Updated: Sep 1, 2020
I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the emotion of anger. I figured this would be a timely blog topic given recent events.
Anger, while an uncomfortable emotion, is good information to know. It tells us something is out of alignment. It shows us when a boundary has been crossed. Anger can be a secondary (or cover) emotion, which means it’s also often rooted in fear. When we’re afraid, we flee, fight, freeze or people-please.*
There is a lot of fear right now. Fear that we or a loved one will be exposed to COVID-19 and die, or have crippling health complications as a result. Fear that our rights are being stripped from us. Fear that we’ll lose our job. Fear that the small business we’ve built, some for generations, will close up forever. Fear that sheltering-in-place will be permanent and we’ll never hug our friends and family again. Fear that fires on the West coast and hurricanes in the South will destroy homes, livelihoods, wild animals, forests and loved ones. Fear that systemic racism is resulting in an alarming rate of deaths in the Black community. Fear that this is insurmountable. Fear that peaceful protests will result in more civil injustices, or that riots will ensue with more destruction.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of politics, it’s filled with fear…and anger. Lots and lots of anger.
Like I said, it’s good information to know. And notice. And examine.
For womxn, especially Black womxn, society has tone policed anger. We’re told it’s inappropriate, unacceptable or unbecoming. We’re told to repackage it in a form that’s more palatable to men, and let’s face it, other womxn who’ve bought into this cultural conditioning. (And when we want to be liked and accepted, we can choose the fear response of people pleasing.)
No wonder folks feel trapped and confused. The emotions we’re feeling are strong and have a purpose to serve us when we have the tools to let it. But when we repackage it for others’ sake, we don’t actually allow it to flow and we certainly don’t process it. As a result, it becomes stuck, mangled and tangled inside of us. Then we are contorting our insides until we no longer recognize who we are.
This serves no one. Aside from being inauthentic and out of integrity, it makes us physically ill and it self-perpetuates more fear and anger.
So let’s take a look at it. Let’s let it have a voice and space to express itself.
Take out a piece of paper and fold it in half. On the left side, list out ten things you may be feeling angry about. Go ahead and be petty. No one has to see this but you.
Now on that same side underneath, list out ten things you might be afraid of. Some of them may be tied to the things you’re angry about.
On the other half of the piece of paper, jot down what your behavior is as a result of feeling angry and fearful.
Notice the self-perpetuating cycle of this resulting behavior.
Also notice that all the fears are based in thoughts about a future that doesn’t exist, except for in your mind.
Notice that the things you’re angry about happened in the past (if even only an hour ago), that also doesn’t exist except for in your mind. Ask yourself how much harm you are causing yourself simply by reliving it in your mind. My hunch is it’s more so than the actual event itself caused.
As a wise mentor once told me, “We don’t do the work to remove our boundaries. We do it to see them more clearly.”
Anger means a boundary has been crossed, either with ourselves or with someone else. We aren’t removing that boundary. Boundaries are important. We’re looking at it through a lens of, “So what do I want to do about this?”
While we can’t control or change others, we always have a choice in how we respond to others and our circumstances. What do you want to do without any expectations of someone else?
Now that we’ve given anger and fear a voice on paper. Let’s express it physically and let that energy move and release out. One way is to scream deeply and loudly. (Feel free to do this in a pillow if you live with others or have thin walls.) Another is to punch and kick pillows until you’re exhausted. And if you want to cry, by all means, please cry.
I’m serious. Get it out. It serves no one to bottle it up.
Ask yourself again, “What do I want to do with this situation?” Remember, we can’t change others no matter how convincing, or right, we think we might be. And we always have free will when it comes to our own actions. Others will exercise theirs as well.
Given the circumstances, and without controlling others, what do you want to do?
*"People-please" was added by a fellow Master Coach, Renee Sievert, who adopted it from Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly.