Anger gets our attention. It can be big, loud, fiery, aggressive, and if unchecked, downright frightening, it's no surprise then that anger is relegated to a category of unwelcome and unacceptable emotions. Anger's function is simply to let us know that something needs to change, and it is anger that can give us the strength and power to create that change. Anger is a guide in determining healthy boundaries, advocating for our values, our integrity, and the resulting reorganization may safeguard us from becoming a victim. When we bring awareness to how we meet and give expression to this intense feeling, we need not reject or fear our anger.
Many of us grew up in families that discouraged or flat out refused to allow the expression of anger. Fear of punishment, rejection and the withholding of love created more than enough motivation to repress any strong feelings of displeasure. We learned to bite our tongue and clench our jaw rather than risk rattling someone's cage, resulting in emotions that were repressed, ignored, or denied. This allowed us to be 'good girls and boys', people pleasers, or perfectionists. The dilemma arises with the knowledge that repressed and denied feelings eventually find some form of physical or behavioral expression, both of which can be detrimental to our relationships and health.
Or we grew up in a home with someone who had big out of control and frightening rage. There were no boundaries to this explosive anger. This leaves us highly sensitive and triggered by any sign of anger in another. We may also model the behavior with big or explosive outbursts of our own. In either case we are again left with a negative impact on our health and relationships.
Anger needs to be acknowledged and to find expression. Anger invites us to go deeper, to bring awareness to the underlying feelings crying out for recognition and acceptance. There are often feelings of fear, grief, or shame stemming from hurt, rejection from others or from oneself, and loss of love lying deep below the anger. If we identify what feeling is present under anger's guise, we can ask ourselves what need we have that is not being met. It is our unmet needs that drive our anger.
Our muscles, which enable all bodily systems to function, respond to and absorb mental and emotional strain. Without adequate relaxation following highly stressful states such as anger, tension collects generating deeper, longer lasting harm. Over time your muscles can become organized in this restricted form, holding emotions and trauma. The now frozen anger, fear, or grief builds a fearful or depressive attitude into one's physical structure, which in turn continues to enable the mental state. To alter these patterns and heal any wounds it is necessary to work with both the physical and the psychological structuring of anger.
I've included two practices, one to give anger quick physical expression creating movement and release, and one to deepen and gain insight into what is alive in your anger. The first comes from Donna Eden's Little Book of Energy Medicine. Many of my clients have found it quite effective. The second, Getting Acquainted with Your Anger is mine, inspired by the wisdom of many wonderful teachers.
Expelling the Venom D. Eden
This exercise evokes and releases the energies of anger, upset, and frustration. It is a primal and effective way to let go of stress and anger.
Begin standing. Put your arms out in front of you, bend your elbows slightly, make fists with the insides of your wrists facing up, and take a very full breath.
Swing your arms behind you and up and over your head. Hold here for a moment. Reach way up, turn your fists so your fisted fingers are facing each other, and rush your arms down the front of your body as you empathically release your fists. Let out your breath and emotions with a whooosh sound or any other powerful sounds that come naturally.
Repeat the process several times.
The last time, bring your arms down in a slow and controlled manner, blowing your breath out of your mouth as you go.
Getting Acquainted with Your Anger
Find a quiet and relaxed place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes if comfortable. Observe and follow your breath without judgment for a few minutes.
Think for a moment of something that conjures up anger or rage in you. Now bring focus to your body, asking where your anger is stored. Mindfully scan your body for any sensations that emerge as you get in touch with anger. There may be a heavy feeling, a constriction, clenching, tingling, heat or cold, or any number of other physical feelings.
These sensations are the places where your anger lives.
Observe the effects they are having on your breath, your thoughts, and your heart. If you are uncomfortable you can always stop, and go back to Expelling the Venom to move the anger through you.
When we acknowledge and allow our feelings without rejecting or trying to change them they usually will move through us, but for now we want to listen for any messages the anger has to deliver.
Ask yourself, is your anger a response to your internal voice or is it a response to something or someone outside of you? Has a boundary been crossed or violated?
How big is your anger? Is it sustainable?
Does your anger want you to move? If so follow its lead.
Staying with your anger, is it shifting into other feelings such as fear, grief, or shame?
Again, it is important not to judge your feelings. Judging them is turning against yourself; it is a form of self violence which only serves to strengthen the rejected parts or feelings. Treat yourself with tenderness and care.
Whatever feeling is present give it a voice, ask if it has a message, and then ask what it needs to feel better.
Is this need something you can offer yourself, such as giving yourself a hug, going for a walk, forgiveness, or is this a request you would like to make of another, such as a hug or for them to listen empathically?
When you feel like you've received the message your anger came to deliver, slowly move your attention outward. You may want to brush off any residual feelings of anger with a sweeping motion of your hands down your arms and legs, then shake it off.
Give yourself thanks for the courage you showed in facing your anger and other emotions head on.
As we become viscerally aware of our anger we strengthen our capacity for healthy assertiveness and agency. Next time you feel the heat of anger try welcoming it, see if you can make it your ally, lot's of juicy information is alive in it.