Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org under the name Clara Bridges.


10 Comments

Memory Monday – “Swallowing up the storm – BPD and anger”

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*

For many people with BPD, changes in mood and can be sudden and dramatic, particularly when precipitated by a powerful trigger. In my own experience, my resistance to particular triggers wears down over time, so that rather than becoming gradually ‘immune’ through exposure, the opposite happens – the more often I become triggered in a certain way, the more easily and more quickly I spiral down into incredibly negative thought patterns. It’s as if the feeling of being ‘trapped’ and the belief that the situation can’t and won’t change, is reinforced every time I find myself at that point.

I haven’t said a great deal about my marriage in my blog – out of a sense of ‘propriety’, wanting to protect my husband’s privacy, and to avoid any awkwardness given that a couple of friends who know us personally, read my blog. However, I don’t think it would be too ‘disloyal’ to admit that unfortunately, my husband is one of my greatest triggers – or rather, his words, and our arguments, are. I think it would also be fair to say that the triggers are as powerful as they are, because of the way in which I have come to associate him, and certain patterns of behaviour, with my mother and how I felt when I was younger. After these arguments, I am left feeling worthless, annihilated, and despairing. My mind turns to suicidal ideation, and the phrase ‘I can’t live like this’ repeatedly presents itself to me.

Last Friday was one such triggering evening, which led to me, for the first time, to begin to act on thoughts I had had for a long time, of driving to ‘the place in my plan’ (if I can put it that way). Not necessarily because I had definitely decided to end my life, but because I felt I needed to know what it would be like to be there. How would I feel? I also had a vague thought I might phone the Samaritans but didn’t want to do that from home. I picked up by bag, put my coat on, told my husband I was going out, and went out of the door – at which point my husband said something perfectly ordinary, but something that made me hesitate and come back in.

Sunday night was also triggering – but that time things were different. I think it was probably one of the briefest spikes in intense despair I have had, dying down almost as quickly as it appeared. The suicidal ideation was there and for a short period I felt very unsafe, despite being at home with my husband and children still around. But the feelings of worthlessness did not continue all evening and rather than being consumed by sadness, I was angry – I still am. And I think that made a difference. Rather than absorbing it all into myself as I had done on Friday night, and turning it into a different, self-critical emotion, I gave my anger outward expression. Perhaps not in the best or most productive or most helpful way, but not in the worst way, either. It involved some fridge door slamming, and some use of swear words, and some heavy sarcasm (though directed self-mockingly at myself, rather than at him). But it seemed to work – at least with regard to reducing the desire to inflict pain (or worse) upon myself.

And so given recent events, I thought it would be timely to link to a post from the summer of 2014, on BPD and anger:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/08/17/swallowing-up-the-storm-bpd-and-anger/

Re-reading it now, the idea that  ‘disappointed expectations’ might lie behind at least some of my anger, seems very persuasive. Friday was even more of a blow because it came so soon after an evening when for the first time we had spoken more openly about how we felt about our marriage and what we wanted to change, in the presence of a couple from church. For a short time it felt like a step forward – and then on Friday it felt as though nothing had changed. Opening up and being vulnerable was incredibly difficult for me – I spent a good part of the meeting physically shaking with the effort. And yet to have ‘business as usual’ occur on the Friday night felt as though everything I had said had gone unacknowledged and unheard. I’m sure he feels the same about me – and that we both have a lot to learn about ourselves, each other, and the way we relate to one another. But in the meantime, I will try to give expression to my anger a bit more often – not in deliberately hurtful or vengeful ways, but in ways that allow me to express something, rather than internalise something, and in ways that aren’t likely to be as risky to my well-being.


