I listened to a podcast interview yesterday where a guy described the moment he finally accepted the truth that his boyfriend was cheating on him. For months he’d had a funny feeling, but he tamped it down, stifled the urge to explore the possibility. But after enough time had passed, the little embers of suspicion became too hot to ignore. He finally confronted his boyfriend and, when the truth of his boyfriend’s infidelity was revealed, he flew into an uncontrollable rage.
As I listened to this guy describe his rage, the purity of his anger, the intensity of it, I racked my brain to think about the last time I was in a rage. I could only think of one moment in my entire 52-year life. It was almost twenty years ago, in a similar moment of betrayal. I remember screaming. I threw a notebook and then I broke a CD in half and I threw that too. Then, shouting profanities, I stormed out of the front door, slamming it loudly.
But afterward, when I was sitting in my car, alone with myself, the rage was completely gone. I sat in complete quiet, the ashes of my fury slowly settling around me as I sank into deep sadness and heartbreak. But even in my despair, I felt better. I felt a powerful sense of release that marked a new beginning.
We all have the potential for rage, but it is a foreign experience for many of us. Occasionally I will see someone on the street, likely someone suffering from a mental illness, screaming, wildly waving their arms, or pointing viciously at someone driving or walking by. They scream and yell, red-faced, going on and on about something I don’t try to really hear. I dismiss them because it scares me to see this explosion of emotion. They are experiencing something that is almost wholly unknown to me.
Rage is the moment of climax. It is the proliferation of all the instants of suspicion, worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, distrust that we finally attend to. After enough moments of not listening to ourselves, a release has to come. The emotions have to go somewhere.
I imagine that we each have a tiny little pilot light seated right around the heart. When we have an emotion, it produces the gas that fuels the pilot light to expand into a flame. When the emotion has passed the flame dies down and the pilot light goes back to its controlled state, small and manageable.
But often we quash our feelings. We ignore the inklings of emotions, dismiss them and subconsciously invite them to go away. When this happens the gas builds up and, when we finally allow ourselves to feel the feelings we’ve been avoiding, it comes in the form of an explosion. This is rage.
Sometimes I wish I could experience rage more readily. Though it is scary and unmooring in the moment, it is also powerful and energizing. In the moment of rage, I am fierce and mighty; it feels like I am finally at the end of something. When the rage is over there is clarity, purity, a sense of renewal.
As I write this I understand why, though experiencing rage might feel good in the moment — like a final release, a necessary explosion — it’s actually not a good thing. Rage is a shortcut. It’s lazy. It’s like keeping a messy room for years and years and then, instead of finally cleaning it — sorting piles for Goodwill, recycling, treasures for family and friends — you just take it all to the dump and create unnecessary landfill.
Rage is a sign that we’re not attending to ourselves or the people around us. Rage comes when we don’t give credence to the little emotions we feel every day. Managing the explosion that comes from rage is a daily activity. It means being honest and brave, letting the flame burn in little bursts all the time because if we don’t, the explosion will surely come.