My anger emanates from a feeling of helplessness. When I feel I am being treated unjustly, disrespected, or invalidated as a human being; and I feel powerless to change the situation, I snap.
The feeling of helplessness comes from childhood. I lived in a “father is always right” household. He occasionally snapped and took his anger out on my brothers and I: physically and psychologically. My Mom would never intervene. Afterwards, even if most people would conclude my father’s reaction was inappropriate, there would be NO apology.
This was fine up until I became more aware of the world around me, particularly with respect to how my peers were being raised, and how their parents exercised authority over them. When I was at the short end of a bullying incident, I also questioned why such behavior was acceptable, despite my feelings of embarrassment, shame, and powerlessness to fight back. Bullies did not apologize. My parents did not apologize.
Therefore, I constantly questioned my sense of self-worth: I was told to behave one way and given a sense of morality, but when I was wronged, I very rarely felt vindicated afterwards because the aggressors never admitted their misdeeds.
When one is led to believe one thing, while experiencing something drastically different in reality, one naturally questions his or her sense of self; and wonders what exactly it takes to be validated and treated fairly.
I knew a few “only children” growing up. Their interactions with their parents were always very diplomatic and respectful. They were treated not as children, but as individuals soon-to-be adults. When they were subjected to parental anger or unfair treatment, there was always an apology afterwards. Thus, they were able to develop a compass for what was acceptable and not acceptable. Further, they were validated thereafter when their parents apologized and/or had an intelligent discussion with them about behaving properly.
The feelings of both helplessness and little personal value only lead to future degradation and an upside-down form of self-esteem.
If father never apologized, then I must have always been wrong. If bullies constantly bothered me, I must have little value compared to others. If people shat all over me, I concluded I was to take it with no protest, else my family would be embarrassed (particularly my Mom), if a fight ensued at school or some other revolt.
When I was 17, my family traveled to England as part of a town exchange program. We were the only children on the trip among 20 other adults. We were to stay with a man we had hosted when their town’s delegation visited a year earlier.
I had my doubts about this man. He made me uncomfortable. He was touchy-feely as if he knew my brothers and I for life, tickling us and engaging in horseplay. I found this strange. My parents did NOT pick up on this.
My Mother was busy being too proud of her family being the ones to represent our tiny town in another country.
The man engaged in what I would later learn to be grooming behavior: touching me slightly in an out of bounds area and making sexual remarks that were out of place.
One morning I was alone with him in the family area of his house while the rest of my family upstairs was getting up. He asked me about my pubic hair, and instead of slugging him in the head, I quietly answered his lewd questions.
He also took photos of my brothers and I in our underwear. He invited himself into the bathroom when we were showering, making sure to peek because he had just installed a perfectly clear shower curtain.
Weeks after the trip I returned to high school feeling conflicted. The internet was just blooming so I searched for his name once a week to see if anything interesting popped up. One day, I found a slew of articles about him: he had just been arrested for molesting two dozen boys in various countries, and was being arraigned in court.
I went to my Mom and tried to explain my feelings to her. She dismissed the questionable incidents as “horseplay”, “camp behavior”, or “innocent”. After 20 minutes of being invalidated, I finally showed her the articles I found online, revealing the man’s perverted, duplicitous behavior in black and white. She ultimately caved and said “We didn’t realize the danger we were putting this family in. I thought you were nervous about flying to England, not nervous about staying with the man.”
So, not only did my parents never apologize for their own bad behavior, they attempted to explain away other adult’s behavior as insignificant unless proven otherwise. My word was not good enough.
What does all this mean for a developing mind, about to enter college as a young adult? While my peers had some sense of inner value and confidence, I had none to speak of. My social anxiety was compounded by little to no validation outside of praise from other adults, which was fleeting because they were not intimately involved with my life as much as my parents and peers were.
As a result, the feeling of helplessness can only produce explosions and severe self-abuse, which is what transpired in college beginning my junior year.
Without a sense of self, I placed little value on my life. Without any inner validation, I lacked the confidence to truly be myself. I wasn’t at ease in my own shoes. Why I felt rejected socially, it only made matters worse. How is it that everyone around me seems to be relatively happy and productive, while I feel miserable? Further, what does it actually take to earn the respect and admiration of my peers?
Everyone around me seemed to be exceling in college, yet I was falling apart. Some classmates went on to great things afterwards, while I was left to work in a grocery store stocking shelves. I guess I had nothing else to offer the world. No one saw anything of promise in me, because I had blown my college years in painful silence, cutting and burning myself at night in my room, hollowed out from years of invalidation and maltreatment.
I snap as a matter of instinct. It has landed me in the mental hospital twice. After the first incident, hardly anyone in college wanted to be around me. After the second – when I had a physical fight with my father and smashed up the house – my family gave up on me too. It took them years to come around while I was in a personal exile in Costa Rica.
I snap because I feel like a cornered animal and have nothing else to lose. I snap because there is nothing inside me other than a narcissistic sense of self-preservation that is clearly evidence of emotional and social retardation.
I snap because if no one will take me seriously by my words, then they must when I take action.
This explanation is neither an excuse for my behavior, nor a justification. It is merely the context from which my emotional dysfunction operates.