What anger is REALLY trying to tell us: 12 healthy ways to deal with it with a little more ease and grace
Ok, so here's touchy subject i've been contemplating for the last couple of weeks, tentatively wondering if I should blog about it or not, but you know what? Screw it, I'm doing it. Have you ever had a time in your life where you felt angry and you were told to put a lid on it and shamed for it? Or have you ever felt terribly uncomfortable around someone else who was a getting a little worked up over something someone did, something maybe you did, or, been out in public and been terribly startled when someone on the other side of the street suddenly starts screaming about something....and by something, I mean something more than just "GO TIGES!!!!!!!!!" (That's an AFL team in Australia for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.) Ok, so it's not exactly our most favourite of emotions to be around or experience. And this is why, as a society, quit frankly, we suck at dealing with anger in healthy ways.
But of course we do. If you're over 30 in Australia particularly or from an English speaking country, and female, you might well be familiar with the "good little girls don't get angry" bit...way more of Australia than would like to admit grew up getting smacked or strapped or caned when they did something wrong....if you've gone on to be a parent, ever having to pull a pile of fighting siblings off each other...you've perhaps gone on to develop a new found empathy for our parents at some of those times and how easy it can be to lose one's cool...and feel terrible. But we grew up with both these things then we wonder why we have generations of grown adults who cope with the overwhelming nature of emotions and stress, with violence??? Largely, its like we're only able to to exist and be around others in either extreme....total repression of it, or repressed so long, we've lost it.
Here's the thing though about anger...it's not all unhealthy.
Now, when i say that, let me just clarify i'm not talking about the level where someone has completely lost it in your general direction with a tirade of verbal abuse aimed at degrading your character, or progressed into a physical attack on you. When it's escalated into abuse, there's a whole other way to manage that, that i've actually blogged about how to neutralise before when i've talked about how women or men can get the upper hand back and bring things back into balance when they're on the receiving end of this kind, so as we're no longer walking around the world in FEAR of anger anymore. Today though, I want to talk instead about the original purpose and functionality of anger.
Because anger, in it's purest form, is actually a messenger to you. It's a messenger that something is not right. In the present moment, It's communicating to you that something is out of alignment with perhaps your values, or your boundaries and perception about how you want to be treated in the world. And it's here to remind you when you feel that your boundaries have been crossed.
Another function of anger is as a defence mechanism....it may come up when a part of your ego that doesn't want to change is being challenged. Or, sometimes anger comes out as a top level self protection mechanism when a part of you feels vulnerable or unsafe or like you're being attacked. But more often than not, what's really underneath it, is deep grief. Because we love so much. And sometimes, when things with people don't turn out how we wanted them to, we feel terribly hurt and let down.
So for some people, and often men, if you weren't given permission or were shamed for crying or emotional outbursts as a child, frustration or anger will be the tell-tell sign that something's amiss and you're feeling upset. If we can see it like this....can we suddenly start to have a little more compassion for ourselves and others in the experience of it? And can we start to see what is really needed here for ourselves, or for others when they're started to get frustrated or angry?
Blaming it, shaming it, suppressing it, judging and trying to get rid of it or anyone with it AIN'T going to solve the problem. It just fractures ourselves into pieces, and possibly fractures the others we disconnect from in the process into pieces as well. And that my friends, brings nothing, but a temporary reprieve from discomfort, at the cost of something often much deeper.
And often sets us up in an endless cycle to experience similar scenarios for ourselves in future, or to create similar situations, but now with someone else, until we get what we're supposed to learn from the scenario in the first place. And learn how to view anger and this unavoidable human part of existence in healthier ways. Here's a few thoughts now on how to communicate with others when anger is up:
How to communicate with others in the presence of anger
Firstly, in being present with anger of others, we need to liberate ourselves from taking it on like it's ours or our fault, by default. In a society where blame and projection are running riot, again, many of us grew up believing that, when our parents lost it, it was our fault because we'd done something. So our tendency in adulthood is to assume the same. Assume our own guilt before presuming our own innocence or evidence is even presented as to what one might be "guilty" of. WITH LOVE, we need to stop that.
While we have control of how we behave yes, (if we respect free will, no NLP manipulating others here) we have absolutely no control over how another chooses to think about or react to it. Their thoughts and their reactions are their own. They are not ours. So the first thing we need to do is hand back responsibility to them for their process. And concentrate on taking responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings...
and then have conversations about what they respectively are from that place. With "I statements," "I feel" or "I'm seeing" statements, so that when we express, we are taking ownership of our own perceptions, which might be "correct", moreso if you've developed your intuition. But more often than not, unfortunately, over 60% of the time unfortunately, Psychology tells us, when we actually ask the other person if how we see it is how they see it, we're actually apparently wrong. We assumed, but our assumptions aren't always accurate.
So when you feel something about another, or observe with another, it's important to clarify if that's how they see it with questions at the end about what their experience is, or what they meant or intended.
This brings us closer to what's really going on. When we ask what's really going on, with willingness to hear the real answer from the (hurting) person on the other side, in snaps everyone instantly out of the mental "must make my point" place and back into the heart centred, compassion place, where truly see the other person across from you.
