Someone told me recently that she "has anger issues." We were discussing a challenging situation, and she used this fact to soften her perspective and feelings. It was an out, in case anything sounded too harsh, or strong, or powerful.
I mentioned in a video recently that I've had a hard time sorting what I'm actually feeling through the COVID-19 pandemic. When I finally started processing my root feelings, I found grief, sadness, loneliness, fear, and... anger.
Ya'll I'm so tired of anger getting a bad rap. Anger - just like fear - is a signal. It's the check engine light in the car. Saying we have "anger issues" and going on with our lives is like putting a piece of tape over the blinking light, or turning the radio up to drown out that strange noise we keep hearing, instead of taking a closer look at what's causing it. Anger is a powerful indicator of things like violation of personal boundaries and recognition of injustice - against ourselves or others. When we deny our anger, and see it only as an unruly emotion we must keep in check, we undermine our power. We undermine our truest selves.
I'm not saying this is easy - although it's a simple concept. Some of us may have suppressed our anger for decades. We may not feel ready to face the questions simmering under the surface. One of my favorite authors, Erin Brown, says that anger is an emotion that requires movement and action, and I find this to be true. Our anger will likely provide one or many large neon arrows directing us to tend our boundaries. Our anger will ask us to choose our wellness or communal long term wellness over our comfort, or the comfort and ease of others. Our anger may even be fear or grief wearing a mask that feels safer, tougher, and less vulnerable.
Getting curious about our anger instead of always trying to numb it, run from it, distract ourselves from it, or ignore it, requires us to be okay feeling it - all of it. It asks us to bear witness to our pain and trauma. If we want to actually release our anger, we must first learn what it has to teach us. To learn what it has to teach us, we must experience it fully.
The decision to listen to our anger instead of suppressing it is a tough one. Sometimes we aren't ready to come face to face with the decision of making changes that honor our truest needs and deepest self. Sometimes our anger hands us opportunities to lean into resistance and resilience in situations we can't control. Sometimes our anger connects us to a communal understanding of profound trauma and injustice we are asked to hold new space for. None of our truest selves are served by the cult of nice. None of our personal challenges or systemic social issues will be solved by folks who are afraid of their own voice, fire, and shadow sides.
Maybe our "anger issues" aren't that we are angry. Maybe our "anger issues" are that we aren't listening well to our inner voice. That we aren't ready to advocate for ourselves and our communities. That we are afraid of what would happen if we took action. Maybe the issue is we are afraid to feel too deeply, to grieve the version of the world or ourselves we imagined to be true.
If you're new to me, my work, or this world of intentional self awareness, the idea of processing and moving through anger may sound dangerous. Do you know when anger is actually dangerous? It's dangerous when it's suppressed, ignored, and discounted. It's dangerous when the boundaries we refuse to advocate for are crossed over and over again, and it starts coming out sideways. It comes out as passive aggression, snark, or an explosion. Processing our anger and learning what it has to teach us about ourselves not only strengthens our connection with our deepest self, it promotes clear and honest communication with others in our lives.
It may be hard to have a boundary setting conversation, but is it harder to have that conversation, or to mend our relationships when our anger manifests in a harmful way? The thing about indicator emotions (and check engine lights) is eventually they get our attention.
Here's why I'm sharing this: Even if you don't believe that your most authentic self is worth risking your status quo for, even if you think others feelings are more important than your emotional wellness, I don't. If your circle really cares about your well-being, they will want what's best for you too. I want you to know that there is at least one person in the world who sees your anger, needs, and boundaries as fully valid. I believe you have the capacity to hold space for your anger. I believe you can learn to listen.
There's a whole lot more we could talk about in terms of processing anger, like the "feminine" and "masculine" labeled roles that society hands out and what we do with those. We can talk about learning to hold space for others and their big indicator emotions (like we learn to hold space for our own.) We can marvel at the art that's been created from places of deep grief and anger, and trace the artists steps as they move through those emotions. There's a lot here. I'm surprised there isn't an "anger processing" Instagram life coach with an entire platform based off of teaching folks how to channel their anger. (There probably is, I just haven't come across them yet.) Heck, we could have a whole post about the righteous anger and history of resistance in communities that have been oppressed by colonizing countries. We can talk about how anger and trauma manifests in our physical bodies when we repress it. There are worlds to explore when we shift our perspectives.
But let's start with the basics. Let's start with us.
When we're angry, what sensations do we experience in our bodies?
What movements and activities help us cope with those sensations?
What happened that triggered this feeling, and why?
What would make us feel seen, safe, and valued in this moment?
What needs to change so that we can continue to feel seen, safe, and valued?
What is our anger telling us?