I used to have an unhealthy relationship with anger. Like many people, up until this past year I was never taught how to get angry in a healthy way. I either held it in and didn't show it, or let it build to such a level that when it finally came out, it was extreme and dramatic.
I believed that being angry was not OK. I also had it that if I was around anger in any form, it wasn't safe. Worst of all, I was convinced that if I was angry, I wasn't safe to be around. I would never be loved or accepted if I showed someone any emotion other than being happy. In fact, I spent much of my life attempting to avoid doing things that would make people angry and simultaneously avoiding those whose behaviors tended to trigger my anger. In other words, I was constantly managing either myself, other people, or what the possible emotional consequences might be from certain situations.
This became, quite frankly, exhausting. It was tiring to manage everything and also tiring wearing the social mask of, "Everything is all right and I'm funny and happy." Not only was I tired of pretending, some of the time my talking myself into not being angry wasn't working. Just like when a person puts a lid on a boiling pot of water and the water eventually spills out, so did my anger that I was trying to put a lid on. Worse, when it did come out, it was at times I couldn't control it because it had built up so much.
Finally, after years of avoiding things and trying to manipulate situations in order to have everything go perfectly, I realized that what I was doing -- left over from what I'd taught myself as a young child -- was not working. In fact, the very tools I had created to protect myself when I was a child were now working against me as an adult. It was time for me to clean out my old toolbox and replace it with new skills that would work for me.
In other words, I decided to deal with my anger head on. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I learned some valuable lessons along the way. These were key for me understanding that it's OK to be mad or have someone be mad at me. There is, in fact, a healthy way to deal with anger. And once I took these lessons on as truth for myself, my journey became much easier.
Please note that I'm not advocating anyone to go out and be verbally or physically abusive. I am simply sharing what has worked for me and how I can now safely live with and show anger in my life.
1. Not All Anger Is Bad
Most people were born with the capacity to feel a spectrum of emotions: happiness, sadness, joy, love, fear, anger, etc. Each and every emotion serves a very important purpose, including anger. Anger can let our bodies know that we're in danger and should protect ourselves. It can let us and others know that something is wrong. For some, anger shows up when they're hurt. For others, it's the emotion that motivates them to make changes either within themselves, a situation, or society. Without that anger, many positive changes in the world would have never happened. Consider that there is, in fact, something to be appreciated about anger.
2. Getting Angry Can Be A Point of Connection
What is one of the most common conversations we have on a daily basis?
"How are you?"
"Fine, thank you, how are you?"
Why is it that many of us have this conversation numerous times a day actually avoid saying how we are? Many of us hide that we're anxious, depressed, or even happy. Why are we OK with hiding what is truly going on for us and actually sharing who we are? And why is it that many people are uncomfortable being around anything other than happiness?
It's difficult to have a genuine relationship or connect with other people when we're not showing what's really going on for us. Why not celebrate the good news together? Why not give someone an opportunity to be there for you when you share that everything is not going perfectly for you? There have been times in which my close friends were angry about a certain situation. When they would express that to me, most times they were actually speaking out what I was actually thinking myself. They gave me permission to be mad and I could connect to myself and them by them expressing what their emotional truth was in that moment.
Brene Brown says, "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." Being seen, felt and understood by my loved ones and others is one of the most important things I want for my life. By hiding myself or protecting others from being uncomfortable if I'm not happy, I was denying both myself and the other person a chance to know me, get me and really see who I am. My not showing up as my true self also denied a person to connect to my anger. By showing it, it also gives a person permission to show theirs or any other emotion that they may be feeling.
3. Just Because I'm Hiding Behind a Smile Doesn't Mean People Believe It
Ever been around someone walking around with a smile on their face, yet you felt that something didn't feel right? Did it occur to you that they were hiding something from you? Maybe you just found yourself not wanting to be around that person, but you didn't know why.
