My anger, my most prolific teacher. In my mind, no other emotion exposes my hidden truth more than anger. Anger, in all its fury, is powerful enough to turn us into something we are not, clandestine enough to hide and fester in our subconscious, and intense enough to bring explosive and destructive consequences, causing more shame, regret, pain, and grief. At the same time, anger can be a driver for action and change, a protector, a boundary defender, and a portal—a key to our shadowy, inner pain and memory that we may not even realize we have.
The two faces of anger. How do I tell the difference between these two faces of anger? Consequences. Do the consequences of my anger exert aggressive power over, crush or create fear in something or someone? Does it cause shame or pain in the aftermath? Or is the consequence constructive, expressive of boundaries, strengthening resolve with reason and accountability? In this kind of anger, there is no shame, but vulnerability and growth, even healing. We have courage to speak our truth and lay out our boundary with conscious awareness of how our words fall on the other person. Can we be firm without bullying, strong without overpowering, and have conviction without the need to be right. When I finally started paying attention, and with the help of my incredible loved ones, it became very clear when my anger was more harmful than good. With awareness, cultivation, practice and a deep commitment to action, anger became a a messenger, showing me time and again which face of anger I didn’t want to be. I was pushed to get curious about my anger’s purpose, how to ask for what I needed, how to express myself without defaulting to rage, and more importantly, how to stay with the process, not run or hide from it.
The art of the PAUSE button. One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned (and am still practicing) from anger is the art of the PAUSE button. In the heat of anger’s appearance, the moment I am triggered, the moment I feel the rage rising up from my chest to my throat and face, I MUST pause. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book she talks about the 90 seconds it takes for the chemicals of a stress reaction to disperse through our body. This is fight or flight. You can actually feel this move through your body if you lean in close and feel. After the 90 seconds have passed, the emotions left behind like fear or anger, are something we CAN control. Hence, the pause button. The counting to 10 slowly. The three deep breaths. The short walk from wherever you are to somewhere else. No split second reaction, no words to fly out of my mouth, nothing.
The most compassionate question you can ask yourself. What do I need right now?With this one self-compassionate question, I have learned to look upon my anger with kindness, soften my eyes and know, this is not who I am, but there is something I’m missing to feel balanced and whole. Sometimes the answers to why I am angry don’t come right away. Sometimes the reasons that trigger my anger feel absolutely justified, but in that moment I know I need to shift, nurture, and take care of myself. When I take care of myself, I take care of everyone around me. In the car, that means pull over if I can, take a deep breath, say a forgiveness prayer, a gratitude prayer, the Ho'oponopono prayer or play a song that soothes. At home that means, going outside, standing in front of my altar, or sitting in stillness. In relationships, feeling triggered means naming it before going any further. Say “ I’m triggered, I need to stop and breathe, I don’t want to lose control. “ This is the hardest piece. It will take practice. It will take making mistakes. It will take patience, compassion and forgiveness.
“What other people think of you is not your business. If you start to make that business your business, you will be offended for the rest of your life.” ~Deepak Chopra
The portal to exposure. Ultimately, anger has taught me that more than anything I want to feel heard, valued, loved, cared for, and safe. Part of our healing and education is learning not everyone can give this to us. nor should they. Anger shows me that I cannot control everything or anyone, and perhaps my expectations are what need to change. Anger also reminds me that I carry more grief than I realize, and to be gentle with that grief. If anger keeps showing up, I might ask what do I need to surrender? Does forgiveness need to happen? What is really chipping away at my spirit, how do I voice what I need without causing damage, and what balm can I use to soothe and heal? These are some truths anger can reveal if we are wiling to be vulnerable enough to really look at ourselves. When we get curious about our feelings, dig under the iceberg as I’ve heard Brené Brown once describe it, this is our first step towards healing, change, and even gratitude. Here would be a good place to say that I began reading Brené Brown over five years ago, and she was integral in helping me look at my anger, and I am grateful to her and her work.
I can say with full certainty that my relationship with anger has evolved, leading me to know myself better, inviting more self care, more courage to dig deeper, more vulnerability, more self compassion, more deep breaths, more time with what soothes me, more patience, more joy and more laughter. And I am witnessing, the more I do these things for myself, the less volatile I’ve become, and the more I am able to hold and reflect the same compassion for others when they sit in their own anger.
With practice, we can re-wire our brains. We can forgive ourselves and others. Healing is not an external event. Healing is internal and will always begin with us saying “Yes, I can pause. I can pay attention, I can re-learn and I can forgive.”
by Misa Terral