I think we often struggle with allowing ourselves to feel anger. Maybe it is because we feel like there is something shameful or ungracious about such feelings. I know sometimes I struggle with this.
Last week, my friend Jack wrote a post about viewing anger as the revolt of our spirit against forces that try to crush it. (You can read about it here if you want.)
There are a lot of forces in the world that profit from crushing our spirits and making us feel shame and self-loathing.
For instance, these forces may be predatory advertisers, distorted religious systems, toxic politicians, or any individual or group of people who profit from controlling us and making us dependent on them. (Healing our Shame.)
Jack suggested that when we view anger as a revolt against such forces, we can harness it to fuel loving actions aimed at our good and good of others.
This idea was extremely helpful to me. In my own life I have discovered that when I listen to my anger, I almost always can tie it to some instance in which I felt like my spirit was crushed.
Anger can look like a lot of things. Here is how Jack described it in his post: “The anger of your spirit speaks in many ways. Its voice can be a boiling rage, or it can be a creeping nausea. It can be a tremble in your hands or voice, and it can be a furrowed brow. It can be a clenched jaw. It can be an unrelenting whisper inside you that says, ‘this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong’.” Jack also mentioned that when we stuff our anger down, it can turn into despair.
Realizing the different forms anger takes often helps us to recognize it and understand the next steps to take.
Therefore, I thought I would write this brief practice to help us think more about the anger we feel and the invitation such feelings can contain.
(I write this post not as a psychologist but as an educator and a philosopher who is interested in the concept of anger and what it implies about our own self-concept. I am also interested in practices that help us show kindness to ourselves in our anger and that teach us how to express anger in a skillful manner. If your anger comes as a result of a abuse or other traumatic instances in your life, consider seeking help from a therapist.)
This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh touches on this idea of using anger as a vehicle to express love for ourselves. Take a few minutes to be quiet, to read over this quote, and to sit with your feelings of anger:
“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”
Questions (You might take some time to journal about these questions):
1. How does your anger feel? What is it like?
2. Where do you feel it?
3. What event or action made you angry? What was it about this event that angered you?
4. Is there something making you angry that you can say “NO” to? If so, what is it? How will saying “No” help?
1. As Thich Nhat Hanh suggests in the quote above, try sitting with your anger and noticing it. Notice that you are not the same thing as your anger. Think of your anger as a wave, and you are in a boat riding on that wave, noticing the wave moving up and down.
2. Frequently, we resist our anger or push it down because we are ashamed of it. But, if our anger is more like a howling baby as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, the proper response is one of acceptance, compassion, and nurturing.
To show yourself these things in your anger, you might try repeating of these phrases to yourself. (Only use these phrases if they feel right. Do not try to force a phrase on yourself that feels inauthentic):
*Even though I feel anger, I love and accept myself.
*I recognize and honor my anger.
*I accept my spirit’s anger, and I am a good and supportive friend to it in the midst of anger.
*I listen to my anger, and I take appropriate action.
3. Your anger may come from an event that happened in the past that is hard to resolve in the present. In instances like this, sometimes using our imagination can be a powerful way of dealing with this angry feelings. You can read more about that in this post Healing Our Hearts Through Self-Directed Kindness), especially in the section titled “Parent Imagination”.
4. What action is your anger asking you to take? Here are some things it might be telling you to do:
*To say “No” to someone or something.
*To ask for more time.
*To ask for help.
*To stop hanging around or listening to someone who makes you feel badly about yourself.
*To stop engaging in a behavior or practice that crushes your spirit.
5. What is one small action you could take today to honor your anger and nurture your spirit?
In conclusion: If your anger is anything like my anger, working through these questions and actions will not make it go away completely, but it might make you more aware of what your anger is saying and to gain some measure of peace. It might also make you more aware of things you need to do to properly recognize your anger.
Your anger matters, Friend.