My Subconscious Has Probably Shouted At You

The reason this dream feels like a nightmare isn’t just because the people I’m shouting at always ignore me or laugh at me (though that bit sucks, too). And it’s not a nightmare because of whatever they did in the dream to upset me. It’s a nightmare because I get really angry at them — and I’m not supposed to.

A few years ago, I was having these dreams every night and waking up each morning tearful and racked with guilt for having been so horrible. My insomnia was terrible, but it wasn’t that I couldn’t sleep — it was that I didn’t want to. Sleeping revealed my darkest, most aggressive side that I didn’t want anyone to know about. Because anger is bad. Anger means you’re crazy, irrational, unpleasant. Anger is that thing you’re supposed to shut away and get over before it causes a scene.

Eventually, exhaustion and anxiety overtook me, and I was convinced to go to a CBT therapist. But when she told me, halfway through our session, that I needed to deal with my “repressed anger,” I nearly laughed. Because my anger didn’t feel all that “repressed.” It felt like my most obvious, embarrassing quality.

“I’ve been accused of being angry for as long as I can remember,” I explained to her. “At school, in discussions, in debates, whenever I’ve felt remotely passionate about anything, I’ve been told to calm down, to use a ‘nice’ voice. You must have got this wrong; I have a lot of anger. It’s really bad.”

And then my therapist told me something totally unexpected. She told me that anger isn’t “bad.”

Here’s what I understand now: All emotions are valid, not just the nice ones. Happiness might feel the coziest, but it’s not always the most empathetic, or the most astute, or the most inspiring. Sometimes you need to feel a little sad to understand what people are going through, or feel scared enough to realize something’s wrong, or angry enough to start a revolution. And when those emotions crop up, you better listen — or you might just miss something important.

I grew up in a family of the calmest, least confrontational people I know, which meant I was lucky enough never to have to suffer through the sound of constant fighting — but it also meant I was the problem. So whenever I got angry, I would also get angry at myself. And look, being angry at your own emotions is seriously the biggest waste of time. Because they’re not going anywhere. They’ll stay bubbling inside you demanding to be heard, and eventually they’ll burst, uninvited, into your dreams.

The most surprising part about refusing to suppress my anger anymore has been how little of my time I need to spend on it. People warn you against dwelling on your emotions, but when you actually let them play out naturally, there’s nothing left to dwell on. My anger tells me something I need to know, and then it’s gone. So these days, whenever I feel angry, I pay attention to it. I might even shout at someone if I need. Or I might fume silently, letting my anger out by scribbling furiously onto a piece of paper and then throwing it away. I might squeeze a stress ball. I might go for a run. I might scream at the top of my lungs. But I won’t ignore it.

And when I get angry, I don’t dream about it anymore. I feel it.

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