Anger, hurt, and (unintentional?) bullying

About four years ago, when my therapist first suggested Borderline Personality Disorder as a description of the emotional volatility I’ve experienced throughout my life, he also said something that has stuck with me ever since. I had been describing how angry I was, talking about what I thought the causes were, what it felt like, and what I thought about it.  After listening for a while, he simply said “it sounds like you are describing being hurt, more than anger” (or something like that).  As I thought about it, it became clear that he was right.  I had been angry, but the anger was the hanger-on, the after effect of a tremendous amount of hurt I was feeling.  It was the result of hurt not being addressed.

Being the nerd I am, I also immediately thought of this:

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” Yoda says to a young Anakin Skywalker who was simply asked if he was afraid (to which he became defensive…foreshadowing much?). There are reasons why both Anakin and Luke Skywalker are significant characters for me, personally.  I understand them both natively, and find them to be interesting characters (especially in comparison to each-other), despite the often bad dialog of George Lucas.

And while Yoda’s prophesy was true for Anakin (as well as for me, in some contexts), sometimes in my case it simply starts with my being hurt, which leads to anger, resentment, and hate (which does, in fact, lead to suffering).  That is, there are times when people in my life act as a walking emotional trigger for me, and it causes a spiral of behavior which almost never ends well.

I’ve had a few people in my life whom, for various reasons, have hurt me both repeatedly and singularly.  I don’t think that they (most of them) did it on purpose or without reason, I simply think that our flaws make us hurt each other, whether due to fear or some other emotional conflict which creates tension and stress.  I’ve been bullied, when younger and also quite recently, by people who I understand to be insecure and largely unaware of the effects of their actions and their own emotional nuances.  Managing my reactions to such behavior, and the hurt which results from it, is especially difficult for me (being a borderline), and that stress tends to come out against the people I love.

That is, the hurt I receive all too often turns into the hurt I redirect to others.  It’s one of the hardest things for me to manage, but I am (increasingly) aware of it these days.  The side effect is that those people, whom I hurt, become angry with me.

The biggest fear that I have is my emotional fragility and volatility chasing people I love away.  I’m afraid of that because it has happened, because I never want it to happen, and because when it does happen all I can do it occasionally be left alone with the suffering that is the remembering of how I did it and not being able to change it.  When I lose someone because of my emotional instability, I then will reflect and dwell on how it happened and why. Later, when the hows and whys starts to become clear, all I can do is feel awful for having behaved so.  I didn’t intend to do it, I would have stopped if I understood, and I would do almost anything to take it back.  Guilt and loss are my suffering, because I was hurt and afraid, and I didn’t deal with those feelings well enough when they were happening.

I could try and rationalize the blame to other people.  ‘I was being hurt over here, by this person, and I have a disorder so I can’t help being mean sometimes when I’m suffering from that hurt,’ I could try to say.  But that would be not taking responsibility for my feelings.  Yes, people hurt me.  Yes, dealing with it every day in a hostile environment is hard, but that is not an excuse to redirect that hurt to someone else.  There are other options, ones I will work on for the future.

But most importantly, I cannot allow what is primarily hurt (or fear) to become anger.  I need to learn to express that I’m being hurt or are afraid, and ask for help rather than allow it to fester into resentment, anger, and suffering.  It’s hard to manage and respond to such sources of pain, especially when the person doing it feels like a bully to me, but that is a problem I once learned years ago and have apparently forgotten.  It’s been a long time since I was hurt consistently by another person in that way, and I forgot that bullies are afraid too.  I forgot that bullies create bullying behavior.

I will do my best to not make the same mistake again.

The clarity of being away from a stressful, unhealthy, and ultimately unsafe (for me) environment has been both enlightening and revealing.  What is being revealed is that much of the last year has been emotionally traumatic for me, and that trauma resulted in behavior (of mine) which led to the ending of a relationship which was immensely important to me. As a result of this clarity, I’m starting to understand what I should be learning from all of this transition and pain I’ve been going through in the last couple of weeks.

I need to avoid environments and people who treat me poorly or who trigger my emotional instability.  And when I can’t avoid it, I need to confront it directly.  Bullies don’t always intend to bully, but that’s what they do so I need to avoid them when I can and stand up to them when I can’t.  And that might mean that relationships with people close to such triggers might be unwise for me to pursue because perpetual, ongoing stress is bad for me.

That makes me profoundly sad right now, mostly because it’s not a problem I can solve.  So, I keep moving forward.

We are not all swimming in the same river

When I was younger, I really wanted to be wise.  I had a vision of me being the kind of person that when I became old, other people would respect me and come to for life advice.  I was fascinated by books such as the Dao de Jing, by the historical character of Confucius, by Socrates, and many other figures who are considered wise.  I tried to cultivate a cultured and educated manner.  I tried to be intellectual. It was not all pretense; in fact, it was mostly genuine, if not sophomoric and (as Gina would say) “full of shit.”

Over the last few years, I have begun to understand this drive from a different point of view.  I have come to realize that this motive comes from a combination of the desire to be loved, respected, and to not become the kind of person that people avoid, rather than come to.  In short, it was a reaction that people often had to me, and for good reason.  There are people who are no longer friends of mine and who want little to do with me, and in many cases the fault is mostly mine.

