Impotent* Rage by Sara Frykenberg
Rage, for me, feels intrinsically connected to instinct, like an uncontrollable urge to fight and fly all at the same time but with no place to flee and a need to literally, physically restrain myself from the “FIGHT,” or violence I don’t want to create.
Many feminist theorists talk about the value of anger and particularly, “women’s (diverse experiences of) anger” for consciousness raising, community building and healing. I remember considering this concept for the first time early in graduate school. I was both scared because I associated anger with abusive control; and curious, as I was finally learning to express this “bad” emotion. Overall, embracing anger taught me to speak up and break out of abusive spaces. But sharing this concept with students last semester and discussing the Bible’s descriptions of “God’s Wrath” this semester, I find myself considering levels of anger. When is or is rage appropriate? Some of the feminist theology I have read definitely advocates for a constructive relationship to rage. But many of my students, who can embrace the creative space of anger, had difficulty embracing this positive valuation of rage (even understanding that it is ‘what we do with our anger’ that counts). I have recently found myself facing my own rage… And I am not sure what to think.
I often consider anger a teacher. It shows me where my boundaries are being crossed or where injustices are rising. I have experienced mild anger that, when mediated through humor, has helped me laugh at life and struggle. I have experienced white-hot anger that left me unable to sleep or function “normally.” Betrayals have dragged me out of my bed early in the morning, seeking to run/ walk so that I could breathe and think at a pace that matched the beating of my heart. I have used anger well and badly. I have repressed anger, only to have it escape explosively. My childhood anger, when I allowed myself to be angry, was often violent. My sister and I played violently, constantly hitting, punching, kicking and screaming at one another. I have used my anger against myself, scratching the skin off of my arms and legs in an attempt to control emotion. In these ways, anger has taught me about some of my own injustices, betrayals and internalized abuse/abusiveness. My experience of rage, however, has been distinct in some way from these forms of anger.
My rage has felt impotent. I actually kind of hate that word: impotent. It is too phallocentric to me: a blatant reference to the patriarchal conflation of masculinity with penetration and control. Nonetheless, my rage feels impotent perhaps, because it has surfaced in response to situations in which I felt no control, or in which I felt that my power was taken from me. Rage, for me, feels intrinsically connected to instinct, like an uncontrollable urge to fight and fly all at the same time but with no place to flee and a need to literally, physically restrain myself from the “FIGHT,” or violence I don’t want to create.
My body shakes, uncontrollably and violently. I am shaking so much, in fact, that my teeth are chattering to the point that I cannot speak. If I speak I will bite my tongue. My friends tell me I am cold, but I do not feel cold. My heart is pounding out of control. My face is hot; and I feel focused. The only thing I can compare this physical experience to is going into shock—except, it feels nothing like going into shock. I put my hand through a window once, deeply cutting my fingers. I went into shock and remember feeling like the blood was draining from my body. Cold, clammy and sick, I felt a foggy but urgent need to lie down. Rage feels nothing like this to me. It feels like a bubbling over, but so physical and uncontrollable that I immediately think of shock. In the moments I’ve experienced rage I have had a strong and immediate desire to control it: to control myself.
The question I find myself asking is, how is this useful to me? Am I being “invited” so to speak, to create from this experience? The anger that became rage already told me that my boundaries were being violated. The physical experience of rage, actually, is something I’ve felt like I’ve had to recover from: showering, covering myself with blankets and drinking tea until my body seems my own again. I am glad that in the few moments of true rage that I’ve felt that I’ve been able to control myself in some way—yet, I wonder how this control relates to the physicality of the experience. I found myself wondering, if rage is connected to instinct, is it possible that that when we don’t give into rage we can also resist what Marjorie Suchocki calls, “The Fall to Violence.” Is the suppression of instinct here “self-transcendence;” or was my experience of rage, like anger often is, indicative of a violation or imposed powerlessness in a more extreme physical form? How can I understand this experience of rage from a feminist and spiritual perspective? Can I create from this space? Did I give in by controlling my rage, or did I tap into what my yoga group calls, “my higher self?”
I would like to hear what you think about rage. What is your experience of it and is it like mine? Were you able to create from that space? What did you do with your rage? I am not sure if I ate my rage or if I prevented myself from becoming someone I don’t want to be. Maybe I did a little of both. What do we do with our rage? I am still working to answer this question from my own feminist theo/alogical perspective.