“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”
I’m not sure if that applies to the US electoral candidates, but neverless, in everyday life anger can cause unease at best, and destruction at worst. It is normal, healthy, and appropriate to feel anger especially when we feel we have been wronged, hurt or see injustice. I have come to see that it is a very natural and common stage of healing. Good things have arisen out of anger, take the civil rights movement, the vote for women, and individually in people’s lives as they start to heal and take control of their life.
All emotions have an energy to them that can be felt in the body. It is spurred on by a thought, but felt physically. If it just remained a thought, I would be out of business as a therapist, because people come in when they don’t feel good. Often anger surfaces as a tightness in the chest or stiff neck and shoulders; sadness is often a heaviness in the chest and pit of the stomach. Check it out for yourself. Just bring in a thought that makes you feel angry and see where you feel it: how do you know you are angry?
In the early days of psychotherapy we thought that by expressing anger would rid it from our bodies. Now, with brain imaging, we can see that pounding pillows, yelling, berating your partner for all their faults, actually fires up the emotional center of the brain, strengthening it and creates more solid anger pathways. In other words, it makes it easier to get angry again next time. That’s the easy way out… so how do we move this energy to create a new outcome?
There is a difference between expressing anger and experiencing anger. When we express, we are in the heat of it, in survival mode, directed by the part of the brain that doesn’t think clearly, is irrational, contains all past hurts and pains, and obscures your intended outcome, sometimes leaving a path of destruction and casualties along the way.
The other option, you may be thinking, is to suppress your anger, avoid it and hope it will go away. You are likely to do this if you were brought up in a family where anger was not ok, and was trumped by keeping the peace. You may have noticed a simmering pot beneath the surface, ready to boil. Because it is an energy, it may show up in other places like high blood pressure, depression, sore muscles, fatigue or road rage! It wants to get out, be heard and experienced!
Ok, so you know where this is headed. Experiencing anger. You have been triggered again. You feel anger. Notice in your body where you feel it. Even note “I have anger”, non-judgementally. Some things trigger anger in one person and slide off the next person. Get to know how it shows up in your body. Know that it’s all ok and it will pass. Your job is to take responsibility for it. Notice the trigger and whether there are other factors involved ie. past experiences, tiredness or hunger, and what thoughts are feeding it (notice those ‘should’ thoughts). Don’t react right away. Give it some space and time to breathe, and be aware of suppressing it.
Next step: now that you have befriended it and examined it, it’s time to take action. Walk, run, bike, breathe, take a bath, go to a yoga class, talk kindly to yourself, play golf or whatever else will calm your nervous system.
Now, look at the situation again with fresh eyes now that the emotional center has cleared. This can take 2 minutes or 2 days. Is there a response needed? If so, how can I approach this with the best possible outcome for all in mind?
Good luck, take care of your anger. It might contain a signpost that something needs to shift inside yourself, or in your life.
Have a good week.