If you watch the news, you will see that our collective anger is showing up all over the place. It is sad to see members of the United States Congress refusing to listen to one another because they insist their position is right and the other’s is wrong. This angry positioning is also showing up on freeways, in terrorist attacks, with blacks, police, and white supremacists – not because they are bad people or society is breaking down, but because Life is asking us to acknowledge how angry we are all are!
So, take a moment and recognize, without shame, that you have anger too. We all do. Yours may never erupt in a fiery rage. It may be much quieter, showing up as resentment, frustration and irritation. What happened when you were young when anger naturally arose inside of you? Did your parents get angry when your anger showed up and then punish or shame you for your anger? If you were punished or shamed for your anger when you were young, you are probably punished now by the storms of emotion that sometimes pass through you leaving self-judgment in their wake.
Now what do you do with your anger? Do you try to pretend it is not there, hiding it even from yourself? Do you try to be nice when inside you are irritated or even seething? Do you do your best to push it down or release some of the pressure by projecting it on to somebody else? All this trying to contain anger limits your ability to experience things as they are. It is almost like putting on a pair of fractured glasses that splinter your view of Life.
When you don’t have a healthy relationship with your anger, it influences everything in your life from underneath your everyday awareness. Anger is like molten lava. When it is contained and meets a barrier that stops it from flowing, it will erupt. When you calm down after your anger erupts, you may fall into deep shame around your thoughts and actions. You then may promise yourself that you won’t do that again, but this is putting a lid on your anger which only starts creating pressure. And when the pressure increases enough, the fire of anger erupts and takes over again.
If you are on the receiving end of somebody’s eruption of anger, if you attack back, this usually ends up in an unsatisfying mess. If anger is scary for you, it may cause your stomach to clench, or your heart to beat fast, or all you want to do is flee or freeze. It also may cause you to buy into the belief that all anger is very bad and must be hidden deep inside. If you Google the word ‘anger,’ you will find it described as poison or as a barrier to healing. Yes, it is a poison when it is held inside or when it erupts out into the world and then goes within to shame the person for their anger. But what if anger is a natural part of life? It is your fire that allows you to say “No” when you need to say “No” and a firm “Yes” when it is appropriate. What if it is your teacher, showing you the places where you still react and attack in your life. And what if anger was a doorway back into your heart, allowing you to make contact with the vulnerability that it is trying to take care of? What if trying to get rid of anger only creates more anger and befriending it turns its toxic energy into a force for healing?
We are angry at anger! And it has disrupted so many people’s lives down through the eons. What if befriending anger is one of the most powerful ways to defuse it? What we are exploring is how to create a different relationship with your anger so you can use it and use it skillfully when it is necessary rather than having it use you. Anger can either be an ax which can deeply hurt someone or it can be a surgical knife that can save someone.
If you begin to watch anger rather than falling into it or trying to stuff it, you will see that it usually arises when your life is not showing up how you think it should be. If you watch it, you will see that even though it is a fiery emotion, it comes from a sense of impotence and fear. It is startling to realize that underneath all eruptions of anger is a sense of helplessness and fear. The truth is that when you are feeling angry, you are also feeling vulnerable.
Anger can show up as annoyance, impatience, frustration, exasperation, irritation, and resentment. If you do not attend to these feelings when they arise inside of you, they fester and can create a spontaneous combustion of pure anger, which includes hatred, loathing and even rage.
All these qualities arise when your idea of how things should be is thwarted. Think of road rage. Somebody is late to an appointment or just had a very bad day and they are trapped on the freeway. The tiny match of somebody following someone else too closely can ignite a conflagration in which people can get hurt.
This doesn’t only happen when your life is not the way you want it to be, it also shows up when you are not the way you think you should be. Most of us are deeply addicted to the idea of having it all together. We compare ourselves to some mythical idea of what we should be and then berate ourselves for falling short.
The addiction to perfection festers inside of us turning into shaming ourselves and, as the pressure increases, we react and attack. It could be that your dog is taking too long to pee. It could be that your hair is not cooperating today or that you dropped and broke something when you were trying to get out the door. Computers are a great place to see the anger that is hidden inside of you. Think of the last time that you came across a computer challenge in which your irritation grew into frustration, and then into anger, and then into a meltdown.
When all of this is too painful to be with, you turn the anger inward towards yourself, shaming yourself in cruel and mean ways. We are so skilled at being unkind with ourselves. We then release some of that pressure by judging somebody else. If you watch carefully, you’ll see that most of your anger and judgment of others is just a safety release valve for your anger at yourself. At the same time, you are ashamed of what your mind is doing and you don’t want anybody to know what is going on inside of you. You fear you won’t be loved if people know how much anger, judgement and shaming you live in.
There is a way out of this reactive circle. It comes from the courageous step of acknowledging that there is anger inside of you, including all the variations that we have touched on. It also comes from understanding that it is a survival tactic of your condition self. If you were on safari in Africa, and you saw a lion cub caught and caged, you would see this scared little one hissing and snarling, showing its claws and its fangs. Would you judge that lion cub for its reaction to its impotence and its vulnerability? Of course, you wouldn’t, but you do this with yourself.
When we don’t acknowledge anger and how it lives inside of us, we are cut off from the ability to experience things cleanly and clearly as they are and it stops any healing communication between people. So, the invitation is, at least for one day, to hold the intention to be curious about how and when anger shows up inside of you, to see it without judging it. Remember, we are all caught in our conditioned minds’ propensity for anger. You may see it through a quiet resentment of your mate. You may see it in being judgmental of the white supremacists. You may see it in your irritation with a politician that doesn’t see life the way you do. You may recognize it in the impatience you feel with how long the lines are at the grocery store. Or you may see it in your own self judgment which is just anger turned within.
Every time you acknowledge how anger is showing up inside of you, whether it is impatience, self-judgment, irritation, resentment and even hatred and rage, you begin to create space around it. Then, when anger arises inside of you, the chances are greater that you will not contract around your anger in fearful tightness and self-judgment nor will you vomit it out into the world. Instead, you will acknowledge it, recognizing that it is reacting to deep vulnerability inside of you then the anger can simply pass through. Also, when anger is necessary and appropriate in your life it will be clean and clear like a surgical knife. You will simply speak your truth without it being against anyone or anything.
Besides noticing and acknowledging your anger, you can also ask it, “What are you trying to protect inside of me.” You’re not asking that question to get an answer, although one may arise. You’re asking it to signal Life that you want its help in getting to know anger enough that you are no longer controlled by it. And Life will guide you through the opening of your question.
As you discover how to see and befriend your anger, you can come to the place in which, when you are with someone who is consumed in the fire of their anger, you will not be angry in return. You see that they are just trapped in anger and you become an open space where their storm can pass through you. As you get to know how anger lives inside of you, rather than being caught up in the fire and attacking in return or falling into a righteous pride that they or wrong or your way is the right way, your heart can open and meet that person with the healing balm of compassion.