When I was introduced to the concept of Borderline Personality Disorder by a therapist a few years back, it led to a set of realizations.  When I was younger, back when I wanted to be wise, I was struggling with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt about my erratic behavior.  Other people didn’t fly off the handle, yelling and throwing things, when they got angry.  Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.  I wanted to be the opposite of out of control, so I wanted to be a symbol of control.  I didn’t want to be seen for what I was (a violent and unpredictable boy with a tendency to be moody and sullen), I wanted to be seen for what I valued (intelligent, rational, calm, and likable).   So why was it so hard for me to do so, when it seemed so easy for so many other people?

Because I am swimming in a different river.

And as I started to reflect on this over the last few years, another angle of this became clear.  It was struggling just for normal, acceptable, behavior.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be some wise guru, living on a mountain (perhaps next door to Zarathustra) who everyone respected, it was that I was struggling against a current that other people didn’t experience.  I was simply trying to appear normal while struggling frequently.

But before I started to understand this, I had built up so much resentment, anger, and frustration at seeing other people so easily deal with emotionally trying circumstances (compared to what I often did, anyway).  I didn’t understand that they weren’t actually succeeding in struggling against the an overwhelming current of virulent emotions like  I was.  I didn’t understand that such a current of emotions was rare for them, rather than constant and overpowering.  But I was so angry, ostensibly at them but really at myself, about it that it has led to many deep wounds and scars that I still have work to understand.  There is still work to do.

See, for so long I thought that at some moral fault, rather than simply dealing with a shitty situation.  I thought that when I got angry and made a scene, I was the only one in the room who had not succeeded in stifling the urges.  I thought everyone else around me was struggling with these feelings, and doing it better than I.  And so I strove for that power to restrain and repress it, to appear calm while hurricanes blew in my head, and to appear calm.  And so I built invisible armor for myself, holding in the feelings i assumed everyone else was having and restraining as well.

And I did this for years, until it became habit.  I did it for a long time, with periodic explosions as the armor shattered against the pressure.

Anyone who meets me for the first time will probably assume I’m relatively non-emotional.  I’ve been told this by many people, including some ex-girlfriends (before i started to become comfortable with my emotions, which is still a struggle) even up until quite recently.  I appear robotic, hyper-rational, and even cold sometimes.  It is a defense mechanism that I have built over many years, and deconstructing that wall is not easy.  It may take the rest of my life to do so, assuming I ever can.

(I hope I can)

But now I understand that most people aren’t walking around with a chaotic storm within them.  Most people don’t have frighteningly violent thoughts several times a day, aimed at people who are guilty for minor annoyances.  Most people aren’t swimming against a current that sometimes takes all of their mental fortitude to not be pushed back by or drowned in (because depression is a thing).

And yes, there is another side to this.  There is the overwhelming feeling of love and intimacy that I am capable of as well.  Of course, the problem is that especially in the beginning of a relationship, it is terrifying to show this.  I’m afraid that, much like the potential harm I am capable of, the level of intimacy I can show would be too much for someone, especially when things are new.  I’m afraid of pushing people away.  i was, in some past selves, the guy who was too into that girl after one date.

But you know what is even more terrifying, to me than all of that? Intimacy with other men.  And, I know, this is common in our culture.  I also know that part of this is due to my relationship with my own father, who is a sort of foil for me (the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker, as I sometimes think of it).  Men are hard because they reflect myself too much.  I see the same fear in them that I show, and I hate it because I hate that part of myself.  I hate that we keep doing it, and that I don’t know how to fix it.

It’s easier with women, because the sexual and romantic feelings open the door to other kinds of intimacy.  Perhaps it would be easier if I were bisexual.  Perhaps not.  But either way, this lack of intimacy can lead to the problem of relying too heavily on sexual and romantic desires becoming too prominent when befriending women, but for the most part I have been fairly good at mitigating this.  But with other men?


I have no interest in the machismo game of our culture.  I don’t want to play dominance games, and usually simply avoid them for the sake of peace and not escalating into a situation where I will very likely lose control of my temper (which, to macho men, probably seems like weakness.  But man is it hard sometimes…).  I am a little amused by such games, but I feel more sadness at it.  I feel sad because it is so often the source of the barriers that men put up between each other, this machismo and dominance games.  Sometimes I’ll walk away with a smirk, feeling superior for not playing, and other times I walk away feeling angry, for ‘letting them win.’  Neither are the right attitude, I don’t think.

I think the right attitude is to come away from such things feeling sad that another path could not have been taken.  I think that in such games, nobody really wins.  I don’t win by being emotionally superior, and they don’t win for having me back down.  There simply is no winning there, only loss on both sides.

So, have I become wise? Will I ever be wise? I don’t know.  At this point, I find the whole question to be a rationalization for a conceit.  That isn’t to say that I no longer care about being wise, but that this caring is fading over time.

I hope, one day, that I can stop trying to be wise, so that perhaps I can just be content whether I’m wise or not.

ah, just more conceit….