13 Comments

‘Shame and anger – when ordinary incidents are filled with extraordinary emotion’ (or ‘Take ordinary incidents into therapy – you never know what you might discover’)

A few weeks ago I stopped off at a supermarket on my way home from therapy. The store was busy, and I half-filled a small trolley and headed for the nearest till, which had two others in front of me – a wait of four or five minutes, I estimated. I suddenly remembered I had forgotten one item, and not wanting to queue again and knowing exactly where to find it, I ran to get it and was back within thirty seconds to a minute – only to find another woman (who had not been in the queue) unloading her basket onto the conveyor belt in front of me. I tried to say something rather incoherently about how the employee at the till would have ‘let me’ go and fetch the item. The woman was not sympathetic. Within seconds I’d virtually lost the power of speech, I was seething inside, and tears were building up and pricking my eyes. I said something about leaving, spun my trolley round and left the queue, headed for the self-service tills instead.

As I scanned and bagged my shopping, though no one would have been any the wiser, I was having an intense and frightening emotional experience. I was incredibly angry – the worst swear words I knew were going round my head and had she walked right past me on her way out, or had I seen her in the car park afterwards, I felt convinced I would have used them. And yet that was the furthest thing from anything I would ever have even contemplated doing. I am usually overly polite and conscious of not offending people; I hate making a scene or complaining, and I leave a shop when anyone starts to try and drive a hard bargain! I find it hard to swear aloud, in private, let alone in anger in a crowded place. And so how I was feeling, and what I wanted to do, shocked me. And it scared me because the strength of the rage was so great that I didn’t even have a sense of what the limit of it was. It felt so much bigger than me.

The anger started to fade by the time I got home, but the next day on the way to therapy, I found myself thinking about the incident and talking about it right at the start of session. By that stage I felt somewhat foolish for my internal reaction, but as I related the story I started to shake and cry. Alongside the remembered feelings from the day before there was also horrified amusement as I couldn’t believe or understand the impact those emotions were still having. I could only conclude that, trivial though it seemed, the incident – and my reaction – must mean something. Incidents like that have happened to me in supermarkets a number of times – they happen to all of us – and I have never reacted in that way before.

***

Exactly one week before the ‘supermarket incident’, I sat in session doubled up in my chair, heaving and shaking with sobs, hiding my face and as much of my body as I could manage. Before the crying started, I had never wanted so badly to just walk out of a session. I remember saying ‘you have no idea how I’m feeling, do you’ – before proceeding to tell my therapist how I was feeling, in a sentence that poured out in a voice that got progressively and embarrassingly higher and more cracked as emotion overtook it, and me with it.

For two years I had done everything in my power to be a ‘good client’, to try and please her, to never put a foot wrong, to not intrude, to not cross any lines or violate any boundaries. The thought of ‘making a mistake’ was terrifying. For two years, I’d succeeded – and then I didn’t. And what overtook me in that session wasn’t so much fear – because the fear was mainly in the anticipation of a mistake – but shame. I felt humiliation, and as if I’d been reprimanded – but mostly I felt enormous distress and I was horrified and so very very ashamed that I had done what I had most wanted to avoid doing – what I had spent two years absolutely dreading doing.

Without going into details, I had crossed a boundary by making a link between us online which could have directly – and very publicly – identified us as therapist and client, and would have, in effect, violated confidentiality. As my therapist herself noted, it was an incredibly out of character thing for me to do. I am normally extremely careful about protecting her and any details of our work which might reveal something personal about her. And what I did was certainly not intentional – though it seems bizarre to me now that I didn’t realise at the time that one of the implications of the link I’d made was that confidentiality would be breached. I didn’t realise, I wasn’t thinking; but there was no excuse, and I felt mortified.

When I got home I sent her a brief email – it had ‘a tone’. I then followed it with another one that said I didn’t mean to sound cold and angry, I was just still devastated and didn’t know ‘how to be’. I was brushing away ‘the tone’ – shame was still uppermost.

