Anger…I’ve been attempting to write about this for days as almost every one of my clients and even myself has felt it’s flames this past week – but somehow every time I’d sit down to do it, I’d get distracted. That makes sense, too since most of us want to be distracted from our anger or we try to bury/compartmentalize it – it can be scary or even overwhelming if we let it out!
But it’s precisely the acknowledging that needs to happen or else it ends up coming out in other ways, subtly as in passive aggressive comments or actions – or as an eruption, blowing up all in its’ path.
Using the metaphor of fire, we are seeing the earth’s anger because we haven’t listened and acknowledged our disconnection and mistreatment of her – the fires that have ravaged our lovely California were from a horrible confluence of multiple factors including ignorance and denial (brush fires are natural, our current climate state and the choices we’ve made that contributed to the level of destruction is not).
Coming back to humans – we allow the anger to burn slowly inside either hidden or consciously compartmentalized and that is also a way of disconnecting ourselves. And some of us do that really well but it comes with a terrible price.
Why not feel it, you might ask?
Well, first of all, it often doesn’t feel good to sit with anger – it’s uncomfortable so we distract or dissociate to avoid that discomfort.
We are also taught to fear that anger. Our culture sees anger as violent and it has often been that way – massive destruction has been wrought under the cover of righteousness and this has caused deep and long lasting pain.
Violence against especially women and children or those deemed inferior have been and are still rampant in our society. Though they have been more hidden in the past, since recently being encouraged and condoned by those in power, they are now coming to light. We hear of them, we see them and justifiably fear these abhorrent practices.
And women, in particular have been indoctrinated into the culture of the “good girl” – which is why we often don’t speak up when something doesn’t feel right. We fear the other’s judgment or anger and also are stuck with the underlying belief that it’s not appropriate to say what we need, to have outbursts or to get angry ourselves.
Even in the spiritual communities sometimes there can be what’s called spiritual bypassing wherein under the guise of moving towards enlightenment, your “negative” states are thought to be caused by you and a sign you are not on the right path or not very evolved.
I call bullshit.
I feel that anger in myself rise up in my chest when I think about this all – how we have been forced to sublimate and deny our feelings and I see how much pain this causes, how it becomes stuck in our bodies, my body. As I feel this anger rising, I notice how it feels – a heavy, burning weight that pushes down upon me, constricting my throat, chest and solar plexus.
I stop and focus on the sensation as I breathe into it. I breathe and feel and I keep my attention there. I then breathe more deeply into my rib cage, imagining and feeling my ribs expand outwards from my sides and back as the breath enters there and goes up.
I notice how my body moves with each breath, expanding and contracting. I go back to focusing on the sensation and soon I feel more space and less intensity. I also feel more connected with myself since I stopped and listened and felt in.
I found that by practicing this, I could decrease the intensity of sensation and as I became more centered and connected, I was able to decrease my reactivity. But sometimes anger is actually necessary, and important.
Although it’s a primal drive, anger still has a critical function – it can spur you to action when you see something is unfair or hurting another or give you that burst of energy to get you to a safer place, galvanizing movement as chemicals are released into your body. For example adrenaline causes the fight/flight reaction (epinephrine) and is related to alertness or in intense anger/aggression and strength (norepinephrine). It also decreases cortisol levels which are related to stress.
Calming my intense reaction allows me to have more choice in how I respond to whatever stimuli is coming to me. In this example above, now that I’m able to think (my frontal lobes can engage once I’m not in a reactive place) – I can access the energy from that anger and focus in towards something constructive (such as finishing this article to help educate others).
There is energy there in that anger and sometimes it can feel good to let it out. You can channel it as I did but if you let it take you over, inevitably you’ll feel worse after the rage subsides (even though it can also feel really good to react from that angry place). This latter behavior can lead to a destructive cycle of abuse – so be careful not to become addicted to that pattern.
Either extreme is not healthy – when anger is pushed away, it can cause fatigue or even illnesses to manifest over time. In the psychology field, we say that anger turned inwards is depression.
Like all emotions, I believe that anger is a messenger to you – it’s telling you something doesn’t feel right and that you need to pay attention to this.
How do you do this in a healthy way, you might ask?
Well, you can do what I wrote about above. And that means that first you have to notice what it feels like in your body. By this, I mean to notice the physical sensation inside – does your body get hot? Does your heart pound? Do you feel pressure in your chest or head? What’s happening for you?
Once you tune into the physical sensation, it’s important you stay with that feeling and remain in the present.
Just feel and notice. The sensation will probably change as you remain present with it – usually it dissipates but it it may first intensify and then decrease, or it may move to another spot. There is no wrong way, it’s your body process.
Keep your awareness there on the sensation, expanding into it and after a few minutes, you can take it even further than I did to continue this process.
Begin to get curious about it. Is there an image or memory associated with that? What comes up for you around it? Take note (and you may work with that later if you wish) but do not allow yourself to get drawn into your thoughts/memories. If you find yourself going there, just calmly bring yourself back to the body sensation.
That sense of curiosity is key, as is the focus on what is happening right now.
When you do this, you will free up the stuck energy you would have created around that anger (or have created) and it will allow you to reflect upon, rather than react from that anger. Once you have that space, you can choose how you wish to direct that energy.
This process is one of becoming more connected into yourself and you can do it with any emotion that arises.
So, what are you angry about??