What We Need to Understand about Anger
For many years I have looked to Acupuncture as a practice to help settle my body, mind, and spirit. Within thirty or forty minutes, the thread-like needles seem to magically alleviate any of the physical or emotional pain I am experiencing at the time. On one day, I felt happy and energized as I walked into my appointment. I didn’t have any ailments or complaints for my acupuncturist to work on. However, I was surprised when one of the usually painless needles caused me to feel a jolt on my shoulder blade. “That hurt! What point is that?” I ask my practitioner. She chuckled affectionately. “That” she responded, “is anger.”
I was shocked. “How can that be? I feel great and am really happy today?” I said. I practice mindfulness daily and I felt that I knew my feelings and emotions well. As I laid there allowing my mind and body to relax, I pondered what I might be holding onto or not addressing consciously. What or whom could I be angry with that I was not aware of? And once I discovered this, how would I react or respond? Would I be able to let it go?
Anger is an experience of life that we too often overlook or suffocate. We know when we are angry, yet we rarely choose to explore it. Rather, we learn from an early age to suppress our anger, rage, and other painful emotions. In my experience as an intuitive life coach, I see anger impact my clients in a myriad of ways, such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression, all because they do not healthily respect and work with this innate and critical emotion.
What We Get Wrong about Anger
In our society, we tend to turn away from anger. We think it is a negative thing that makes us a “bad” person and a feeling that brings up a great deal of shame. In truth, it is the consequences of anger that often result in something negative—not the anger itself. Anger can be a beautiful telling tool and release when we know how to recognize it and express it as a way to stand up for ourselves and take us out of victimization.
When our feelings are not validated, or our trauma goes unaddressed by our caregivers or teachers in our primary years, we learn at a very young age how to suppress and hold down our sadness, frustration, hurt, shame, and humiliation. Anger provokes an array of other emotions and feelings. Some of us may feel hurt, threatened, hateful, mad, aggressive, frustrated, distant, or critical. Some of us may feel resentful, scared, sad, or depressed.
Throughout my years coaching individuals, I have seen how anger can fester and harm. When we do not acknowledge our anger, we are prone to act out on others, take our anger out on ourselves, or—even worse yet—suppress it until we explode. We may lash out at our loved ones, friends, children or co-workers. In suppressing anger, we can involuntarily lead ourselves to fall physically sick and we miss out on the potential this incredible feeling holds.
Why We Shouldn’t Wait to Express Our Anger
When our emotions and feelings are not processed and dealt with, it can become a dangerous cocktail with lasting effects on ourselves and others. We know what an angry face looks like. We know when someone is impatient with us and we walk around on eggshells waiting for the moment they will snap. We all know what it feels like to be scared and threatened. We have had bosses, husbands, wives, friends, lovers and even children who act out their anger on us and we have acted out on others, as well.
Psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry illustrates trauma and its effects so clearly. In his book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, he tells of a young man who was neglected as an infant by his mother and who later committed a brutal crime in his teenage years. This is an extreme and sad example, but it illustrates how unresolved anger can lead to harmful things. That is why it is critical to acknowledge it. Honor your anger and express it without causing harm to yourself or others.
These are challenging and heartbreaking times, especially in this last year. The invitation for rage and violence feels almost ‘normal’ and has reached an all time high for everyone. But today—and every day—is an opportunity to fully face the dark feelings inside of us and to turn them into a positive, creative experience. Expressing anger in dialogue that is contained within healthy boundaries can enrich any relationship as well as invite intimacy. We cannot be intimate in our romantic relationships if we suppress any emotion.
After contemplating my own anger the day of my acupuncture, I realized I had to reevaluate boundaries in some relationships which were causing me to feel anger and subsequent resentment and frustration. I was grateful to my acupuncturist for showing me that I could feel happy and light but also be living with something deeper inside of me—an anger that I needed to bring to the surface.
How to Recognize and Work through Anger
We are all participants and recipients of anger during our lives. We are human and anger is a part of our nature. The question is: What do we do with it? How do we process and address it if we never learned how? What if we don’t know we are angry? Not all of us have acupuncturists who will remind us! How do we navigate through these powerful feelings without causing ourselves and others unnecessary harm?!
It has been said that what you resist persists—and I agree. The first thing to do is ask yourself how you are feeling throughout your day. Do you feel ashamed? Confusion? Sadness? Despair? These are often all linked to a deeper anger.
Not everyone can afford therapy or coaching but asking ourselves some questions can settle or prevent an argument or violent outburst from occurring. The following practice can help you recognize and work through your anger:
- Take time to sit with yourself and acknowledge your feelings and their roots. Do you feel trapped? Agitated? Sad? Do you feel rejected and invalidated? Are you holding down resentment? Sit with this and explore.
- Witness your thoughts and actions. Dig deeper to see if your anger is disguised as hurt, sadness, rejection, disappointment, and shame. The simple act of watching your thoughts will help you to get to know yourself better so you can choose to respond rather than react in anger.
- Consider your physical wellbeing. Have you had enough sleep? Are you well fed? Ignoring our bodies can lead to anger festering in unhealthy ways.
- Place positive healing intentions for your day before going to bed and again upon waking before getting up. In this way you will create a new habit and train your mind to release stored negativity and explore what’s possible.
- Follow a breathwork practice to help release tension in the body and mind. This will allow you time to reflect and respond healthily rather than react adversely. My favorite breathing practice is the alternate nostril breathing technique (Nadi Shodhana).
- Taking a loving pause before you speak or react. Practice counting to 10 or 20 before reacting to any situation, whether a person, text message or email. This allows you to see the anger from a whiteness perspective, which is an opportunity to consciously choose how you will respond. This is a helpful tool for all situations and relationships.
- Seek creativity. Anger can be directed through healthy expressions like painting, writing, dance, song, and journaling! Make a list of what you are angry about and who you are angry with! Then see whom you can share your discoveries with for a healthy discussion and resolution. Have patience with yourself and in turn you will have patience with those who anger you!
- Remember: You have agency. You have a choice in your actions.
- Practice self-compassion. Always.
Doing this can help us work with the anger inside of us and to use it for good. These practices can also reveal the wisdom that anger holds and illuminate life changes we need to make. Perhaps your stored anger is a calling to leave a relationship, change careers, or move to a new city. For a seemingly dark thing, anger is a true whistler.
Lastly, always remember: There is good in you. Feeling angry doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re alive! Find that goodness and protect it, nurture that part of yourself and when you genuinely care about yourself, reparent yourself in the most loving of ways you will find a way to diffuse your anger, healthily. We are all children with wounds and painful stories. There are so many opportunities for us to get hurt, emotionally and physically, and our caregivers cannot always be there to protect us—so we need to protect ourselves. If we can take a moment to be gentle with our child self, often enough, we will recognize that wounded child is lovable, valuable, and capable.
To love one another is the core of our human nature. Remember that the next time you get angry.