***

My therapist asked me whether perhaps the ‘supermarket incident’ was me experiencing the anger that it had not felt safe to direct towards her. That I was experiencing it towards a total stranger who ‘didn’t matter to me’ in the way that she did. At first I said that I didn’t think that was the case – because my recollection of the session the week before was that I had felt enormous shame, but not anger. But then I remembered ‘the tone’ of that email, and I realised that anger was there. It may not have been uppermost, but it was there. It was there because of the humiliation I felt at making a mistake and ‘being taken to task’ for it (which is how it felt, not necessarily how it was); and it was also there because of another recent session in which she had withheld direct reassurance when I felt I had a desperate need for it.

When I thought about my emotions as I described the ‘supermarket incident’ in session, I realised that what was making me tremble was not the anger I had felt in the store, but the emotions that had accompanied the anger. Emotions I had been only dimly aware of, as the rage was ruling over everything else. What I realised when describing the incident was that I felt shame as I stood there in the queue – that I felt I had made a mistake, had been ‘found out’, was being reprimanded, and I felt humiliated. It seems like a bizarre set of feelings to have in that situation; but I think it’s likely that a parallel with the previous week’s session – perhaps a sense of publicly doing something I shouldn’t have done – triggered all those feelings of shame, which in turn allowed the anger to surface. In the session itself, the anger would have felt too risky or out of place – I would have worried about its impact on my therapist, and it would have felt unjustified, as after all I was the one ‘in the wrong’. In addition, I still find it very difficult to reconcile the concepts of anger and love, and to accept that they don’t negate each other.

I realised that I was also very angry with myself, for ‘allowing myself’ to cross a line and make a mistake – and perhaps that too was being expressed when I felt so overwhelmed by anger at the supermarket till. I hate making mistakes – one of the many things I need to work on in therapy.

***

It is the ‘ordinary events’ that can provide some of the most valuable material for therapy. In the past, I think I might have dismissed the ‘supermarket incident’ as not being ‘important enough’ to merit discussion. But that session was a big encouragement to take my therapist at her word when she asks me ‘what is on your mind?’. Whatever it is I have been thinking about in the car on the way to session, or as I walk up the path to her front door – perhaps that really is what I should be talking about, irrespective of how important it seems or what else I might have had planned. That session was yet another encouragement to not ‘censor’ the material I bring to therapy (as described in a post I wrote a few months ago). Given a choice, I will always choose to discuss our relationship, before anything else (another ‘temptation to avoid’ as described in another post from quite some time ago, but so difficult to put into practice). However, here is proof, if you need it, that often the most mundane looking situations or the most unrelated looking incidents, can actually be about the therapy relationship. So the next time you are making your way to session, whatever it is that is on your mind, will you bring it into the discussion? Or will you decide that it is irrelevant, or unimportant? You may be right – but what might you discover if you take the chance?


19 Comments

Tell me we’re okay – BPD and conflict

‘Wanted to check that we are still okay….’

‘From my side we are…..it is all part of the work….’

This was the start of a brief email exchange with my therapist following our session last week. The hour was a bit of post-mortem of the previous session, and I felt as though I was continually criticizing her, and so I left feeling predictably anxious about what effect that might have had on our relationship. Leading up to last week’s session I had felt angry, withdrawn and resentful, but as usual, I found it almost impossible to take the intensity of those emotions into session. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t express them, they seemed to melt away in her presence. Nevertheless, I still felt hurt and separated as I explained how angry I had felt over the last few days, and how I had wanted to shut her out and not talk to her at all.

We talked about the session that had resulted in those feelings, and about why they might have come about. I had finally worked up the courage to delve deeply into a difficult topic, but she had stayed on the surface while all the while a part of me was crying out to be heard.* A case of lack of attunement or lack of communication? Whichever it was, the key question, it seems to me, is what does it mean, to the client, when that happens?

I think it’s fair to say that I see ‘conflict’ where perhaps others may see disagreement or misunderstanding. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that for me, disagreement is conflict. It’s conflict when I feel anger; conflict when I feel like I’m criticizing; conflict when I have a different opinion to someone I care about or whose opinion I value. And to me, conflict is always a negative thing, as are the emotions that accompany it. There are three keys ways in which my views of conflict are unhelpful and which therapy is enabling me to address.

