I would be willing to bet that at various times in your life, you have been accused of “focusing on the negative” or “getting too angry” or “making a big deal out of nothing.” Sound familiar? Maybe you have even said this to someone else?
Most of us have been taught that our anger is an undesirable emotion, something we need to control. In fact, the ways in which many of us have been reprimanded for our anger tend to create a sense of shame. We might have been taught to apologize when we get angry.
But is anger the problem? Or might it be how we interact with our anger which causes us and others so much discomfort and even damage? Could anger ever be an emotion which we would welcome and embrace as a having a positive influence on our lives and the lives of those we love?
What might be a way to use anger for good?
“The anger burned in me like a fire. At first I didn’t know what to do with it. But I found that, if I didn’t react against it or jump to any conclusions and stayed what I call ‘Christ-centered,’ it had its own wisdom and intelligence. It would change into a deep feeling of caring, which then gave me a clearer sense of what I wanted to see changed and what I could do about it.”
When I first read this John Robbins’ quote from an interview by Stephen Bodian in the September/October 1988 issue of Yoga Journal, I cried. I suppose I wondered if I could ever be capable of such an exquisite level of compassion.
One thing I did not question is the link between fully experiencing your anger and being able to respond with empathy. I have long known that true empathy for those who have hurt you and genuine forgiveness for the crimes committed against you can only follow a courageous and honest experience of your anger and grief.
This might seen counterintuitive. But if you numb any of your emotions, you will unfortunately numb all your emotions. So if you really want to connect compassionately and if you truly want to forgive, you must be able to face your painful emotions in a way which neither denies nor reacts. You have to learn to manage your anger while fully experiencing it and that requires a level of emotional awareness and maturity which is rarely taught.
In fact the world seems rather mean spirited, with no shortage of bullying, name calling, road rage and online flaming. In an increasingly rude social environment, there are endless examples of the wrong use of anger.
Ironically, the destructive use of anger that permeates our culture has its roots in a deep-seated shame about anger. If from an early age you were admonished not be angry, you may have learned to hide your anger, to present a “don’t care attitude,” or perhaps breakdown in tears instead of revealing your rage.
Our relationship with anger can be gender specific too. Men sometimes feel more comfortable expressing anger than sadness. And the opposite is generally true for women, with tears being more acceptable than a display of rage.
Gender differences aside, what tends to be universally true is that we are given the message that anger is something to be controlled and even eliminated. Our anger is rarely greeted by others as a gift.
But what if your anger is in fact a huge gift? What if there are ways your anger can benefit and improve your life and your relationships?
I invite you to consider some of the important functions of anger.
Anger can notify you when something is not in your best interest. You can think of it as a sort of alarm system. If you’re angry, then something needs your attention now.
Stop what you are doing and consider what might have caused your anger.
Once you’ve isolated the source of your anger, you may wish to eliminate it from your life. Or you may prefer to find healthy ways to assert a boundary in order to deal in a positive way with the person, situation or circumstance which has caused you to feel angry.
Either way, the trick is to use your anger as an alarm system, and then as an incentive to assert your needs. Used this way, your anger can propel you into positive action. Your anger can guide you away from denial and toward your intuition. Your anger can teach you to respect and honor your own sense of knowing.
If this sounds too good to be true, you are not alone. The vast majority of us never learned how to manage our anger. Consequently, angry emotions often lead to a long list of negative outcomes.
Acting before you think (or thinking from your “reptilian” brain) can cause you to say and do things you will regret. When anger is not properly managed, it can lead to reacting instead of responding. And ultimately your anger can turn into resentment. Resentments are extremely damaging to your relationships and your health.
But when you learn how to manage your anger, your ability to connect with others compassionately is magnified dramatically.
Here is a summary of the important roles anger can play in your life, and of the pitfalls associated with anger when it is not properly managed. In my next blog entry, I will explore the eight steps of anger management. In the mean time, remember that your anger really can be a beautiful gift and that will become ever more apparent as you learn how to feel your anger without acting it out.
Important Functions of Anger:
1. To let you know when something is not in your best interest
2. To provide incentive to eliminate what is unacceptable
3. To propel you into action
4. To guide you from denial to your intuition
Pitfalls of Anger which is not Properly Managed:
1. Acting before you think
2. Thinking from your “reptilian brain”
3. Reacting instead of responding
4. Moving from anger to resentment
As always, I am here to help. If you wish to learn a new relationship to your anger, one which honors your true feelings while maximizing the love and intimacy in your life, drop me an email at Veronica@TheShameFreeZone.com