As you start bringing people into your support network, understand that you are inviting more viewpoints and personalities into your life. Although it may be extremely helpful to share your thoughts and experiences with others, it also gives opportunities for others to question or judge your actions and reactions. Regardless of the temperament of the people I was speaking with, eventually we always had a form of this conversation. “You must be mad as hell! If it were me I would be losing it right now. Why aren’t you angrier? No really, you better make sure you are getting that stuff out, or you will explode!” Some variation of this exchange was had between me and my family members, friends, colleagues, professionals. I always found it so fascinating. Everyone seemed so hyper-focused on anger. They seemed genuinely confused and even more shocking UNEASY by my lack of overt aggression. Now don’t get me wrong, the anger was there and I could sense that it was incredibly strong. I could feel it there waiting for any crack in my composure to present itself. But there was something about it that just did not feel like it was there to help me. Most of all, there was something about it that seemed so powerful that I was not sure I would be able to harness it. I respected it as a force. I have never been an aggressive or violent individual. But so many people literally WANTED to see it. Even one step further, they NEEDED to see it. It was as if only then could they feel more comfortable with what I was experiencing. Until there was anger , we were speaking slightly different languages. As if me expressing it would give them the permission they wanted to express it as well. I needed to know more. Somewhere in the back, back, back of my consciousness, a voice was telling me that this was not going to get me and my family where we needed to go. However the seed had been planted. Were they right? Was I setting myself up to be an emotional powder keg that was going to one day explode on a person for cutting me off, or stepping on my shoe? I started researching and experimenting with anger in a variety of different ways and these are the points I found most helpful:
- Anger is a survival tool built into your body. It releases stress hormones life cortisol and adrenaline into your body which create a rush of energy and strength. The purpose of this is to prepare your body to either run or protect itself from a fatal attack. The body has these mechanisms built in so you could have a chance against a wolf in the woods for example. It was not designed to be a trigger for when someone bumps into you and makes you spill your coffee. Now the downside of this built in defense system is that those same stress hormones released can literally kill you if they are present for long periods of time. It increases your blood pressure and heart rate which can increase your chances for irregular heart rhythms and heart attacks. This cemented my first thought. Now if you are fighting for your life, do it. But if something/ or someone caused you pain why would you give that thing or person the satisfaction of also taking some of your remaining life as well. Think about people who hold onto genuine anger and HATE for a company that fired them, a government group that deceived them, a lover who betrayed them. They are justified in what they are feeling, but after everything those entities took from them, why would you give them anymore of the most precious thing you have- your life? Realize it is your most precious commodity and you get to give it to whomever or whatever action you would like. You can use it to be active, support others, initiate change in your life. I made a decision that no more of my life was going to go down that anger hole, and it made me look for alternatives.
- Unfortunately there are studies that show that repressing your anger can also cause the same heart illnesses that being predisposed to anger can cause. This is due to those same hormones being present in your body, but with no end. So the feelings need to come out, but how? Most of the advice I received on this hit the same stereotypical methods I have seen on tv and movies. Punch a pillow, express your rage. Now the problem with these techniques? They work. They are effective because they can help you achieve catharsis. Catharsis by definition is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Sounds great. But if that becomes your system- how does it help in the future? When you get angry driving to work because someone rear ends you- how do you deal with the anger? There is no pillow. Do you kick the car- perhaps breaking your toe in the process? What if you are really a puncher? Since if there is no pillow what is the next best thing to give you that release- the other driver’s face? Our bodies (and minds) have muscle memory. You cannot practice releasing this energy in a violent way and then expect yourself to not do it if the stakes get too high. You see my point. This system of releasing this negative feeling is an addictive habit that can happen in circumstances that are not ideal. You could become stuck feeling impulsive and angry which does not sound like a good combination.