Conflict is about me. When it comes to work, I know that there is such a thing as a difference of opinion, and that chances are it’s not personal. However, when it comes to those I care deeply about, this concept doesn’t even enter my head. It is always personal. My husband gets frustrated because he finds it almost impossible to have an adult argument with me. I withdraw immediately into silence, because it feels like an attack. When he disagrees with something I believe in strongly, or is completely uninterested in something I am passionate about, it feels as though he is rejecting me, however much he emphasizes that he is not. If I am caught up in a conflict, it is because there is something wrong with me. It’s about something I have done or not done; it’s about a way in which I fall short, or a way in which I haven’t pleased someone. Conflict means that I have made a mistake – and I find it very hard to live with making those. Alternatively, and more rarely, it means that someone else has made one – and being hurt by another’s ‘falling short’ is a risk I’d rather avoid.

Conflict is a disaster. It’s not just uncomfortable, it’s a threat. It’s never just minor – the fact that it happened at all is indicative of something wrong – not just in me, or in the other person, but in the relationship itself. I can never understand how quickly my husband seems to recover after an argument. While I wallow in self-hatred and despair over our marriage, he will appear to be fine within a few minutes or hours, and certainly by the next day. For him, the argument was not about him as a person, and the fact that it happened did not signify a catastrophe in our relationship (there are plenty of other signs of that, but that is for another post!).

Conflict is terminal. It is something to be survived – or not. My first response to conflict is often to want to turn and run and to never have to face a similar situation again. The shame of making a mistake or ‘behaving badly’, or the pain of being hurt, both drive me in the direction of wanting to turn my back on the relationship in question. One strike and you’re out, or I am – the result is the same. For example, my relationship with my mother-in-law changed a few years into my marriage, the moment we had our first argument. For a few years I had felt ‘adopted’; like a princess who could do no wrong. But that ‘minor’ argument felt like a betrayal – she showed that she could be displeased with me, that she could be critical of something I had done. It hurt, and since then I have been emotionally distant – and I will never let her in again.

But even when I want to repair conflict, I find it very difficult to know how. Talking about it, as I did with my therapist, feels as though I am criticizing and attacking the other person. That is how it would feel to me, and it’s hard to grasp that they may feel differently. Will they hate feeling criticized and consequently hate me? How will our relationship survive, and how much damage will I have done? This brings out my strong need both to reassure, and to be reassured that everything is okay. Hence the email exchange with my therapist – both damage assessment and damage limitation.

‘Blaming the parents’ feel like a therapy cliché, but with this particular issue, I think the origins of my feelings and reactions are clear. Expressing anger was a negative thing in my family, particularly if I was the one expressing it (which happened increasingly rarely, as a result). Even feeling anger, if it was towards a family member (my parents in particular), was quite clearly never justified. Whatever had transpired, the view put to me was that my parents acted only ever out of love. Not only was there no justification for anger or conflict, it was quite clear that it made my mother upset, and ‘how could I do that to her’? Our disagreements therefore felt as though I was attacking her (or at least I thought that she perceived it that way) and that therefore what I was doing was wrong. Conflict, disagreement, anger – they seemed to have no place within a happy, harmonious, family. They seemed unnatural – interlopers to be feared and discouraged, rather than opportunities to express oneself and to ‘clear the air’.

It is not surprising therefore, that conflict with my parents was never really resolved – and the same holds true now. Days and days can go by with no telephone contact after an argument, and by the time we next speak it’s all been swept under the carpet and completely ignored. When I lived at home and it was less easy to avoid communicating, it always felt as though it was a case of my mother being able to reach a point where she could either dismiss my view or try and control my behaviour. That might be by telling me I would see things from her point of view when I got older; or by saying that although I might hold a particular belief, she wanted me to promise not to act in accordance with it.

