Feeling Angry - What to do about it
Peter Bedard, RScP
I woke up this morning feeling angry. Angry at the feelings of being unsafe in the world, angry at the current political situation, angry at the economics of this moment. Although anger is a valid emotion, it is also a masked emotion that can hide a deeper feeling beneath it. Anger is kind of a protection against feeling the depth of the true emotion that lies under it. For many of us, it can be easier and more comfortable to be angry than to deal with the thing we are angry about. You may have every right to be angry AND every reason to be angry and yet, does this righteous anger really do anything beneficial. When I say it is more “comfortable” to be angry, what I mean is that accessing anger, for many of us, is easier than stopping, breathing, and taking the time to ask ourselves what we are really angry about and having to go within ourselves to feel the emotions beneath it like vulnerability, fear, shame, sadness, loss, grief, or disappointment. Who wants to feel those feelings? By “comfortable” I mean what we know, familiar. Often, for many of us, it’s more comfortable living in the anger than actually doing something about it. It’s easier to just be angry.
There are two distinct messages that society gives us about anger. One is that it is justified, what I call the Cult of Being Right. This is the “I’m Right” movement, which implies “You’re Wrong”. This movement is full of righteous people trying to push their opinions on everyone around them. The second message society send us is the “Medicate it” movement. This is the movement that preaches shoving our emotions down, drugging them, medicating them, denying them and never actually dealing with them. This movement only deals with the outside causes of our anger. We go to the doctor for a stomach ache to get something to medicate that uneasy, undigested emotion that’s been making us sick instead of actually dealing with the emotion itself. This group tells you to smile and act as if everything is alright. Smiling is far more attractive and we like that. We don’t like the messy, unfinished, slimy emotions, so we hide them at all cost.
Anger can take over the person, like a cancer that feeds on itself, and convinces you that it is right. It can explode outward from the person destroying all around it or it can implode inwardly and annihilate you.
Neither of these movements is healthy and they can be polarizing extremes that feed into the anger making it grow. The thing is, whatever camp you fall into, the anger expands, often exponentially and causes even more pain. These movements separate us from our feelings, our Truth, and our humanity.
I see anger as a tangible thing. It can be felt, it has a texture, a color, and a sound for sure. I can be taught and teach others to be angry. I can pass it down from person to person. Anger can even be handed down from generation to generation. I love to give the hetero-normative example of the boss beating up on the executive who then comes home and beats up on his wife who then takes her anger out on the kids who then smacks the dog who then bites the mailman….and so on!
The calling of anger is healing and Peace. Anger can call us into that understanding, if we can quiet it down long enough to hear the quiet whisper of Peace beneath it. We can simply perpetuate it and hand it on or, we can hear that calling and say, “The buck stops here!” Doing this is a choice; choosing to stop the cycle of anger in our communities, families, and ourselves is a choice.
Let’s choose to listen, hear the call, and heal! Below are some ways to release anger so that it no longer rules your life.
Below are some techniques that I’ve worked with over the years to help you release anger, get beneath it, hear the call of Peace, and heal. For each of these exercises, do your best to tap into the anger and let it roll out of you. Don’t hold back. Think of the anger inside of you as a dark mass, sticky slime, or a dirty blob that you are chipping away, washing out, and releasing. Be sure to create a safe place for you to do each of these exercises. Set things up so you can let that angry part of you out without harming yourself or anyone else. Remember, anger is a thing so you don’t want to pass it on to someone else.
1) Scream – That’s right. Give yourself permission to let all those feeling explode out of you. Close the windows, shut the doors, and scream into a pillow. Turn up the volume on the TV if you need to. I like to go in my car Gryllus from “Billy and the Anxiety Monster” and roll up the windows and let loose. Let the scream be a guttural pure emotion. No need for words, just a primal sound that doesn’t have to make sense. Let it be pure emotion.
2) Words – Similar to the exercise above, set up a safe place where you can let loose. For this exercise, give
yourself to say whatever you have been holding inside. This is your opportunity to say the things that you
wouldn’t want anyone to hear but still feel. A loving mother might need to scream about how much she hates her children. A devoted child might need to holler about how disappointed they are with their parent. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you won’t be triggered by them or feel anger for them. Take the opportunity to say all those things you may have been swallowing down and let them out so they don’t sneak out later.
3) Punch – Go ahead and hit something. Punch a pillow or get a nerf bat and slam it into your mattress. Hitting a person or animal is not okay but beating the crap out of a pillow is a fantastic feeling. There’s a scene in an old movie called “Million Dollar Baby” in which the lead actress is punching a punching bag. Her coach tells her that she isn’t really punching the bag. She is technically but she is holding back. Eventually, she taps into something deep inside herself and she beats the crap out of the bag. That’s what I’m guiding you to do in all of these exercises.
4) The Angry Dance – As a former dancer, I love this exercise. Start with a simple movement that expresses
your anger. I like the motion of punching into my palm; right fist punching into left palm. Repeat this movement over and over again letting your whole body start to engage with the movement. Let your
shoulders start to move, feet stomp, body twist. Allow this physicalizing of the anger to be expressed through your whole body. Watch the movement as it shifts and changes through you like a dance.
5) Break Something – I find this exercise extremely satisfying. Go get a set of old, ugly dishes. Don’t use
anything glass as the shards can be dangerous. Wear goggles and a long sleeve shirt. As with all these
exercises, create a safe place for yourself to let go and release the anger without hurting yourself or anyone
else. Find a large trash bin and, wearing your goggles and long sleeve shirt, tap into the anger and let it roll
through you as you smash those plates into the trash bin. Let your voice support you in this. It’s really good to let a sound out as you destroy those old dinner plates.
6) Write – There have been quite a few studies on the benefits of writing to release emotions. I like to identify where in my body that I feel the anger and visualize it rushing out of me. Maybe the anger is in my head? Maybe it’s in my gut? Follow the anger as it rushes out of that place through your limbs, down your arm, and out your fingers and into the paper. Then, take the paper and rip it into shreds, dig a hole and put those scraps of paper into the whole, light those on fire and watch them burn, then bury the paper and tamp down the hole. This is a process of transformation. I like to add a ceremonial element to this process so I light a candle, burn some incense, have a glass of water and play some chanting music as I do this. Adding this ceremonial quality to the exercise gives me a deeper experience of completion and release. It’s common for me to hear people say things about being afraid of their anger and not knowing how to let it out. Well, now you do. Anger is a very powerful emotion that can lead to deep transformation and a higher level of awareness. Harnessing and working with that anger can help us live more connected and happier lives. Working with your anger instead of shoving it down and medicating it can free you up to have more authentic and genuine relationships because we aren’t suppressing our feelings and letting those feelings get in the way through resentment and punishing behaviors. I know it can feel scary to face anger and I know that the benefits of facing it far out weigh the damage that the anger does to our bodies and souls if we don’t. By learning to harness and work with our anger, we open ourselves to a deeper relationship with ourselves and others that is unencumbered and we become available to the goodness of life as we aren’t blocking it through anger; those nagging resentments that prevent us from being fully present and in the
moment. Give yourself this gift.