Feeling and Releasing Anger
What is it about anger? She seduces you with the fiery allure of revenge, of plotting and planning, of shouting your victimhood from the mountaintops and then quite suddenly you realize all the while you’ve been drinking the very same poison you’re trying to dish out.
Late last week I had an interaction that made me very angry. Though I happen to be one of those people who enjoys a naturally sunny disposition, and even though I teach meditation and preach kindness, I was, for a time, ablaze with the fiery fuming frustration of a thousand burning suns.
I wanted to get even. I wanted a duel. I wanted retribution.
And then I noticed something. My physical body, and especially the space around my heart, actually felt tight. I felt as though I couldn't breathe as deeply as usual. I couldn't relax. I tried to meditate and ignore my anger and bitterness. I tried to push it down and feel my breath but the more I pushed it away, the more it reared its ugly head. I honestly felt like steam was coming out of my ears.
Luckily, as so often happens in life, synchronicity intervened. After an unfulfilling meditation, I decided to pick up a book I’ve been reading by Pema Chodron, called: When Things Fall Apart. I picked up just where I left off a week or so ago and these were the words on that very page:
“Meditate on whatever provokes resentment" and "lean into the sharp points"
Whoa. What? Lean into that which hurts? Lean into the space of pain? It felt like the complete opposite of what a human is conditioned to do. But I tried it, and I’m happy to report, it helped!
Reflecting on those words of wisdom and working through acknowledging and releasing this disruptive emotion in myself, today I’m sharing with you four steps to process an intense and negative emotion.
Feel. Ask yourself, what upsetting emotion am I feeling? What does it feel like? Is it sharp? Dull? Spikey? Fiery? Where do I feel it in my body? Allow yourself to lean into these emotions in a safe way. Maybe you journal about them, really digging into the feelings. Maybe you cry it out. I personally cried a great deal. It was cathartic. It was, in some odd way, really wonderful. Don’t ignore the negative emotion, that typically only makes it worse. Instead, let it flow through you.
Accept. Work to make peace with the emotion. If you are deeply sad, allow yourself to accept that sadness. Greet it like a friend. You can even call it out – saying, “I see you sadness” or “hello again, frustration.” Danielle Laporte even suggests befriending deep emotions like sadness. In that acceptance and familiarity or friendship, we meet this emotion head on and on our own terms. It can be disarming to the emotion and really quite helpful.
- Unpack. Can any of the emotion be broken apart into its component parts? Are there bits and pieces? When we see the mosaic of a certain feeling or emotion, we realize it’s not this giant heavy rock, but actually a number of smaller rocks under the mirage of one heavy burden. When I worked to unpack my own anger, I realized what was underneath was a deep hurt, a bit of shock, and some sadness. Understanding the depths of these emotions and that they often act in tandem, instead of one sweeping hurricane, helps us realize they’re not so big and scary after all. Breaking down something into smaller parts, helps us address, tend to, and then dissolve each bit.
Let it go…in time. There is no need to hurry this process. Ultimately, this situation will dissipate and heal. Add some humor to the process by watching this or this a few times (as I did). Some things take longer than others, but all wounds heal. And even if you’re still feeling the raw hurt of the wound, remember these wise words of the mystic poet, Rumi: "The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
As I continue to expand my own healing and soften around tension and tightness of feeling ‘wronged,’ my initially small-mind-sized cup of understanding begins to widen and widen and widen so it can eventually hold space for others, their experiences, and even rise above the need to be right or get even. Ultimately, we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. May it be with kindness to ourselves and others. Life is too short for anything else.