I have always had an ambivalent relationship with anger.
Let me explain.
When I was a young girl, I felt that child’s sense of utter freedom and abandon to be myself. And anger was just one emotion in the spectrum of feelings. Even as a teenager, I still felt safe to express my anger- at times by raising my voice, and even slamming doors. It was part of my adolescence rebellion. ?
Yet as I grew older, I realized that my Indian culture did not do well with the expression of anger- especially in females.
So, slowly and steadily, I learned how to manage my anger. Which basically meant I kept my feelings of irritation, frustration and anger to myself. Hidden. Concealed. So, on the surface there was the appearance of peace- what I call a psuedopeace- yet deep within there was a volcano brewing. Every now and then, there would be minor explosions. An angry outburst. A walking away from a conversation with hot tears of anger stinging in my eyes.
Now, by this time, in my mid20s, I was proficient at managing my anger, so even these sort of outbursts never happened at work or even among my close friends. No, I only felt safe to do this with my parents, or my younger brother or my close extended family members.
I recall reading once that sadness and depression can be anger turned inwards. I feel that this was true for me. Yes, I was angry less, but I still was not at peace. I was still not happy. Instead, I would assume a ‘passive-aggressive’ stance; if I was upset with someone, I would become withdrawn, sullen and retreat into myself.
The thing is that I simply did not have the tools to heal my anger. And the defense mechanisms I was using did not really work. They simply kept the feelings at bay or buried them deeper- and true peace of mind and contentment seemed elusive and far away.
The blessing was that I was always looking for ways to heal my mind and emotions. Meditation. Yoga. Self-help books. Exercise such as jogging. Spiritual readings. Journaling. Homeopathy and so many other alternative healing modalities.
Everything helped somewhat, and I am grateful for all of the teachers and tools that came my way.
But deeper healing did not come to me until I found the teachings of radical forgiveness as taught in A Course in Miracles and my parents’ spiritual tradition (Dada Bhagwan).
Here are some insights I have received over the past several years as I have practiced these teachings:
Anger is part of our shadow- the hidden, subconscious emotions and beliefs we hold deep within. Keeping this at bay often means we can project this outside ourselves onto others. Our parents. Our significant other. Even our co-workers or bosses.
- Just today I met with a client who shared that she felt triggered by a co-worker who was constantly angry. As we gently explored the beliefs and ideas she had about anger, she shared that her relationship with anger was what she described as ‘minimal.’ She tended to be introverted, and would separate herself and become withdrawn rather than overtly express her anger. We realized that this co-worker could actually be coming into her awareness because she was ready to look at anger and heal from not pushing emotions away, or suppressing but allowing into awareness for healing.
Anger can actually be buried under A LOT of fear.
- Recently, I saw a powerful video where an experienced Course in Miracles teacher was helping a student process her anger. They were seated together in the dining room. The woman was very angry and hitting the table with her fist. The teacher simply continued to eat his lunch. The other senior students did the same and the other participants in the retreat held a safe space where the woman could simply express. What was amazing is no one tried to fix or change or suppress her anger. There was no judgment. Just a space of allowing what was buried to come to the surface. The woman shared how she had been medicated for her symptoms of anxiety and this was perhaps the first time that she felt safe to express the anger underneath. As she continued to express, without any interference from anyone, she got in touch with buried sadness as well.
Anger can actually feel better than fear or sadness. (at least initially)
- When we are in fear, we can often feel scattered. In sadness, we can feel perhaps a numbness- which often feels like we are powerless. With anger, we can actually feel a sense of energy- like we are stepping out of a self-imposed exile. Anger can even give us a sense of power as we step out of a feeling of helplessness often associated with fear or sadness.
Sometimes, something said in anger can be hurtful, but can express an underlying truth about a situation.
- Recently, I shared about a Bollywood movie where a family’s appearance of outward success and harmony unravels aboard a family cruise. An angry outburst by the son triggers the parents to look more deeply into the status of their marriage- which is riddled with deceit, lies and falsehood.
- Anger can be like a piercing sword that allows us to penetrate through our accumulated experiences and determine what we really want when we are facing contrast.
The ‘feeling better’ state of anger is often short-lived.
- Chronic anger can lead to many disease states including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, ulcer and many other illnesses.
- I recall studying medical QiGong with a Western trained MD who was also an acupuncturist. As I lay on the exam table, he picked up some heat energy in the liver/gall bladder area. He asked if I had recently had an argument- which I had with my younger brother. I was amazed at the connection he helped me understand- between the emotions of anger and how they could show up in the body in such a tangible way.
- The Buddha described anger like a hot coal- that you pick up intending to throw at someone else. And, guess what, the first person that is burned is yourself.
- Anger does feel like a burning- an internal churning and burning- which at first gives us a sense of power but eventually we feel worn down. The stress response that is activated with anger at first gives us a lot of energy as the stress hormones stimulate the release of adrenalin into the bloodstream. But chronic anger wears us down and we can actually feel powerless again – over our anger and our reactivity. And being triggered by the same external stimulus again and again.
But what is the key that can heal our anger? What are some practices that can help us?
I will share more in part two.
Meanwhile, here are some questions for self-reflection.
- What is your relationship to anger?
- Are you trying to ‘manage’ anger?
- What are situations that trigger anger in you?
- Are you able to see these situations as triggers, or do you find yourself blaming others or external circumstances for anger?
- Where in your body do you feel anger?
- Are you feeling willing to see anger as a teacher? Do you feel willing to allow an authentic healing and true peace of mind?
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