Anger is NeutralJun 05, 2022
Anger Saved Me
For a very long time I viewed anger as bad, violent, and juvenile. I felt it was shameful to feel or express which meant I spent a lot of time shoving it down, avoiding it, and pretending it didn't exist. This would ultimately lead to built up explosions that I felt incredibly guilty for. Unkind words, slammed doors, and hot tears.
It wasn't until I started ERP that I finally let myself feel this emotion for all that it was. And after years of not listening to it- it was BIG. It seemed to fully encompass me and I felt it might never let up. I tore through ERP with a vicious sense of resentment and anger and it felt like every day was just another expression of it. I was angry for my younger self and all the things I didn't feel fully. I was angry for my future self and all the uncertainty she faced. It terrified me to feel this amount of anger but I sat through it and eventually, as all emotions do, it dissipated.
I did the same thing with the emotions of grief and sorrow: Accepting them for the first time, feeling years-worth of unspoken pain, and eventually watching them simmer down.
Now that I'd "caught" up to my current emotion, surely I was done processing, right? The ERP was the hardest thing I'd face? Not quite. Over the past 3 years I have been slapped with some pretty intense and painful experiences, many that I'm still processing the emotions of. It was in the middle of one of these difficult experiences that I met my now best friend.
Jay is the angriest woman I've ever met.
And I say that as the biggest compliment. Jay is someone who feels her anger FULLY, who has learned how to ride the wave without shame and it's made her an incredibly wise and effective person. When we met I was a live-in nanny for an abusive family, they treated me horribly and I had a hard time accepting that. It made me angry to be treated that way but this was an emotion I was still practicing feeling. It felt uncomfortable, embarrassing, and foreign to me. I would tell Jay about some of the things they were putting me through and try to gently express that it was frustrating.
Jay would ROAR back at me about how horrifying the situation was. She would get loud and shake her body and tell me that it wasn't okay. She would create a space for me to get mad too and I'd cry and yell and let myself truly feel it.
It was because of this anger and Jay validating and affirming it alongside me that I was able to leave that horrifying situation and see it for what it was. It's because of my anger that I'm alive and okay today.
And it's not just me. Think about where we as a society would be without angry people sparking revolutions, without angry parents standing up for their kids, without angry friends creating space for the marginalized?
There Are No Such Thing as "Bad" Emotions
Emotions can be uncomfortable, heavy, or big. But they are not good or bad.
There are two common approaches to this big emotion that I see:
1) Demonizing it.
Anger is neutral. It's what we decide to DO with this anger that determines the morality/effectiveness of the outcome. However, because we often don't see people expressing this healthily we are often under the impression that anger itself is bad.
2) Invalidating it.
"Anger is a secondary emotion" is a phrase we hear often. While this can certainly be the case, it's not always and saying it is is often more invalidating than affirming. It implies that mature people don't ever experience anger and that can't be further from the truth. This is my favorite article on that.
Both of these misconceptions lead to people attempting to suppress anger, which as we know only leads to a build up of emotion and potentially more harmful outcomes. What if instead we allowed our anger to be there, in full force, and THEN made decisions? What if we accepted anger's place within us?
So How Can we Express Our Anger Effectively?
Healthy expressing emotions comes down to a few steps:
1) Labeling it. Be aware that anger is what you are feeling. It's easier to sit through once you know what it is.
2) Give yourself permission. After a lifetime of ignoring it, this may be hard. But remind yourself that emotions are always valid, no matter the situation. You don't need to figure out why you are feeling this right now- just let it be there. You don't have to like it to accept that it's part of your reality.
3) Express it in a way that doesn't cause harm to you, your goals, others, or your environment. We often fear anger because we haven't expressed it values consistently in the past. Maybe we have lashed out at a loved one or broke something we loved. This is where the below list comes in handy- choose your favorites to keep on hand.
4) Ride the wave. It might be 2 minutes, it might be 2 days. Let it be there in the background.
5) Revisit the situation that caused anger and determine how to be effective. After creating space to truly feel- this is often easier to do in a values consistent way. Maybe the emotion is passed and there's nothing more to do, that's great too!
6) Be patient and compassionate. It might feel weird or wrong at first. That's okay.