"We know that anger can be a kind of compost, and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful." ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Anger gets a bad rap. It’s true, when anger takes over it can lead to unhealthy behavior: aggression, volatility, violence, hatred. But anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger is a healthy human emotion that we need to survive. When anger becomes chronic or unmanageable it can damage our relationships and physical health. When we refuse to express anger it often grows more uncontrollable and unruly, wreaking havoc on our system.
So, what do we do with anger?
Anger is the recognition that we have been wronged. Anger is connected to our fight-flight-freeze response: when we feel threatened, afraid, disturbed, helpless, distressed, or roused from a more peaceful state of being, anger may arise.
Anger is an essential part of the healing process. Through anger we recognize our worth and the worth of others. Anger helps us say, I don’t/didn’t deserve that. Anger can fuel us to make changes and move towards justice. Anger can be the spark without being the raging all-consuming fire.
How do we work with this powerful emotion and harness the energy of anger for potential growth?
All of our emotions deserve space and attention. When we bring mindfulness to anger, we can observe the experience so we do not become overwhelmed by it. Anger becomes less destructive when we give it room to breathe. When we explore anger, we have the opportunity soften toward it and understand it better. When we come to know anger we can make conscious choices about what to do with that energy.
Mindful Exploration of Anger
I invite you to consider this process of observing anger:
Recognize/Label it: this is anger
Notice triggers: what activated this anger?
Turn your attention inward: rather than blaming or accusing others, notice what's happening internally
Notice body sensations: what does anger feel like? where does anger live in your body?
Allow your breath to lengthen: try breathing in for 4 and out for 6
Maybe let anger know, "it’s ok that you are here."
Be curious about what is beneath the anger
Cultivate compassion for the part of you that is angry, hurt, suffering
Consider whether your anger might be channeled into healthy expression or action
Healthy Expression of Anger
I invite you to engage in these activities when anger arises:
Journal: write about your anger or maybe give your anger voice and let it speak
Unsent letter: write an unsent letter to the person/people/institution that hurt you
Paint/Draw: allow anger to take on color, form, texture, shape
Movement: walk, run, jump, dance, kickbox, allow the emotion to flow through you
Hit a pillow, squeeze a ball, crumple/rip paper
Make noise: find a safe solitary space to release sound (sigh, scream, sing, growl)
Tense and release the muscles in your body (hold tension for 10 seconds then release)
Deep breathing: try taking 10 slow deep breaths
Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and/or Meditation
I hope exploring anger helps you find compassion for the fire within you so that you can cultivate it for good.
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