It’s not surprising that arguments with my husband feel like a disaster; or that I am very anxious about upsetting my therapist if I talk about having ‘negative’ feelings towards her. But for me, one of the most rewarding, helpful and emotional aspects of therapy, has been the repeated cycle of ‘rupture and repair’ – of conflict of one type or another, which is worked on and resolved. It is helping me to modify my views about what conflict is and what it means – or doesn’t mean. At the moment, I can only really take those lessons on board and apply them, if at all, in the context of my relationship with my therapist, though I am taking very small steps in the direction of testing things out with my husband. It feels as though the risk of confronting and resolving conflict is still too great to take unless I feel a huge amount of safety, trust, security and acceptance in the relationship. But I hope that that will eventually change, though that time feels almost impossibly far away at the moment.

Part of the reason I chose my current therapist was a gut instinct that she was robust enough, and I could be open enough, for us to resolve difficulties together. That instinct was borne out the first time we tried to resolve such a difficulty, by her wonderful response – her openness to criticism, her lack of defensiveness, and her apology for a comment that had upset me. Over much of our therapy I have spent long hours worrying over instances of apparent lack of understanding or attunement between us, but now I feel that being able to discuss and resolve difficult situations together is much more valuable than always striving to be on completely the same wavelength. Not just valuable, but more realistic as a template for relationships outside of therapy.

Rupture and repair – working through conflict – is also ultimately beneficial in creating a closer bond, counter-intuitive though that may seem. I have written before, about the desperate desire to be known by and to better know, one’s therapist. In working through conflict, you come to know something about the other person, which you might never otherwise have seen. Whereas a perfect understanding, a perfect mirror, shows you only your own reflection.

 

[* Dr Stein recently published a post called ‘The Unsung Value of Denial and Distraction: Where Therapists Can Go Wrong‘. It illustrates just how difficult it is for both therapists and clients to tread the line between going too quickly and too slowly in therapy, and neither one’s judgement on the matter, can be relied on absolutely. They will both get it wrong, some of the time, but talking about the feelings this engenders, can be very illuminating.] 


12 Comments

You know you’re borderline when….

.……you take automated WordPress emails personally and feel criticized and upset by them….

Yes, at the risk of seeming to take BPD lightheartedly – sometimes you just have to laugh after you’ve cried – this was me, a few weeks ago.

I was in the middle of my six week break in therapy. I was feeling pretty terrible, as I tend to do during therapy breaks. I was messing around in WordPress, and when I next checked my email, I saw this:

wordpress2

I was gutted and furious at the same time. F**k WordPress. How DARE it call me vain? Oh WordPress, how can you do this to me, and make me weep on the inside?

I hadn’t even realised I’d clicked on a ‘Like‘ button  – why are they so bloody impossible to find on other people’s sites when you’re looking for them, and so apparently easy to mistakenly click on, on your own? SORT IT, WORDPRESS!

I was seriously upset. I was mortified at being called vain. WordPress was EVIL.

It wasn’t until the next day that I actually understood the joke.

Of course I think ‘Swallowing up the storm – BPD and anger‘ is about me. It IS about me – it’s my post.

Ha ha WordPress. You’ve actually got a sense of humour you mischievous son-of-a-b***h. You’re actually rather funny.

But I’ll be damned if I ever ‘Like’ another post of mine again.


7 Comments

Swallowing up the storm – BPD and anger

“I am angry enough to die”. The words jumped out at me from the page whilst I was skim-reading the chapter, and they brought me up short and made me pause. It’s perhaps a strange thing to say – why should anger make one want to die? But I connected with the familiarity of the emotion straight away. Not just familiar to me, but familiar from the writings of other BPD bloggers as well. Only a few days before I had been reading a blog post by ‘Big Battles, Small Victories‘, where the author spoke of immense hurt and anger at being disappointed, and wrote “I want to not live”.

