Anger. It shows up when our boundaries are being pushed, when we feel unsafe, hurt, rejected. When we feel sad and hurt, we often protect ourselves with anger.
Anger feels powerful. There’s an energy to anger that feels helpful and protective to us. And sometimes, it is. Sometimes it can help by giving us the energy and power to restore those broken boundaries and take any necessary action to make ourselves feel safe.
Sometimes, however, anger isn’t helpful. It may have helped us to a certain point – like crutches when we break our leg. Hanging onto anger is like using crutches once you’ve healed. And it can be difficult to switch our mindset on anger, because it had been so helpful up until now. But there’s a point when it becomes damaging and that’s when we need to delve deeper, and deal with the underlying sadness and hurt and pain that lies underneath that protective fire ball.
Actually expressing anger is a new thing for me, and I’ve become much more comfortable being pissed off than I am with just being sad.
My emotional reaction to being hurt or feeling rejected is now usually “FUCK YOU” instead of “That hurts, I’m sad”. My relationship with anger changed from it being unsafe to it being my protector – unfortunately it has lead to the point that I’m overusing it. My default to be angry and want to say “FUCK IT!” is a huge change from the victimized girl who was just at mercy of being hurt and not being worthy enough to even be mad, and certainly too weak to change things or leave what was hurting her.
In a way I love my default to anger and “fuck it” response, because in many ways it’s so much better than my old unworthy-self hatred-helpless default of suppressing emotion and believing I just had to stay stuck. That being said, this new default is problematic too. I swung to the other side of the pendulum, and it’s not the best place to be either. I get that it developed to protect me. And part of the problem is that I still buy into the story that without it I’ll slip back into the old ways of dealing with all these feelings and painful situations. That story, and my reactions, are things I’m actively working on. I need to find a better in between.
Because I know, not everything that hurts is harmful. A lot of things that hurt can be opportunities to grow and heal. And being hurt is part of life, even (especially?) when it comes to people we care about.
Anger is a guardian of our boundaries. If we can pay attention to the feedback of our reactions, such as anger, we can see why it shows up and what needs to be restored. It can also help us look deeper into why we feel the need to protect and what other emotions are beneath it – like we’re looking past the big brother who’s standing tall and yelling at the bullies, to see the crying little brother with a scraped knee sitting on the pavement behind him. What emotions came up for us that we felt the need to protect ourselves? What emotions need to be processed, beyond the anger that is out front and center?
I find this very difficult. Sadness and hurt feels more draining than anger; though I’m sure most of that comes from actually resisting the sadness and making judgments about it, than it does from actually just being sad. My experience is that it’s easier to get side-tracked from the feeling and turn things inwards when it’s sadness. I start making judgments about myself and giving into the unworthy stories; where with anger I’m more likely to be making those judgments about the other person.
And the answer to all of it? Lean in with COMPASSION. Observe your reaction to say “fuck it”, beat yourself up, avoid the sadness, to puff up or want to run and hide… with compassion. And then encourage yourself to look deeper. You aren’t just angry, ever. And the angrier you are, the more emotions are hiding behind it.