I promised in my last article that I would talk about why anger is the forbidden emotion and what to do about it.
I really struggled with this newsletter. I have an ocean of things to say about why we fear anger – our own and others – and how to deal with it. But we’re all busy and bombarded with an impossible amount of information. Do this, don’t do that. Think this, eat that, breathe like this, exercise this much and on and on.
So I kept this fairly short. I’ll expand on it in future newsletters. I hope it’s helpful.
Why do we fear our own anger?
- Many of us weren’t allowed to get angry when we were younger (“Don’t you get angry with me, young man/woman.”)
- Who listened to you if you were upset? Were you able to give your anger a voice?
- Who taught you that it was ok to be mad and how to deal with it?
- When you’re angry now, who is willing to listen to you without judging you?
Why do we fear other people’s anger?
- For many people, other people’s anger was a scary, damaging experience when they were growing up.
- Did people express their anger respectfully when you were younger (and now) or did (do) you get blasted, shamed, blamed or abused?
- If someone we care about is angry with us, we feel that we have failed or made a mistake.
- We believe that they don’t care and we don’t matter.
- If we don’t have a solid sense of ourselves, other people’s anger unseats us. It pulls us out of our center and we lose ourselves.
Let’s face it. We don’t like conflict. It’s often painful because we don’t know how to deal with it really well.
We don’t know how to have a difference of opinion or perspective, how to be disappointed or frustrated or sad or mad and stay connected with the people we care about.
How to deal with it? What’s really important is that you actually feel your anger. Be aware of it, feel it in your body, allow it. Give it a voice if you can.
We live in a culture that avoids dealing with anger at all costs. (Dealing with it is not dumping it on someone else or being reactive.) And the costs are huge in terms of your health and your relationships.
We stifle our strong, negative feelings because we don’t know what to with them. They’re too big, too scary and we don’t know where they come from or what they mean. We certainly don’t want to be seen as negative so we hide our own truth even from ourselves and then wonder why we feel lost. Without a compass to guide us on our journey.
The problem is that, when you put the lid on your negative feelings, you also put the lid on your positive feelings. Block your anger and your joy soon follows. Remember that what I’m talking about here is your awareness and experience of your feelings, not what you do with them.
Remember that you can’t control anyone else’s behavior. (I know that you know that. It’s my job to remind you. We forget what we know when our emotions are high.) So, if you do nothing else, stay in control of yourself. Your thoughts, your behavior, your inner experience.
Be careful of the assumptions you’re making about why someone else is saying or doing something – or angry with you. Your thoughts and assumptions are making you angry – or scaring you. How do you know that what you’re believing is true? Check it out. Be careful of the stories your inner bully tells you.
Deal with the tyrant in your head that has a negative, fearful perspective about most things. Ask yourself what buttons are being pushed. We often get angry when someone has said or done something that has hurt us and we’re not even aware that we’re hurt. Anger can feel more powerful than feeling hurt and vulnerable.
Always go back to your thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. Check in with your interpretations about what’s going on.
Remember that your feelings are messages. Don’t get so caught up in the drama of the feeling or your reaction that you miss the message.
When it comes to other people’s anger, try to hear what the other person is really saying underneath their words. Did you say or do something that hurt them? Is it a difference of perception or their expectations or rules?
Are you willing to hear them out and stay aware of what’s coming up for you so that you don’t get unseated from your core? Can you talk about it with each other without blaming, shaming or being nasty? (If not, take a time out.)
What I see again and again is that most of us wonder whether we’re good enough, lovable and acceptable. We react to how other people treat us because we use that as a barometer of whether they care and whether we matter.
The bottom line? Compassion. For yourself and for them.
As Plato said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”