You and ANGER

photo by Matt Erasmus, Creative Commons, Flickr

photo by Matt Erasmus, Creative Commons, Flic

The other day, some college kid nearly backed into my car. My kids were in the car and for a brief moment I lost it. “FUCK.” I yelled, followed by “What the fuck?” I felt a wave of power and adrenaline. One of my kids got scared and started crying. I pictured pulling this guy out of his car and ripping him to shreds, beating him down to the ground. It took me about 30 minutes to relax and accept what had happened. I thought of how embarrassing it would have been to act out in front of my kids. It showed me that I have some anger lurking just below the surface. I know what it is about (current stuff) am actively attending to it. Clearly not done.

Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I get so pissed, I want to break shit or hurt someone. Anger is such a powerful emotion, beautiful and often hard to feel and be with. Then there’s the fear and hurt (i.e. deep shame) below it….

Anger gets demonized a lot in this culture. I hear people say “yeah, but I’m not an angry person,” or “I don’t like being angry, no one likes an angry person.” Makes sense on four levels: 1) Most of us are scared of anger. 2) Because of our fear, we have no idea how to express it because no one taught us. 3) When we do go there, it usually slips out, implodes (on ourself), or explodes outward in self defense/protection. 4) We are not aware that anger is often covering up very hurt feelings underneath.

Anger in this culture is mostly disconnected, dissociated, and indirect. In other words, we aren’t really consciously connecting to it. It’s too threatening for the system, but since it’s unavoidable, it can come out anyway.

Most of us learned anger from the big people who had limited bandwidth to feel anger, let alone express it. Thus, every time we felt anger, we stuffed it. That anger often had no outlet, so the body, being very smart, stored it in a dark hallway inside our cells. Then, when some current trigger hits a small tributary that leads to the larger (older) hallway, it might come out, slowly (irritability, passive aggressive behavior, etc), or as a gusher (explosion). I remember in college when I’d drink too much, and someone triggered a fight response in me, I’d explode, creating a mess that lasted for days or weeks. Previous to those explosions, I was irritable for days or weeks and had no idea what was going on. My irritability at the time was a current stressor (small vein). The explosion (large hallway) was repressed anger from my childhood. Or, how about those people who are sitting on a mountain of rage, but masking and posturing over it with a smile? Whew. What’s going on with their internal organs? Danger. Granted, some blind rage might be helpful on a rare occasion to intervene with no thought, but when it comes to intimate partnerships and parenting, anger and rage must be harnessed.

Our anger is a sword and one must learn how to wield it properly. Our anger is fuel. Anger is life. Anger is passion. Anger can communicate, “I care.” Anger is power. Anger done well builds bridges, instead of destroying them. Our anger can fuel massive change in the world. Contrary to what most folks think, anger done well in families and partnerships brings people closer together. It also fuels firm boundary setting with people who are out of control, abusive, mean, or disrespectful.

To get empowered around anger, we must learn how to feel all of it, know what’s below it (feeling that too), and learn how to express it in a direct, mature way. When we have conscious awareness of what we are protecting or defending, we can have more choice with our anger. Done well, our anger is a gift and it’s here to serve. Bring it please.———

related post: Men and Rage

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