I've had those situations a lot over the years -- and I've been the one with the smile on. For some reason, I'd fooled myself into believing that I was so good at hiding when I was angry that others weren't privy to it. While I can say that I was and continue to be quite skilled at hiding my emotions when I choose to, there are a good number of people whom I was never able to fool. I may have been saying one thing with a smile on my face, but my body and their intuition told them the true story. I wasn't hoodwinking them. I was only kidding myself by thinking they bought my act.
4. Hiding Anger Makes Room for Other Negative Emotions and Behaviors to Show Up
When I get present to many of the times I was pretending not to be angry, I see that my act just left room for other things to show up -- and not one time was that thing happiness. For me, being sad was safe, so often my anger turned into tremendous, overwhelming sadness. In order to not be angry and potentially "hurt" someone else, I just got really, really sad.
But that sadness and anger that wasn't being dealt with was hurting someone very important: me. I wasn't respecting myself enough to allow myself to be angry. And while sadness is what showed up for me, for others it may be a nasty tone of voice. For others, it's passive aggression.
Personally, I got tired of being sad when I wasn't really sad. I was tired of crying when what I really wanted to do was scream. Whether I liked it or not, if I didn't let the anger flow out of me, something else showed up in its place.
5. Releasing Anger Creates a Space for Love
Most of us know the phrase by Sonia Johnson, "What we resist, persists." This is also true of emotions. The more we try to avoid, pretend or hide emotions we've deemed unacceptable, the more they tend to show up -- many times when we least expect or want them to. When we are just with them, embrace and ride out the storm, it's over a lot sooner than it would have been if we avoided it.
In nature, after every big storm I've witnessed (and before the chaos of trying to clean up after it), there is a sense of calm, an offering of peace. There is a special sense of quiet, of serenity.
Because destruction leaves space. When you destroy one thing, new things can grow and flourish. When my mind was full of the weeds of hatred and anger -- wanting no more than to be released and felt and heard and seen and EXPRESSED -- there was too much clutter in there for me to reach for the real possibilities in my life. But when I got really angry and screamed and clawed at the air and beat my fists into pillows and felt it, then afterwards, I felt the peace. I felt the space. I felt empty, like there was a void where something else could come in.
When I release my anger in a healthy way, it no longer resides in my body. It's out of my system. And I don't know about anyone else, but life is too short for me to continue walking around being angry about things. I want to live a life in which I feel fulfilled, happy, full of love, authentic (with whatever happens to show up for me in that moment), and most importantly, fully self-expressed.
If you are or were once like me and had an unhealthy relationship with your anger, perhaps you could consider a new perspective. Maybe you could share what is true for you -- even just to yourself. "I'm angry. I'm real, real fuckin' angry. In fact, I'm furious." For many people, that simple step is a huge breakthrough -- they've never allowed themselves to actually admit how incredibly, powerfully, destructively enraged they are.
Maybe you're angry at your boss (who is really a stand in for your dad). Maybe you're pissed at God for putting you in the situation you're in. Maybe you're angry at your spouse, or your sister, or yourself. Maybe you've never considered yourself the 'angry type,' so you've been stuffing it for so long you can't even remember when you weren't mad. What would happen if you admitted that, in fact, you're fucking furious? Would the world end?
Maybe not. Maybe you would just start to feel all that energy rise up in your being, at which point your natural reaction used to be either to stuff it back down or do your go to numbing technique -- eating, sleeping, reading, masturbating -- we've all got a way we have of turning off uncomfortable emotions.
What if you didn't do that this time? What if instead, you screamed at the top of your lungs in your car, or into your pillow? What if you really did the thing where you take a wiffle bat and fucking wail on a pillow in the back yard? Maybe you could go for a run, go to the batting cages or join a kickboxing class. Perhaps safely breaking dishes call to you. It could even look like you doing Network Spinal Analysis, Holotropic breath work or seeing a therapist. The point is to find a safe outlet that works for you, so that you now have the space for what you want to show up in your life.
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