Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion!
Anger is a very misunderstood emotion in our culture. It is often seen as ‘strong’ or dangerous. Unfortunately the people who believe anger is strong and are prone to misusing anger through physical or verbal abuse, are often struggling with huge inner fears and are left feeling out of control and disempowered. So in truth their anger weakens them. Those who believe anger is dangerous often believe that their feelings of anger should be avoided at all cost. Both of these positions are generally not helpful.
Anger is an emotion! This may seem obvious, but it is not. A lot of people think anger is an action, and usually a violent action. This can be heard in how people speak about anger. It might be said, “He’s an angry person!” Well, actually he is probably a violent person with distorted beliefs about control. He would feel anger but that does not mean he has to act on it. It may also be said “my anger just got the better of me”. Again, this is also not true. An emotion does not justify an action. It could be said “she just doesn’t deal with her anger well”. Again, an emotion is being used to excuse behaviour.
Anger has never done anything! Anger is an emotion that in its adaptive form can be incredibly empowering and liberating. Anger demands that we face the truth about ourselves and our circumstances. Anger is there to protect us. Anger can be a fantastic motivating force. The key is knowing how to work with this powerful energy, and bring in reason when it comes to taking action.
The two common conditioned patterns that involve anger are either suppression or ‘the anger cycle’. I will demonstrate each of these patterns in two personal stories about anger.
Veronica and Sandy’s Stories: The Nice Pattern and the Anger Cycle
Veronica’s family always seemed nice until she learnt about the family pattern that kept her anger suppressed. She had always been a ‘nice’ other people and had learnt how important it was to put others first. This helped her to have some great friendships but when she began to date Harry, her ‘nice pattern’ became her biggest problem. Veronica did not feel anger, and when Harry started putting her down, disregarding what was important to her, not considering her needs and generally treating her like she was his slave or simply irrelevant, she began to regularly cry. At no point did she say “stop” or feel the anger necessary for self-preservation. Rather she began to believe it was all her problem and that there was something terribly wrong her. After a year, she felt deeply depressed and accessed professional help.
Sandy experienced the opposite to Veronica. She too thought there was something wrong with her because she was always angry, however she would not let anyone else know that. Sandy felt deeply frustrated because nothing ever seemed to go her way. Other people let her down constantly and when she confronted them, they would lie to her or just walk away. She was great at telling other people exactly what they were doing wrong, and how they could improve their behaviour. But she was deeply lonely and felt very alone.
After Veronica accessed a counselor who she felt safe with, she began to work through her ‘nice pattern’. She realised that while it is a virtue to generally be kind to other people, being too nice is when you cannot feel anger when it is appropriate to feel it, and you do not protect yourself from real harm (either emotionally or physically). Veronica had to learn how to value herself and what is important to her, to begin to feel legitimate and start to feel anger. As she began to breathe, relax and allow the feelings of anger in her body without automatically pushing them away or swallowing them, she began to learn how to safely feel and express her anger.
Sandy also sort help for her loneliness and how to cope with other people’s issues. Bit by bit Sandy learnt to challenge some of her own beliefs about right and wrong, and began to see the world was not so black and white. Slowly she began to see that her judgments of other people were pushing them away and sabotaging closeness in her relationships. Beliefs of entitlement and criticism had constantly fed her anger which kept it inflamed. After a while she also discovered that underneath the anger cycle was deep sadness, an emotion which she had not let herself feel for a very long time.
For both Veronica and Sandy, learning safe ways to express their anger was a vital part of their healing. Anger wants physical and verbal expression. So safe anger release is when we find space to be on our own and allow ourselves to express the anger. This expression also needs to be safe to ourselves. Angry writing, art, dance, exercise, drumming or music or hitting cushions or a punching bag are all fine.
Safe Anger Release & Healthy Adaptive Action
When I feel anger, I drive to a secluded look out, stop the car and put on music. I then pretend the person is sitting next to me and I let them have it. I say whatever I need to for as long as I need to. I know most of what I say is simply anger expressing itself and is not actually true… but I need to hear it because the anger will ultimately tell me the truth. In fact anger will not let go until we hear the truth!!! I might start to yell at my partner, then my parents and then myself.. .. .. And then the anger shifts!
When I hit on the truth of why I am really angry, anger transmutes into sadness or laughter. Anger is a secondary emotion to hurt, so when I hear why I am really hurt, the anger is released. Once anger is released then I need to step back and look at what I need to do with my truth in a more rational way. I might need to strengthen my boundaries with some people, or perhaps I need to openly communicate something to someone. Maybe I need to re-evaluate a friendship. Whatever I need to do in terms of the action, I have let myself safely feel the anger and listened to its underlying message. This is the process of ‘honoring anger’ in a way that channels the emotion into motivation and personal power. Learning to safely work with our anger enhances personal power with respect to ourselves and others.
Have you become stuck in your anger?
Were you able to channel your anger in ways that protected you or empowered you?
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]