“I just feel angry at her. And I feel bad that I feel angry at her, like I’m being petty.”
We were sitting in my living room, me and a good friend, venting about certain relationships in our lives that were pissing us off.
We had both gotten to a point where we had bottled up feelings upon feelings, and they were starting to spill out all over the place. In our parallel situations, we had both been trying to practice compassion, understanding and patience with our respective friends, and had reached a boiling point.
And we were beating ourselves up over it, saying things like,
I know I shouldn’t be so angry, but…” Or,
“Maybe I should just have more patience…”
We would express our anger, and then take it back. Express, and revoke—like waves on a shore, rising up high and crashing down hard, then quietly moving back to the source. In these moments when my anger beckons, I wish I was one of those other people. The ones who can fiercely let out the fires within, send the flames shooting from their mouths like dragons with shining scales that make them impervious to any backlash.
I admire the people who love their anger like that, treating it not as an enemy, but as a tool. They respect their anger. They are not ashamed of it.
Many of us don’t trust our anger. Somewhere down the road we learned that anger was dangerous, that if we let ourselves get angry it meant we were bad. We learned to keep our anger inside so that we didn’t accidentally burn another, even though holding back meant scorching our insides.
We learned that it was more important to be nice than to be honest. To make excuses for our anger and the people who make us angry.
I’m not talking about the anger that comes from fear and hatred, or the anger that burns constantly as a defense mechanism against the world. Not the anger that condemns or destroys, or the anger that abuses and controls. I’m talking about the anger that is our guide—the anger that is our loving friend.
The truth is, anger is here to show us where there is injustice, or boundaries being crossed. See, anger serves a purpose. It is the sign in the middle of the road that says “Hell No!” in big, glaring, neon letters. Unfortunately for us, more often than not we kick that sign down, stamp on it and try to keep smiling sweetly. We try to remain patient and be nice.
It doesn’t make much sense. Because no matter what, anger finds a way out.
Trying to keep anger inside is like putting our thumb over the end of a running hose. It doesn’t keep the water from coming out, it just means it goes cattywampus everywhere but straight ahead.
So how do we begin to have confidence in ourselves and in our anger? How do we feel justified in sharing it with the people that need to hear it?
Here are seven ways we can harness our anger:
1) Trust the other person.
We often try to persist with kindness because we don’t trust the other person to react well to our anger. We’re afraid that we are going to either make them feel bad or make them angry. Either way, on some level we don’t feel like they can handle it. Unfortunately, this is not actually a valid reason for being dishonest. This emotional suppression undermines the other person by not giving them the chance to have an organic reaction—one that might not fit within the parameters we imagine.
How will you know if you don’t give them that chance?
Even if they respond in upset, at least it has gotten the conversation going and both parties have an opportunity for growth and resolution.
2) Get it down on paper.
The best way I’ve found to deal with and express my anger is to put it in writing first. For someone who fears letting their anger out, writing is a great way to know what the heck is going on in the first place. What are all those angry voices saying, anyway? Are they mad about one specific event or incident, or has this been building up for a while? As you write, maybe some things come up that you weren’t even aware were a “thing.” Maybe you get in touch with how this story connects to other stories in your life, and glimpse the big web being weaved.
Writing it down gives you a chance to sort it all out before bringing it to another—and maybe it ends up being your vehicle of communication too.
3) Feel validated.
Pay attention to the inner self that wants to clamp down on your anger. It’s that voice that says, “I’m angry, but…” It’s the voice that makes excuses. Remind yourself that you don’t need to excuse yourself or anyone else; anger is a completely valid emotion.
Remember, it’s a signpost. Ask it why it’s there, and let it inform your next move, but don’t squash it. That’s just darn rude.
4) Connect with your needs.
Once you have gone ahead and found a way to express your anger, it’s important to have a sense of resolve. This means understanding your needs so that future conflict can be avoided. Do you need to draw boundaries between you and another person? Do you need an apology? Do you need to understand what the hell was going through their head when they did X, Y or Z? Do you just need to be heard and understood? A hug, maybe?
Whatever our needs are, we must let the other person know. It means the other person isn’t just left toasted by our fiery words; it gives them a chance to meet us where we are and be proactive in healing the situation.
5) When anger becomes sadness.
When we’ve stifled our anger for long enough, it often morphs into depression. If you feel depressed, check in and see if you can look back in time to where it started. Chances are, there was a conflict that went without resolve—a situation where our anger wasn’t heard. How can we work to resolve it in the present? Do some journaling around this conflict and see if you can make contact with that initial anger and find out what your needs are right now. Maybe it’s time to make a phone call or write a letter—or maybe we just need to scream into a pillow.
You may find that once you’ve addressed your anger and allowed it the space it needs, some of the fog of depression will be lifted.
6) Don’t be fooled by New Age cop-outs.
If there is one thing that gets my goat above all else, it is the jargon surrounding anger in many spiritual and New Age communities. Nothing is more annoying than feeling seriously pissed off and then being told that, “You’re just triggered,” or, “You need to move further into compassion,” or my favorite, “You’re projecting.” Okay, I get it—there are certainly times when some or all of that might be true, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to feel angry and express that anger!
Those phrases usually make us feel two things: ashamed and confused. That’s because we have essentially just been told “Your anger isn’t real and your anger isn’t okay.” Don’t buy into it.
7) Invite others to express their anger.
This is a big one. It’s one thing to be able to express your anger to another, but it’s quite another to have it expressed back toward us. Inviting the other person to express their anger toward you is a great tool in relationships. This creates a safe space for the other to be heard and received—and a space for you to practice your compassionate listening skills. We can say, “I feel like you’ve been angry at me lately. I want you to know that when you’re ready to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”
Putting off confrontation only makes the confrontation more explosive when finally happens. We can nip it in the bud by inviting it to show it’s face.
It’s a time in our world where shifting our attitude toward our anger is more important than ever.
With all of the violence, war and hate that the media amplifies in lieu of the good in the world, it can feel like sharing our anger would only be adding to a perceived negative spiral. It is important to remember, though, that anger is an appropriate response to seeing injustice in the world, in our life, in our friends’ lives.
Anger is a signpost, and a tool to create harmony out of discord.
It fueled the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement. Anger is, across the board, the threshold emotion to creating tangible change. The first step to creating that change on a large scale in the world is to practice creating it on a small scale—in our own lives.
How do we expect to stand up to power-drunk authority and “The Man” if we can’t even stand up to our friend, our lover or our parents?
It’s time to set our inner fire free.
Breathe, dragon, breathe.
Author: Monica Bethelwood
Apprentice editor: Thayne Ulschmid; Editor: Toby Israel