Anger Isn't the Enemy - it's Alchemy
My dad is a suave motherfucker.
I’m writing this on the ninth anniversary of my father’s death – which frankly, feels a little prophetic.
My father was an alcoholic. My father was an angry alcoholic.
I loved and admired, hated and feared my angry alcoholic father.
The effects of his verbal and emotional abuse are still being discovered, uncovered and healed. The impact of his fatherhood on my life is still being realized.
Undoubtedly, he is directly responsible for my lifelong obsessions with truth and responsible communications.
As you can imagine, the angry alcoholic wasn’t so great at clear communications. He had what my friend Kimberlee calls “the sloppy truth”. He had truth to share, but it was so tangled and twisted with his own garbage drunk perceptions and unresolved wounds and was delivered with thorns and arrows – that any hope for receiving his truth was lost.
I feel cheated by all of that.
We got angry twisted truth drunk dad, or aloof sarcastic sober dad, and missed out completely on the opportunity to receive insight, direction and guidance from someone who loved us and wanted the best for us.
Our parents likely see the best and worst personality traits in us from a very early age
Here’s a surprising truth that I’ve woken to late in life – our parents likely see the best and worst personality traits in us from a very early age. They are uniquely positioned to guide us to embrace and make the most of our gifts and teach us to be aware and guard against the sabotage of our flaws.
My dad’s angry alcoholism forced me to miss out on opportunities to learn valuable lessons about myself and my weaknesses. However, he inspired in me a lifelong fascination with truth, anger and the role of anger in our lives.
Let’s talk about emotions vs. feelings for a sec
First – we don’t know shit as a species about the mind/body connection and how we actually function. We’re learning all the time and new information becomes available that changes our understanding of who we are and how we work.
There needs to be a fundamental humility about “knowing” in the physical sciences… in all sciences… to all knowledge actually. Learning in general needs to have an asterisk of “what we know so far” added to keep the ego in check.
Emotions are the most powerful force in our world yet we have so little emotional health or understanding in our society.
*what we know so far…
The patriarchy in particular is resistant to emotional intelligence. Emotions have long been relegated to the “female sphere” and thus been perceived as less valuable, less worthwhile, less interesting.
Surprise bitches – we all have emotions that create havoc in our body system when we don’t pay attention to them!
The next great evolution in humankind isn’t going to be spiritual like all the new age gurus think. The next great evolution on this planet will be emotional and it’s going to be disruptive as fuck.
This is why I love Mr. Rogers so much. (And here’s why I think it’s important men investigate their discomfort with him.)
Mr. Rogers embodied gentle masculinity. His passion as an educator was to talk about emotions. He encouraged us to feel our emotions and taught us how to express our feelings with responsibility and care.
“Feelings are mentionable and manageable.”
Feelings and emotions are often thought to be interchangeable – referring to the same state. However, this isn’t accurate – according to some scientists.
Emotions are created in the limbic system – in the amygdala, the lizard brain. It’s interesting to think that emotions have been with human beings since the beginning.
Emotions are considered to be instinctive, reactive – coded into our DNA and part of the central nervous system. They are a body response and a part of the wisdom that our body offers us, if we’re willing to listen.
Emotions are a physical,
Feelings on the other hand, are how we interpret the emotions with our thoughts, perceptions, experiences and memories. We take neutral emotions and layer value and judgement upon them creating “good/bad”, “valuable/not valuable”, desirable/undesirable to have.
Emotions are Just Information
Emotions are just information. Happiness, grief, embarassment… they are all just emotional information packets. They give us information about ourselves, how we’re living and our particular place and relationship to the world.
Emotions are just a way to know more – know more about ourselves and know more about our environment. That’s all.
I love a good inspirational quote as much as the next person, but I started seeing a flood of memes about anger that didn’t sit right.
Here’s a small collection of anger memes floating around the interwebz:
(It’s revealing that most “anger is harmful” quotes come from white men who wield a great deal of power in their selected fields. They are unlikely to have their boundaries invaded, be dismissed or be viewed as less valuable or experience daily life situations that cast them in roles of inferiority or injustice.)
Anger is just information. It’s neutral, like all emotions. Anger isn’t shameful. It shouldn’t be repressed, ignored or rejected.
Rejecting our anger results in passive-aggresive tendencies or guarantees an eventual inappropriate explosion or results in a projection of anger onto everyone who establishes legitimate boundaries.
I do not encourage rageholic tactics or expressing anger without care or restraint. However, anger MUST be felt, allowed and encouraged to be expressed with care and safety. To do otherwise is damaging and dangerous.
Anger is just information. Anger is neutral – it has information to tell us about our situation. That is all.
We’re the ones that layer value judgement over the anger and turn it from neutral into bad.
Replace anger in everyone of these memes with “happiness” or “joy” and you sound like a psychopath. These memes are dangerous.
They perpetrate the idea that experiencing anger is “bad” and you’re “doing it wrong” if you’re not floating through the world like an emotionless zen monk.
Or conversely, they encourage us to swallow our anger, with a side of shame at not being “spiritual enough”. Swallow the anger and become a resentful victim. Everyone likes a martyr. Cry your cleansing tears – but don’t you fucking express your anger.
Nope. Don’t express your anger, because someone might have to take a closer look at what they’ve been doing. Don’t express your anger, then something might have to change.
Keeping anger to ourselves lets all kinds of shit keep on keeping on.
Anger has a legitimate place and role in the world.
Anger is the Fuel of Change
Anger is our reaction to powerlessness and inequity.
Anger is our reaction to injustice.
Anger powers all forms of social justice and social revolution:
Occupy Wall Street
Black Lives Matter
All have been motivated by the anger of injustice. The passion and fire of anger is a powerful mover for change. It has fired the passion and fuel for all great transitions in history.
I’m suspicious of anyone who advocates against expressing emotions – any emotion.
When it comes to expressing anger, those that want us to keep it to ourselves most often have something to lose. Those who benefit from silence are those who refuse to face how they will be required to change behaviour if anger is given the legitimate outlet it demands.
Those whom we’ve taken advantage of or taken for granted have the spiritual right to own their anger at the injustices visited upon them
The exploited, the victimized, the minimized and the ignored, the marginalized and the mistreated. Those whom we’ve taken advantage of or taken for granted have the spiritual right to own their anger at the injustices visited upon them. Their anger is not “unspiritual” or “unevolved”. There is no place for shame when the fire of anger attempts to right the scales of power and establish balance.
Those that speak against anger or judge it as lacking value or “bad” are often far more interested in their own comfort than our health and wholeness. The next time we find ourselves wanting to censure the emotional expression of a family member, friend or colleague – it’s time to check our own comfort levels and ask ourselves the hard questions:
“Why does this bother me? Why do I want them to stop?”
Answer those questions honestly within ourselves – what is happening with our reaction and why do we want to censure expression? Aside from ensuring safety and respectful discourse, any desire to prevent expression is more about preventing our own discomfort.
We don’t get to shut down, judge as unworthy or scorn reactions that make us uncomfortable or require us to change how we’re accustomed to doing things and treating people. Being self aware and doing better in the face of discomfort is what this whole spiritual evolution thing is about.