did this. It is not that I don't care, it's that I care more about my own disappointment than about how well this guy was able to treat me. But that has made me start to see him as small, incapable, weak, unable to pursue our story against some difficult odds the way I was able to do, not brave enough to really have it out, and therefore less attractive. Which in my case has the same distancing effect, eventually, as anger.
posted by flourpot at 9:05 AM on August 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know that I often don't feel angry about someone being a chooch to me until I've really given up on them turning over a new leaf and apologizing to me. You may still be holding out hope that he'll come around?

Whatever the reason, I don't think you need to attack yourself for the way you're feeling. There's nothing wrong with you -- you were treated poorly and you are just going to feel how you feel. Sometimes, in my experience, the worst part of being treated badly in a relationship is feeling judged by your friends for it. Lots of friends mean well, but will say things that make you turn on yourself, by suggesting that you should be feeling differently than you are. They are trying to help you get to a different/better place, but you're not there yet, and what you really need is support in where you are in the moment. For what it's worth, if you tell your friends that, they are likely (hopefully!) to hear you and support you how you need.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

++Ursula Hitler

You get to have whatever emotions you have. There's no right or wrong. Don't try to feel because you think you should, and don't let others talk you into feeling what they want you to feel.

Even the 5 stages of grief are not as universal as claimed. I won't derail with my story, just know everybody gets to have their own experience.
posted by trinity8-director at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2016

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