Notes on the Journey

Monday, July 30, 2012

Allowing Anger

There are many reasons why we might get angry.  Someone accuses us of something wrongly, or they're right and we don't want to admit it.  Someone invades a boundary.  Someone disrespects us or someone we love.  Someone takes something from us or harms us or someone we love.  We're frightened or surprised.  The list is long and we all get very creative about the triggers for anger.

There are times when the anger we're feeling has nothing to do with what someone did to us, and has more to do with our own issues around whatever the trigger was.  In these instances, it would be a good idea for us to look at why we reacted in anger to something that could have been dealt with another way.  By bringing our issues into consciousness and taking responsibility for them and understanding ourselves more deeply, we often diminish the power of the trigger and are able to deal with similar situations in the future without getting angry.

But, there are times, when anger is justified and even called for.  There is righteous anger.  There are times when someone is so far gone into an emotional reaction that anger might be the only thing that will reach them.  There are times when we need to protect children or animals, and anger is the only thing that will stop a perpetrator of violence.  There are times when someone crosses a boundary and the only thing that gets them to understand that it's not allowed is our anger.  There are many instances where anger could be necessary.

There is a mistaken idea that it's not spiritual to get angry.  That if we were really enlightened we wouldn't get angry.  That if we were really spiritual enough we'd not be triggered into anger.  I think this is a damaging concept.  It has the result of causing us to suppress our feelings and then feel guilty that we had those feelings.  What we feel is what we feel and can not be denied.  If we feel anger, we feel anger, and telling ourselves we shouldn't be feeling it doesn't stop it.  I'm not saying we need to act out our anger in every instance, but the fact of the anger must be acknowledged, and the anger must be allowed to have its space and expression and movement.  When we suppress any emotion it gets stuck.  When we suppress anger we don't really get over it and it causes resentment.  As uncomfortable as anger can be, especially because many of us have been taught it's not okay to feel it or express it, it needs its space and the ability to move through us so we can release it and move on.

With practice, we can learn to allow anger to be present and deal with whatever caused it in the moment.  We can learn to speak up for ourselves.  We can learn to hold our own.  We can learn to confront a situation and not collapse.  For me, this has been a long and difficult learning curve.  I don't like to get angry.  I was taught it was not okay to be angry.  I don't like confrontation and conflict.  I used to cry if I tried to speak when I was angry but, through much effort and practice, I am now able to speak when I'm angry and not collapse into tears.  I'm able to speak up for myself and hold my own.  I'm still often uncomfortable doing it, but I don't let that stop me.

I've learned to stand in the reception of someone else's anger and let them say what they need to say without interrupting or defending.  When they're finished expressing what they need to say, I'll say what I need to say about whatever situation caused the conflict.  And, often this process needs to go back and forth for a while before the person is done and has spent their reaction.  Once the reaction has played itself out, the person is more able to hear what I might have to say and understand it.  And, it's a gift if you have a conflict with someone who is able to allow you to have your reaction and move it out.

Boundaries are important.  We have to set them and hold them, even in the face of another's anger or disapproval or efforts to break them down.  But, with awareness and practice we will get better at it.  And, as we get more comfortable with anger, and better at setting boundaries and holding them, we start to gain self-confidence and feel stronger and more safe in the world and in our interactions with other people.  And, we also gain the respect of other people, which for me, was a surprise.  I have historically thought that if I got angry or set a boundary that people wouldn't like me or I'd lose the love of those close to me.  But, that's not true.  I thought I had to be nice and let people do whatever they wanted or they wouldn't like me or love me.  But, that's not true.  I find that I also respect myself more when I'm able to be authentic with my feelings and hold my boundaries.

I don't advocate allowing violence to be your expression of anger, or to lash out at someone verbally with cutting and hurtful words.  Being consciously angry requires that we take full responsibility for our actions and words and that we keep our responses about ourselves and don't project blame and judgment onto the other.  But, when we're able to do this, our angry confrontations can actually lead to resolutions, deeper understanding, respect and love.  Amazing.

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