That's probably the place where the flood of tears now comes...because suddenly its safe to speak to what's really going on. And where either party isn't feeling met. And then we can have a discussion that actually gets somewhere. And how you can come to the most mutually agreeable outcome about how to move forward together in a way that better meets both parties needs.
Occasionally, if it's got to a point where it's WAYYYYYYYY beyond someone's limit of acceptable treatment for themselves, or you find that you have values that perhaps are never going to fit well on the same page, then you might have to concede to agree to disagree...and that's the point where the anger sharks might start swimming inside again...
But wether you're feeling all wound up PRE talking to some, feeling completely stuck on feeling anything (e.g. you're repressing it) or feeling worked up at the end of a "couldn't always get what you wanted, but perhaps got the growth you both needed" type scenario, then here's some healthy ways to be with that.
How to be with our own in healthy ways
1) Crowd favourite- take it to the gym, or your home gym kick and punch the crap out of a punching bag, it's cathartic. Especially if you're a woman, it's time to stop repressing it and actually....let...that....shit.....OUT. I can't promise you wont have to go through either a) a fit of giggles in the process (our other top level defence to keep us from going INTO anger...OR the completion point on the way back out of it) or b) a bunch of tears but at least in the end you'll feel c) relief, rather than stuckness. And once the energy is flowing again, you can choose what you now channel it into doing.
2) Music- this might help you get into the above, have your angry cathartic song you listen to or play yourself to help you get moving to get it out or cry it out. If it's your thing you might also
3) Sing or scream it out. (How good is the car for that? Parents, i know you hear me here Though i'd prefer you not be driving because while your focus is on your anger, it's not on the road or other road users, maybe pull over somewhere for a few minutes, save adding the extra special sauce of anger on top if you rear end or side swipe someone...nobody needs that.) OR
4) Dance it out, if that's your thing. Movement gets emotion moving
5) Go for a run, stomp it into the ground and let it go.
6) Write it out. Get your angry writing on.....get...that....shit....OUT.
7) Art Therapy That might turn into or instead being drawing, angry painting, angry smashing some plates or glass and then making a mosaic out of all that brokenness.....art therapy it up. Plate smashing also goes hand in hand with giggles by the way, like a 5 year old kid being naughty. Are you noticing how lots of these end on a positive? Its a process of restoring balance.
In it's simplest form, emotion is energy in motion. Which means that, once it's moving in you and IN motion, you actually have a choice about which direction you channel it in. So knowing that, the more you get better at being with your own anger, you'll discover you actually have the power to make a conscious choice to channel it's energy into any direction you want.
Now you might
8) Visualise it all coming out of yourself (especially when its not yours, because sometimes our anger is not even ours, we took in on from someone else) as rain, into a shape or to fill up an object, you can even intend to (if you're a bleeding woman) bleed it out, breathe it out, urinate, defecate all the energy and accumulated toxicity in the body out, then give that energy back to the Earth, via the window, or door, how is up to you, just hand it over to the Earth or to whatever your name is for the divine intelligence that's within and surrounds us all.
9) Nature If you can go outside, give it to the river or the ocean if you're there. Time in nature will always help re-set you to your authentic nature either way.
10) Or if you'r in the middle of your working day, you could regard the person who pissed you off as a gift....now that you're energy is flowing, you could also re-intention that energy and use it to motivate you to go do 26 phone calls that WILL bring you closer to what you really want in life and in your work instead. Flip the intention and use the energy to your advantage.
11) If there's a support circle or group or online community you're a part of, or there's a Therapist you're working with, if you're going through a lot lately, maybe draw on that possibility to be held and loved while you process it out and find your own flow again in the presence of another. Especially if you know you might be on the edge of something big, like a past event or trauma. Particularly if it was a childhood one, unless you're a seasoned Therapist yourself, I wouldn't suggest you go there alone because dropping into the repressed consciousness of a 3 year old self, or a car accident for example, can be hard to navigate and simultaneously function at adult level in your day to day. Especially, if you're caring for others. Just like first aid, with emotional first aid, think my own safety first, and then the safety of everyone around me. I know that seems counterintuitive if you're a parent, but i also know you get it. Finally, but not least
12) Reach out and call someone. A friend, partner, family, support line, whoever, when you close your eyes and ask yourself "who could help me through this?" pops into your mind, call them and ask if they can chat. If they can't right now, the next person.
For any of these where you took time to process and sat with quite a lot of your own vulnerability in the process, remember though to be gentle with yourself. There might be a part of you coming forward in all this that's just never been loved and had a hug through all this. You can now get to be the one to give yourself one.
Because, for the rest of this lifetime, you'll never leave you, you'll always be there for you, even when others can't. And if you can first be there for you through however you're feeling, then you'll magically find others in your life will suddenly be able to be more present with you in these moments too. And on a cultural level and a global level, this will have massive positive flow on for how we all deal with the wider issues of abuse and violence too. It all starts with making the choice to start listening to what our anger is really trying to tell us....and then addressing it in healthy ways, for ourselves. And then being able to model those ways for others.
Until next time, have fun, take care.
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.