“I’m hurt and angry…..I want to not live”. “I am angry enough to die”.

Those words seem so connected. But they are separated in time, if not in emotion, by more than 2,400 years.

I read those words, from the last part of the Old Testament Book of Jonah, while I was sitting in church a few Sundays ago listening to a talk on the earlier part of the book. I confess, I was not paying as much attention as perhaps I should have been, and I also wanted to turn to the end and see what was in store.

For those with faith (of whatever persuasion), or those with none – I should say straight away, as I’ve noted in a recent post, that my own faith is ‘on the rocks’; this is not a sermon and this post is not about Jonah. You don’t need to know or believe anything about him, in order to, I hope, find something helpful in it. This post is about BPD and anger: the reference to Jonah provides only the context for a look at that subject, and it does so only because it was helpful to me personally, in starting off a chain of thought on this issue that touches the lives of so many with BPD. If the context seems irrelevant or makes you uncomfortable, I can only apologise – that is certainly not my intention. Equally, if you have sympathy with the context, but are uncomfortable with some of the interpretations towards the end of this post, I must also apologise. It is not my intention to be irreverent in any way. I am not ‘taking scripture lightly’ – perhaps I am, however, allowing myself to give in to the temptation that we sometimes have, to project our ‘difficulties’ outside ourselves, and to see them everywhere. In the lyrics of a song, behind the story of a film, in the pages of a book. And in the person of someone that we meet (or read about).

The first part of the DSM-IV Criterion 8 for BPD reads: “Inappropriate, intense anger, or difficulty controlling anger.”  Until a couple of years ago, I always thought of myself as someone who never got angry, and as with a number of the DSM-IV criteria, it took me a while to really understand how this one applied to me. And I have realised that the reason for that, is that I have been defining the criteria in very particular ways.

I defined abandonment purely in terms of physical abandonment, rather than emotional abandonment and being left to cope on my own with what I was feeling. I defined ‘black and white’ thinking purely in intellectual terms and the ability (or lack of) to appreciate all sides of an argument, and the grey areas in between. It took me a long time to realise that ‘black and white’ thinking is in some ways much more about ‘black and white’ feeling, and is fundamentally emotion-centred, rather than being about intellectual flexibility. And anger? I defined anger in terms of physical or verbal manifestations – being physically violent or verbally abusive. I didn’t do those things. I was never angry. How wrong I was.

I remember one instance of ‘feeling angry’ (as I originally defined it) when I was growing up. That instance stands out because it was unique. It was the time, when I was around seventeen, when I became convinced my mother had read my diary. Although my memory of the event is patchy, I think I shouted. I think I told her that I hated her.

You might argue that that is a relatively common thing for a teenager to tell her parents. But not for a teenager who grew up with a whole suite of things she was not supposed to say or feel. Some of those things brought disapproval or dismissiveness; others brought emotional suffocation. Feeling or expressing anger; needing or expressing a wish for privacy of thought and emotion; being depressed or admitting to depression – those were all among the former. Fear, sadness, pain, loss – those were all among the latter. They were emotions which, should I ever have admitted to them, would have led to similar emotions in my mother, which she would then have allowed to flood over me.

So I expressed neither the things that would have been disapproved of or dismissed, nor the things that would have been too difficult, emotionally, for others to bear. And so I always thought of myself as someone who was never angry, and passed, incredibly successfully, for someone who was never sad. And yet for years, I was both sad and angry, and didn’t realise quite how much. For years, my mind was filled with imaginary conversations and scenarios between me and the one or two people at those times in my life, who I jokingly thought of as those I ‘loved to hate’. People who I now understand that I had ‘split’ into ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, and was at that time devaluing. Hateful and vengeful thoughts and words – how could I have been so oblivious to the fact that what lay behind them was anger, pure and simple?

