Anger is a Double-Sided Coin
Anger is quite controversial.
On the one hand, it can be consuming, destructive, and trigger dangerous or violent behavior. We know this all. too. well.
On the other hand, anger itself is just an emotion. In fact, it’s a healthy emotion to acknowledge, and full of active energy that can be channeled in the right direction. It’s also the best alarm system I have found for when a boundary has been crossed.
In truth, it’s an emotion that I dance with often. I’ve spent most of my life unconscious to the anger within me, or suppressing it mightily. For those of us socialized female, or raised in a household where anger had a complicated placemat at the table, it can be hard to even acknowledge the feeling.
But, when I first started becoming an activist in college, I saw the way anger could also be a powerful tool to motivate others and create change. Anger is an appropriate, and often necessary reaction to injustice, and a fuel that can ignite the rallying cries of passionate people. I spent a few years falling in love with the idea that it was ok to be angry.
In fact, some of my most beloved activist mentors and idols wield the tool of anger like master swordsmen: with equal doses of elegance and power.
But what happens when we forget to turn off the fuel tank or hang up the sword? What happens when we let our anger seep into our pores, fill in our cracks, replace the hard work of actually healing and moving forward?
I have seen that consistently living in, and acting from, this place of anger can become a dangerous way of life. I picture a warrior constantly bracing themselves for a fight, even when there is no enemy approaching.
This is the other side of the coin.
A colleague of mine was recently grieving a friend who had passed away. He was sad for the loss of his dear friend, certainly. But, he was also grieving the fact that his friend had lived most of his life holding onto anger. His friend was a great change maker, someone held up by the progressive movement and his local community as a leader. At the same time, his anger had prevented him from holding onto healthy relationships, with others and with himself. He left a legacy of activism, but told a story of loneliness.
With examples like this in mind, how do we separate good anger from destructive anger? How do we find the wisdom to know the difference?
I have a few thoughts on that, and I welcome any others that you can add to the mix:
– Release your anger, and move on. Shout it out, blog it out, go to the protest, hash it out with a colleague, let it fuel your big push. But, let this surge be temporary. Drain your battery before you go home for the night. A little known secret, I used to silently punch the air in the bathroom at work before leaving for the day to release that pent up energy.
– Peak underneath your anger, and be willing to deal with it. When you start to peel back the layers of your anger, you might find fear, sadness, loneliness, or heartbreak. You might find a deep yearning for more love in your life. You might find a very old anger from childhood that hasn’t been given a voice yet. Call a friend, find a coach or therapist, and give it a voice. One of the most powerful acts of self-love is being willing to face your haunted ghosts.
– Make your heart open. For all the pain and suffering, this crazy world is also a stunningly beautiful place sometimes. Tune in to the ever-present cycle of expansion and contraction, and the stability that can be found when you sink into your own body. Identify the things that make your heart open, and then find them over and over again every day.
So yes, anger might be quite controversial. On the other hand, it is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves better.
What is your journey with anger? How do you channel it into healthy outlets? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email, I’d love to talk about it.