Few of us want to admit that we get bitchy, shout, or lose our temper—we much prefer to see ourselves as being wonderfully tolerant and serene. But anger is something that we all experience at different times, whether toward our parent, partner, friend, or even ourselves. Many times anger is justified and limited to the matter in hand, but it can also be very destructive and go beyond the immediate situation, like a single match that can burn an entire forest.
Trying to eradicate anger is like trying to box with our own shadow: it doesn’t work. Getting rid of it implies either expressing it, and possibly causing emotional damage; denying and avoiding it, which is a way of lying to ourselves and can cause depression or bitterness; or repressing it, which just suppresses it until it erupts at a later time when it can cause even more harm.
“Ducks don’t do anger,” says psychotherapist Deepesh Faucheux in our recent book, Be The Change. “Ducks fight over a piece of bread and then they just swim away. But people keep processing everything that happens to them. That processing of the story—what so and so did to me, she wronged me, why doesn’t he respect me—keeps the energy identified as anger and resentment, instead of seeing it as simply energy.”
There are often layers of conflicting feelings hidden beneath anger trying to make themselves heard, such as hurt, insecurity, sadness or fear. The power of rage is such that it can overshadow these other emotions, causing us to lose touch with ourselves and struggle to articulate what we are really feeling. Having lost our connectedness with each other, anger may really be a cry for attention or for contact; it may be expressing feelings of rejection, grief, loneliness, or a longing to love and be loved. Often it is really saying “I love you,” or “I need you,” yet we are hurling abuse at each other instead.
As Rabbi Zalman Schachter says, also in our book Be The Change, “We get to see that underneath anger, there is fear, pain, and sorrow, and we cannot deal with anger unless we also deal with what sustains the anger. We forget how we are hardwired. The reptilian system within us makes sure we are secure and safe. If we do not feel secure, then the dinosaur will rear its head and roar. So under anger is always the question of how safe does the reptilian feel.”
If we repress or pretend anger is not there, then all these other feelings become repressed and denied as well. Only by recognizing what the real emotion is behind the expression can there be more honest communication.
Next: Cooling Anger Meditation