We have been married over 23 years, and, as in any marriage, we have been through both wonderful times and many challenges. We also work together, writing and teaching, and have two offices next to each other. Inevitably, there are times when one or even both of us loses it. We are, after all, very human. But, in all that time, we have been committed to never go to bed angry with each other, or with anyone else.
What we have come to realize is that it is never really about the issue, but the need for the ego to be right. So we try to see how the ego is demanding attention, and then focus on what is really going on. Anger is a powerful and complex emotion — when it grabs hold it is difficult to control your mind or keep your bearings — but there are often layers of conflicting feelings hidden beneath it, such as hurt, insecurity, or fear, trying to make themselves heard. The power of rage is such that it can act as a defense mechanism and overshadow these other emotions, causing us to lose touch with ourselves and struggle to articulate what we are really feeling.
Getting angry may really be a cry for contact, having lost our connectedness with each other; it may be expressing feelings of rejection, grief, loneliness, or a longing to love and be loved. Often anger is saying I love you, or I need you, or please hear me, yet we are hurling abuse at each other instead.
The emotional fallout from anger can be huge and we have no control over the repercussions. It takes over and in the process leaves little room for awareness, our heart goes out of reach and we lose connection with both our own feelings and the person we are mad at. This can have irretrievable consequences.
As psychotherapist Maura Sills says in Be the Change “I have done anger; I have harmed people. It has been done to me; I have been harmed. I come from a family that was angry; it was the way we related to one another. I believed that if people had trouble with my anger, it was their problem, and I had a right to act the way I wanted. But when we express anger, we are creating more pain and suffering in ourselves and in the world.”
Taking anger to bed is probably one of the most damaging things we can do to both our relationship and ourselves. During the day we have a chance to process anger and let it go, to see what it is really saying. But at night it can become intensified and build from a simple story to a major drama. So here are five reasons why not to go to bed feeling angry:
1- Anger is toxic. It floods our body and brain with chemicals, so it will disrupt our sleep and could create nightmares.
2- We dwell on anger, making it grow into something bigger than it really is.
3- It can create irreparable damage with our loved one, when what we really want is to reach out and be friends.
4- We can wake up feeling even worse, causing us to repeat and drag the anger out through the day.
5- Forgiveness is a far more energy-efficient option. It releases us from the drain of holding a grudge, setting us free to love and laugh again.
Only by recognizing what the real emotion is behind the anger can there be more honest communication. Meditation can be very helpful here, as it not only invites us to witness anger, but also to get to make friends and even share a cup of tea with it. Meditation may not be a cure-all; it may not make all our challenges go away or suddenly transform our weaknesses into strengths, but it does enable us to rest in an inclusive acceptance of who we are. This does not make us perfect, simply more fully human.
How do you deal with anger before you go to bed? Do comment below.