I am looking at ways to turn anger into something that does not harm and debilitate. What I am writing is provisional. I am not quite yet there with my thinking.
It is true to say that grief not dealt with, despair that has no where to go and a fear that sits with us by brooding and corroding us – all three can end up as anger.
What happens to anger that has no place to go? It turns on itself, leading to depression. In the wrong hands it can become uncivil, possibly violent and massively painful.
Anger and fear are on the same side of the coin. Maybe they are on the opposite sides but they are part of the flight or flight.
Too much fear can shrivel us, make us lose our sense of self. Equally, not feeling any fear is problematic. Without fear we become manic, self-destructive or even hubristic. The key is being self-aware of the feeling of fear or the lack of it. The same thing with anger.
Anger that has no self-awareness becomes self-righteous or self-loathing. Anger that is not looked after and not dealt with can become depression. It can go underground and can seep in the places where it becomes toxic and kills the goodness of the person.
Pema Chodron and others argue that we are responsible for creating all of our emotion. Pema refers to the work done by Jill Bolte Taylor:
“An emotion like anger that is an automatic response lasts just ninety seconds from the moment it is triggered until it runs its course … When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it is because we have chosen to rekindle it.”
Alex Miles, writing in Elephant Journal picks up the same theme and says, quite clearly, that we are responsible for making our own emotions: “Although we may not want to admit it we are responsible for creating all of our own emotions. Every thought that we think causes a chemical reaction and that reaction causes a physical response.” Alex Myles, Elephant Journal (It’s about the Mindful Life)
Is it true to say that no one makes you angry? That you make yourself angry? Anyway it is something to reflect on and become aware of next time you have that sensation. I think that someone or something makes us angry. It does have a context.
Here’s the thing – the radical thing to think about – the emotion of anger lasts only ninety seconds and then we make up the story around that emotion and it can remain with us for decades.
At that moment of anger, be aware of what has made us angry. Give the feeling, the moment, oxygen and space to open us up. Stop there. Don’t act out. Don’t repress. Don’t blame it on anyone else. Don’t blame it on ourselves. Make it open-ended. It will pass in ninety seconds. Listen to yourself. Listen to your own suffering.
Being self-aware of our suffering gives us the gift of the chance to be kind to ourselves.
This next line has shattered my view. I always thought with anger – get it out.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you express your anger you think you are getting anger out of your system, but that’s not true.” When you fan your anger and don’t stop to work out why you are angry then that’s a difficult place to be.
Attend to anger. Be aware of it. Have self-awareness. Befriend it. Sit with it. Don’t try to suppress it. Surrender to it. This is the renunciation. It is not allowing anger to control. Know that it exists.Can I let the anger open me and not try to shoo it away?
Pema suggests that we practise how to deal with such emotions in Living Beautifully.
Acknowledge the feeling, she says. Give it your full and compassionate and welcoming attention and drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t be judgemental of it. Just be present with the moment. She also urges us to think about where it is located in our body and asks the questions, ‘Does it remain the same for every long? Does it shift and change?’
If we let the story line go around the sensation, we will be freed of it and remember nothing lasts for ever. Becoming self-aware when it comes to the emotion of anger can lead to a great sense of well-being.
References – both enormously helpful in dealing with this stuff –
Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully
Miriam Greenspan, Healing through the Dark Emotions