How I Learned to Control My Anger By Breaking Things
Model Salem Mitchell explains how destroying things allows her to release her anger instead of directing it toward others.
Photos by Alissa Ashley.
This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In this week's newsletter, model Salem Mitchell wrote about how breaking glasses in her backyard wound up teaching her to be less destructive in the other areas of her life. Sign up here to receive a newsletter with a new dealing-with-life strategy each Sunday evening.
The summer after I graduated high school, my friends and I had a pasta night at my dad’s house. We planned to watch movies, eat a lot of food, dance around, make Vines—just all the summer stuff you’d imagine doing at a sleepover. Although I was hosting this fun night for my friends, I was feeling really frustrated about an argument I was having with one of my other close friends. She had been ignoring me, and when I confronted her about it, she acted completely clueless, which was extremely annoying. I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t say anything rude; I couldn’t scream at her. There was no room for reaction, considering she was pretending there wasn’t any tension. I couldn’t spend the rest of my night trying to convince her she was acting distant if she wouldn’t admit to it herself.
I knew that if I ignored the issue at hand or didn’t express myself in some way, I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy myself for the rest of the night, I would’ve just continued to talk my friends’ ears off about the problem. We wouldn’t have been able to just eat pasta and watch The Purge in peace! So, when I got an oblivious “I don’t know what you’re talking about” text message from her, I walked into the kitchen, grabbed some old glasses out of the cabinet, went outside, and started throwing them at a wall. It was dark outside, so I really didn’t see the mess I had made. I only heard the loud sound of glass shattering.
The release I felt was incredible. I had never thought about breaking glasses before—it felt new and exciting. And I could do it all on my own—I didn’t have to ask my friends for advice or involve anyone else. It was just me, releasing my anger and frustration.
My dad and his girlfriend ran downstairs, yelling in shock—they were convinced the kids that just rode by on their bikes had thrown glass bottles into our backyard. I cannot even begin to describe the confusion in their faces when I said, “No that was me—I was just throwing glass.” Although it was maybe a little odd, I didn’t get in trouble, and my friends didn’t judge me. My friends didn’t ask what happened or why I was upset, they just continued to make food and mind their business as I cleaned up.
That night, I realized I have a hard time effectively speaking up during conflicts. In the past, I spent so much time trying to deal with disagreements rationally in order to not hurt anyone's feelings that I rarely allowed myself to express anger or frustration about anything— unless I was doing so destructively. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, but I can be really mean when provoked, or in situations when I don’t feel heard or understood—I’ve always had the hardest time finding a balance within anger between not being mean, but not being indifferent. My reactions always took one of two forms: Okay, I’m going to destroy this person, or Y ou know what, I’m just going to say nothing. Choosing between two extremes in every situation really caught up with me: When I tried to force myself to remain calm by not speaking up, frustrations stayed bottled up within me and bothered me for years, and the mean things I’ve said and done to others stuck with them, too, leaving me responsible to pick up the pieces afterwards.
Breaking things became a middle ground. I’ve embraced the power of being physically destructive. It allows me to transfer all of my negative feelings into a meaningless object and destroy it instantly—and to have an extreme reaction at no one else's expense. Once I'm done, cleaning up after myself gives me time to think. (As I’m alone outside sweeping up broken glass, if anyone is around me, they clearly know to back off for a second.) It feels like, I’ve already done my extreme action for the day and now I can clean up, think, and begin to be more rational.
After I broke those glasses that first night, I was able to walk inside, say nothing, make a plate of food, and watch a movie in bed with my friends. The friend I’d been upset about and I actually didn’t resolve the issues for months afterward, but after letting out how I felt I didn’t dwell on it, and I didn’t constantly contact her in an attempt to force her to speak up. I just waited on her to be ready to speak on why she was acting the way she was.
Since then, I’ve broken a lot of things. Candles, vases, tables—I’ve even ripped up old shirts and sheets. Breaking things is never going to automatically solve my problems, but it allows me to release my anger instead of directing it toward others. After I channel my feelings into objects I can hurl at a wall and be done with, I’m able to move forward—and feel more whole.