October 8, 2013

How Anger Serves Us & How To Let it Go.

Photo: Caleb Roenigk

When we get angry, it affects us physically.

Old grudges get trapped in the spine, making us imbalanced and injury prone, flare ups get lodged in the belly causing stomach aches and nausea, and in the skin, causing acne.

Anger affects every cell in our bodies, making us sick, depleting our resources and compromising our immune systems.

I’m not a doctor—I know these things because I’ve experienced them.

After a recent heated confrontation with someone I care deeply about I began to wonder, what purpose does anger serve anyway? If I could at least understand that, perhaps I could accept my feelings of anger and let them go.

In terms of evolution, anger makes sense. When we feel angry it is because we are threatened or perceive that somehow things aren’t working out to our advantage. Think of anger as the active version of fear. Fear posing as anger can drive us to act.

Without anger, fear can keep us paralyzed, and in terms of survival, paralysis is deadly.

Of course, for the most part, we are not struggling minute to minute to survive as our ancestors did, which means that anger is not serving it’s original purpose. However, it still lets us know when something feels wrong. In that way, it can illuminate our needs, desires and weaknesses. When we feel angry, instead of simply feeling, we can question, why am I angry?

Superficial answers won’t help. For example, “I’m angry because my boss was mean to me.” We must try and understand the fear our anger is covering.

Does your boss’s meanness threaten your livelihood? Does it make you afraid you are not liked, possibly compromising your place in the social structure at work? Or is her meanness sparking an older fear? Maybe it reminds you of the bully on the third grade bus or your alcoholic parent.

If we can trace the anger to it’s source, we can begin to neutralize it. Of course, sometimes so many layers of fear posing as anger build up inside us, it’s hard to follow the path backwards all the way to the beginning. Hard, but not impossible.

For me, this recent altercation was about my fear of rejection. It didn’t feel that way at the time. It felt like self righteousness. But my self righteousness was a fairly transparent cover once I bothered to look. And when I realized that it was the child-me, from long ago, the socially challenged, perpetual new kid on the block, who was afraid that no matter what I did no one would like me, my anger started to give way.

Sitting with that old feeling of fear, it was very clear that I had inflated the current situation by emotionally  juxtaposing it onto past situations. Seeing that, the adult me, regarding the child me, was able to experience compassion. And the funny thing about compassion is, once you offer yourself a little, it starts to spread.

I began to feel compassion for the person I fought with too, and realized that our argument was really just about two people who brushed up against each other the wrong way, and accidentally opened old wounds.

I can still feel the physical ramifications of that fight; my eyes are tired, my head hurts, and there is a tight little fist clenched inside my tummy. But these symptoms are receding, and by tomorrow, with the help of a little yoga and meditation, they will be gone.

Despite my understanding of this one interaction, I will get angry again. It is part of the human condition. If you are patient and courageous enough, you can use your anger to understand yourself better. Once you begin to understand yourself, you’ll begin to understand others too, and the intensity and frequency of the anger they provoke in you will be lessened.

Use your emotions as guideposts to help you remember where you’ve been, where you are going, and why. In this way, even the ugliest among them can be a gift.


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 Ed: Bryonie Wise

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