- I watched many videos about anger and one speaker described that many people think anger is a balloon- and that when it is getting too full you need to release it at the top like a pressurized valve. However that is not what he believed, he felt that it was gasoline. What you are feeling is a small fire and using anger is like throwing gasoline on it. It will never be satisfied and it will burn everything in its path. I started experimenting with this ‘blind energy’ as the dalai lama refers to it. I would allow myself to journal the angriest most hateful words I could muster. My god it felt sooooooo good. Catharsis was definitely being achieved and so what? My words were typed on a screen or written on a paper. How bad could that be? Problem was that was a crack in my foundation and that was all The anger needed. It wanted more. In my day to day dealings I could feel those same words I had allowed myself to write now getting closer and closer to my lips. I started having outloud scenarios in the privacy of my home where those words could be said and expressed. The words tasted good. Hit every tastebud. Like sweet chocolate and salty bacon combined. Where would those words go next? To my fists? I knew this was how it grows and consumes and that it was taking me further away from where I wanted to go. Further from my values, the best outcomes for me and my family, from happiness. It was truly a dance with the devil.
- In one of these experiments, I was allowing myself to release this anger filled energy, spraying hurtful (justified or not) statements, hitting pillows, running, etc. Eventually the energy ran out and what came next were very simple statements of pain. Why me? It’s not fair? I don’t deserve this. I heard myself make these points and if you are a parent these statements echo in your brain. They are what a child says when something they start to see that life isn’t fair. I was hurt, embarrassed, betrayed by life. Life didn’t go my way and it was causing me pain. Since that moment I believe that anger is miscategorized. I do not believe it is an emotion. I believe it is actually a byproduct of unexpressed pain. It is a reaction. There is a whole theory of anger as a secondary emotion which I would suggest for some articles. In some people or instances the transfer from pain to anger is so instant that the actual emotion gets bypassed. I started realizing the ways that we teach our children to express their emotions. So often we ask them: “how does that make you feel?- happy, sad, angry?” Why are those the first 3? Does grouping anger with the standards of happiness and sadness normalize it? Is that why the people I spoke to needed to see it? Are they more comfortable with the idea of anger than pain? How different would our society be if that same question was “How do you feel?- happy, sad, hurt?” When I felt anger moving forward I tried to peel and pick at it until I reached my hurt statement. The statements were always so simple. “It’s not fair that my loved one was taken from me! I didn’t deserve to lose my job! How could someone do that to me?” Once I found the one that felt accurate I processed that- the hurt. I treated myself with love, kindness, and understanding. I allowed myself to describe the pain in the same ways I had used for the anger. I allowed myself to journal and write out the pain. I would have outloud conversations where I would let those words reach my lips and be heard. The results were usually similar. I would reach catharsis. I would be more relaxed, I felt like myself and the person whom I knew I was. Surprisingly I was able to generate more compassion for the things and people that caused me the pain. I saw how easy it is for all of us as adults to feel hurt, but go to angry or hostile methods because they are more socially acceptable. In the end when we are hurt we feel the same pain emotionally that kids feel. However we expect a child to move on quickly. We kiss the boo boo, tell them it is going to be ok, and to keep trying. However our adult feelings seem so much larger and more important, that they need extreme validation.
- If you don’t believe me I understand. This is probably the first of a few topics that seem a bit ‘hippie- granola’. If you feel that way I would ask you to do a simple experiment that I conducted with myself. It takes some imagination, but nobody has to know you are doing it. You need some type of physically challenging task. If you workout it could be lifting weights or running. If not it could be any task around the home that can work up a sweat for you. A heavy duty cleaning or scrubbing in the home, an outdoor project like gardening where you have to dig holes. etc. Now perform the task to the best of your ability (and as safely as possible) while letting anger have full access to your mind. Be angry. Think about people or things that hurt you and use all that energy in your task. Stop when you are tired. Measure your progress. You probably made some impressive impact. Recover. Now make a second push at the same type activity except think about all the people who have loved and supported you over the years. People who were in your corner and (even if they didn’t say it) loved you- family, friends, teachers, coaches, community members. Imagine a whole bleacher section of them watching you as you do the task. Let them all watch you and encourage you in your mind as you attempt the same task. Stop when that energy is complete. Measure your progress. Any surprises?