Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Being Gentle With Anger

"Anger is the roar of a lion, the cry of a universe longing to be born. It reminds you, when you have forgotten, that the power of life moves through you. That you have a voice."

--Jeff Foster

Anger often gets a bad rap. Sure, when a person acts out thoughtlessly from anger or impulsively without considering the impact of his/her actions on self or other, anger can be harmful personally and relationally. Becoming verbally or physically abusive is not okay. However, we often fail to make distinction between healthy, life promoting angry feelings and destructive expressions that may obscure deeper feelings and experiences underneath the anger.

Anger is a natural response to someone crossing your boundary in a way that is not okay for you, imposing their will on yours, treating you unfairly, breaking an agreement or breaking your trust. In these circumstances, your anger says, "what you are doing is not okay for me." "I matter." "I have rights and needs." Anger allows you to stand in your truth and your worth. And it tells the other person that what they have done is not okay.

If you fail to honor your anger in these kinds of circumstances--pushing it away, labeling it as "bad" or "negative," you do your heart and soul a disservice. On the other hand, if you act out from the anger, you may do yourself a disservice as well, and make the situation worse. Being able to "be with" anger--feeling its intensity, its power, and often the pain underneath it, allows you to stand in the value of your own experience.

Poet Jeff Foster writes, "Feel its pounding, its vibrations, its longing to be acknowledged, held. At its burning core, discover courage. The courage to be yourself. To hold your path fearlessly. To speak for those without a voice…. To roar with love."

Anger can be an affirmation of life. Anger can be an act of love for others or self-love. If we don't care, we don't get anger. What we do with anger is a choice and learning how to respond rather than react is an important skills and lesson.

If we suppress anger, it does not go away. Anger holds a lot of energy. It can eat away at us deep inside. It can haunt us. And it might pop up down the road when something unfair, or confrontational happens again. A woman I know noted that she became like a feral cat as a child to respond to feelings of unfairness and invisibility. Her power was in her anger, like a cat growling and swatting with her claws. So, when something felt unfair, she would get angry and confrontational. There was no room for her hurt and her pain. And sadly, there were things she needed then and now which required vulnerability that she could not access because anger had become her shield. She had never really gotten comforted when she needed comforting. And she had also never been able to express her anger in a way that felt healing, where she got heard. She found herself getting stuff in the growling, when she needed to find comfort. Learning how to hold her anger and pursue what she needed was a critical learning.

Even the worst criminals who act out of anger in unfathomable ways often have a painful context that fuels their unfathomable actions. I read an article in the Boston Globe today about the history of a man who shot a Boston Police Officer. What he did was horrible, for sure. But the author of the article asked, "what kind of life had this 41 year old man had that could have led him to do such a horrible thing?" It turns out that the shooter had a 23 year record with the law, including having been shot 13 times on two occasions himself. One time when he was being arrested, he told the arresting officer, "It's okay, just shoot me." The author of the article noted that this was not a normal response, but instead reflected the level of violence this man lived in and around since childhood. He posed the question: how scary must it have been to live in this kind of environment, and to have a gun in your possession at all times as a first line of self-defense against others with guns?

There is no arguing that shooting the police officer was wrong. And yet, recognizing the humanity in the "criminal" and what led him to behave the way he did is critical. If we found ways to intervene with compassion first, perhaps those most wounded could learn to be more gentle with their anger. And perhaps the difference between being with anger in a healthy embodied way and acting out of anger in a way that is destructive to self and others would be more commonly understood.