Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Musings on anger

I have often been called 'angry', and I wouldn't deny this. Anger is often my first reaction to a number of things, usually based on underlying assumptions about what's going on: 'They're late because they don't care'/'They're not in touch because they don't give a f***' and so on. Most of my personal anger revolves around a sense of abandonment or feeling shut out without fair warning/a fair chance. My more 'public' anger revolves around others being hurt, injustice, unfairness, all the things that most people get angry about. 

What strikes me is that no matter what my anger is about, I get similar reactions: dismissed, my feelings denied, 'you are so...', used to channel other people's anger, 'It's scary when you get angry,' not listened to, not genuinely engaged with. 

But guess what? The moment you validate my anger, or just listen? It's over. And I find it's that way with most people I know. Allow them the space to be angry, acknowledge it, listen and engage, and things can get constructive very quickly. 

We all know what we hear: that anger can be a constructive emotion; that it warns us boundaries have been crossed and is a force for action. As M pointed out on the status that kicked off this blog entry, it is pretty much understood that anger is seen as a vehicle for other emotions: fear and pain. But I would argue that it isn't just a 'carrier', as it were, and it often runs very deep indeed, embedded in every cell, because of trauma and injustice inflicted over and over. 

So, if we know these things, if we know anger is compressed pain, the way a diamond is compressed carbon; that acknowledgment will make a difference; why do we avoid those we perceive as angry, dismiss our loved one's anger, deny our own?

It is anger's intensity, power and its tendency to attack when directed outward or cause self-destruction  - intense depression, self-harm, suicide - when turned inward that causes fear in others - either of it being turned towards us or possibly even 'catching' it (and it is known to spread through populations - just watch any number of public demonstrations). It is an emotion that feels out of control - we've seen its effects and perceive it as too passionate, too violent, too MUCH. 

Perhaps even too alive? After all, our vitality, our life force, can get trapped in it. Perhaps being numb feels safer than freeing our power.

Too much, we think, too much. So though we know better, we treat anger like a frightening monolith casting frightening shadows. Rage, after all, is terrifying to witness.

But it is only out of control if we choose not to know it. If we hide it and let it build; if we believe that we can lash out or shut out as venting mechanisms without deeply affecting our relationships; if we refuse to recognise it till the dam breaks and it erupts in a form we cannot control and cannot learn from.

So, what if we do the opposite?  If when we feel it, WE acknowledge it, WE listen to it, WE feel it? Might we not find that all our anger is not, in fact, the same? That there is no monolith, but a mosaic - a pattern, a picture, telling us what we need to know?

About a year ago, I decided to try an exercise suggested by Pema Chodron, the famous Buddhist nun - whenever I was feeling something intensely, I would try to let go of the story and hold the feeling, sensing its colour/texture/feeling, getting to know it intimately. As I've noted above, I DO carry a lot of anger, so many of these feelings were anger about perceived abandonment, dismissal and so on. 

At first, I was afraid to feel it, terrified I'd discover what a horrible person I am. I put up great resistance - but I'd promised myself to give it a try, and one thing I was trying to do was not betray myself.

I had assumed that it was all part of the anger I carried from my childhood, that it all looked the same, but that was simply not true. I thought it would all be hard, sharp, dark, glassy, molecularly sharp, like obsidian. But over time, I realised that my anger was nuanced. Yes, sometimes, it had the obsidian in it - more than sometimes, maybe. But it was different every time. My episodes of anger were like snowflakes, no two the same.

Sometimes, there was more hurt; sometimes, more a sense of injustice; sometimes, it was terribly young, the archetypal anger of the babe with no one to contain her. Sometimes, more loneliness; sometimes, more fear. Well, always pain and fear in some combination. Occasionally tsunami-like, every so often spiky, like shards of glass trying to work their way out. Everchanging, and sometimes, beautiful in its terribleness.

But what surprised me was how often it was mixed with love, with compassion, with sorrow, with protectiveness - how many of what I considered 'good' feelings were often tied up in and occasionally driving the anger, so I would speak, so I would act.

So I would do what was right, even if I was standing alone. 

Once I felt it, got to know it the way I would the body of a lover, held it and listened to what was needed, it dissipated and was reabsorbed into my self, into my whole, in the way it was meant to be, bringing healing and peace in its wake - like water returning to the ocean, its home. 

To quote a well-known character, I can feel your anger. 

I'm here. I am willing to hold the space for it and listen.

Are you?

No comments: