Many things triggered anger for me last week. As I felt it I was reminded of the importance of feeling it safely. Here’s an excerpt from the lesson on anger in the Emotions Module in the New Healing Connection course:
This lesson is about the emotion anger. I’ll talk in depth about how to become more comfortable with this important emotion—how to feel it in a safe way and not hurt yourself or other people while you’re feeling it.
Think about a time in your life when you’ve been angry. It could have been a sense of mild annoyance because you had to wait in line at the grocery store. Or it could have been because of something more irritating. Maybe you were out for a walk and stepped in dog poop. Or maybe you had intense rage when you found out that your spouse was having an affair. These are all situations that can trigger anger. The anger may be less intense in some situations and more intense in others. But all these situations bring up that sense of physical irritation that is anger.
Anger is one of the four key emotions. It’s a difficult emotion. Not because it’s difficult to feel or because it’s unhealthy. But because of all the damage people do as they hurt themselves and others as they project anger in unhealthy ways.
Emotions are physical. When you feel anger, the emotion of anger involves the sensations and physical reactions in your body. Your intellect thinks about and tells stories about why you’re angry. But all your thoughts and stories are separate from your physical experience of anger.
Let’s say your coworker is a brownnoser who always sucks up to your supervisor. Your coworker always seems to come out looking better than you do. Let’s say you just got out of a department meeting. As usual, you feel like your coworker got the best of you and your supervisor doesn’t appreciate you. As you leave the meeting, you feel intense anger. Your body feels irritable and tense, with a sense of rage filling you up. Maybe you want to yell at your supervisor for being so stupid and not seeing the truth. You’re thinking about what a blankety-blank your coworker is. You’re thinking about how you’ll never get a promotion as long as this jerk is in your department.
If you separate your emotions from your thoughts, you’ll find that your anger involves the physical sensations in your body. That physical irritability and tenseness is your anger. On the other hand, your thoughts are the things you say to yourself, including that your supervisor is stupid, what a blankety-blank your coworker is, and how you’ll never get a promotion as long as this jerk is in your department.
A common physical sensation associated with anger is an intensity and irritation in your body. You may tighten up your muscles. You might clench your jaws and frown. You may tighten your hands into fists, or you may tighten your neck and back muscles. You might be tempted to act out and hit something or scream and stomp your feet.
It’s important to feel your anger in a healthy way. If you don’t do it right, you can end up hurting yourself and others. But if you do it right, you’ll find that anger is incredibly empowering and energizing.
So how do you do anger right? Let’s start by talking about how people do it wrong. Because of the cultural messages we learn about anger, we have a tendency to suppress it. We pretend everything’s okay even when it’s not. This works for a little while. But as we continue to suppress our anger, it builds and creates an emotional abscess.
Think about a day when you were really irritable. Maybe you didn’t even have a good reason to be cranky, but everybody seemed to irritate you. Every little thing that went wrong seemed like a huge catastrophe. Maybe you tried to reason it away. But all the positive thinking in the world couldn’t make you happy. You just continued to feel a sense of irritable pressure. This was likely because your anger was accumulating. You had an emotional abscess that was growing.
When you’re in that situation, the smallest trigger can cause your anger to explode out of you. Your body wants to get a sense of relief. It’s not comfortable being full of so much pent-up anger. Just like with an abscess in your soft tissues, that emotional abscess needs to be drained. So you subconsciously look for anything you can find to spark your anger.
Maybe your coworker, whose hay fever is flared up, has been coughing for a week. At first the cough didn’t bother you at all. But today that cough is driving you crazy! You don’t know how you’re going to be able to sit through a whole afternoon listening to this coworker cough. Your intellect may stand back and observe yourself and say, “What’s my problem here? I know it’s not my coworker’s fault that the hay fever has caused a cough.” But your body is so irritated that you feel like you could jump out of your skin. That physical irritation is your pent-up emotion building to a crescendo.
When that emotional abscess blows, you’re in danger of projecting your emotions and hurting yourself and other people. You might explode in anger and say something mean and insulting to your coworker. Or you may hold it in until you get home. At home your child does some typical kid thing, like complain about what you made for supper. And because of all the irritable pressure that’s been building all day, you just explode at your child. Even though it isn’t really warranted, you just have to let the anger out and your child is an easy person to get mad at. Later you look back and try to figure out how you got so out of control.
This process is why people are so afraid of anger. When you hold your anger in until it gets to a breaking point, and then explode in rage at the smallest thing, you risk losing control. Many dangerous things happen when people project anger—everything from yelling at their kids to murdering someone. This is serious business.
As you’re working with this process of feeling your emotions in a healthy way, you’ll need to learn how to feel your anger without being at risk of hurting yourself or others. Your goal will be to understand it, recognize what it feels like in your body, and feel it as much as you need to every day. This will help you avoid creating emotional abscesses. It’ll help you experience anger safely. You won’t be so afraid of it. It’ll just become another healthy emotion.