Over the last few years I have been more conscious of the emotion of anger within me – particularly as it relates to how I feel about my parents – and the vehemence of it  sometimes takes me by surprise. Nevertheless, as I never gave it expression, I still thought of myself as someone who ‘did not get angry’. I have even been conscious of the inappropriate nature of it, set off sometimes by the smallest disappointment or hint of criticism or control – and yet I have still, somehow, managed to sideline it and failed to appreciate it as a part of myself.  Perhaps it is because I always have, and still do, find anger and confrontation very scary. I hate them. I feel battered by them. They feel like an assault on me and on my emotions. They drive me emotionally underground and behind a barricade. Perhaps it’s unsurprising then, that I find it difficult to acknowledge that anger may have a seat within me.

As well as being more conscious of the emotion of anger within me, I am also becoming more conscious of where it comes from, and how it affects my behaviour and my sense of self. And as with many an emotion within the BPD landscape, I have come to the conclusion that at least for me, anger too, is intimately connected with the issue of expectations. I talked about BPD and expectations in a recent post, in which I said that I agreed with blogger Cat Earnshaw (‘Half of a Soul – Life with BPD’), that ‘great expectations’ were at the core of BPD. They seem to me to form the hub from which hang the rusty and twisted spokes of abandonment, depression, disappointment, hurt, and anger, amongst others. What makes BPD anger ‘inappropriate’ is not just the degree of its intensity, but also the nature of the ‘expectations not met’ that underlie it, and the impact it has upon the sense of who we are.

And that is precisely what struck me about those two stories, more than 2,000 years apart, that I came across within the space of a few days. “I’m hurt and angry…..I want to not live”. “I am angry enough to die”. I may feel ‘battered’ by another’s anger – but my own anger assaults me too. Occasionally, it makes me want to die. But often it makes me want to hurt myself. Is it because I’m so ‘conditioned’ not to turn it outwards? Is it because I always saw anger as a ‘bad thing’ to feel? Does part of me feel that I have to punish myself for it?

I always thought that the reason I persisted, when I was a child, in winding up my mother when she was cross, to the point at which she became so angry that she smacked me, was because I saw it as a ‘victory’ to push her to a point where she acted in a way she did not like. That belief (though ‘retrospective’) has allowed me to retain the sense that I was in control of the situation, and that I was punishing her – (or was that her thought, rather than mine?) – but I’ve recently started to wonder if there was something else going on. Awareness of the self-destructiveness in me now, makes me wonder how long it might have been there for, and how much it might have been responsible for. If I was arguing with my mother, was I angry? And if I was angry, was I, even if I did not realise it at the time, so angry that I needed it to hurt?

I think that Jonah needed it to hurt. Jonah was angry because God hadn’t acted in the way that he had expected him to act. It seems to me that Jonah’s expectations were at the root both of his anger, and of his original decision to run away from God. He knew that God would disappoint his (one might say ‘unreasonable’) expectations – and he would rather run than face that disappointment and despair. When he was faced with it, he wanted to die. He went out into the desert in what feels like an incredibly familiar attempt to both test the one who had disappointed him, and to inflict further pain on himself. It’s clear that the scorching desert sun was wearing him down, but it was the blazing heat of his anger that continued to consume him.

We’re not told how the story ends. And, much though I would like to, I’m afraid I don’t have ‘an ending’ either. I wish I had some wise words to say about anger, some advice to give, some ways of dealing with it or working through it. When it comes to trying to understand anger, I’m right at the beginning of my own story. It’s a story in which I hope that, contrary to usual belief, anger will be redemptive (and I don’t mean that in a religious sense). I hope that by acknowledging and accepting my anger, and even (though I shudder to think about it) by giving it some sort of appropriate expression, I can build a healthier relationship both with myself and with those closest to me.

Being able to say ‘I feel angry’ would be a good start. Maybe I will try it on my therapist – goodness knows it’s often very apt. But that’s the subject of another story…..