Friday, February 20, 2015

Boundaries and HSPs

In her insightful book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren talks eloquently about how all emotions come to us with their own, specific gifts. This is true even for the so-called negative emotions like anger and fear. They speak of our deeper truths, truths we don't want to deal with, but that ask us to pay attention, so we can grow into more of who we are.

Anger is one such emotion, and the truths it tells can be troublesome. As sensitive people, we might try to turn away from anger. Many of us identify closely with being "nice," and when anger comes calling, we might try to avoid it because we don't want anything to challenge this self we have constructed. 

We are the perpetually giving ones. We are the ones who don't turn other people down. We are the ones who are always "so understanding." 

We are all these things, and yet, sometimes, we feel like we are cut into a thousand pieces exactly because we do this. Instead of making a whole offering to the world, we are giving in bite-size acts to whoever asks us, and whenever they ask us. 

Doing this means we never get to really create something of lasting value. It means that we blur our sense of who we are when we step this way and that to be all things to all people. 

Anger, for us, is a useful guest. It points to the places of our violation. It tells us what feels good and what doesn't. It informs us of all the areas where we feel short-changed. It prods us: What are we going to do about it?

Because it asks so many uncomfortable questions, we normally default to what we have always done - repress it. So, we abandon ourselves, feel apathetic or depressed, and sense that our boundaries are shaky. Without hearing what anger has to say, we feel powerless, victimized. 

And yet, we don't know what to do with our feelings of outrage, with an anger that feels like it can go dangerously out of control. This might be one pitfall of being a sensitive person. 

We can see so easily all the ways in which expression can go wrong, or confrontation can go wrong that we swing to the opposite side of the pendulum and focus on maintaining an unnatural calm.  

That, of course, doesn't help us. And neither does venting anger, McLaren tells us. Exploding with anger only makes us feel horribly ashamed of ourselves. In fact, people who have serious anger issues can actually end up feeling debased, as if they have done something wrong. 

Anger can become a weapon that hurts both others and themselves. 

So, what do we do with anger if neither venting nor repressing are healthy alternatives. The answer is that anger actually informs us of what is going wrong, so it points to the need for action. 

Instead of merely repressing anger, next time, maybe if you listen to it and decide what action you can take, that could be immensely helpful. Maybe you will decide that you build up resentment when you give away too much of yourself. Then, you might step back and instead of just getting angry at people who do the taking, you can tune in and ask yourself, "Why am I so invested in being nice?," "What would happen if I didn't go along, if I didn't do what I normally do?"

Maybe you'll find that you have gotten the most appreciation for being "nice" in your life and so, it has become something that now holds you back. Maybe you'll find that you never learnt to give yourself positive strokes, and so, getting approval now stands in place of that. 

Maybe you'll have to take apart different areas of the structure of your life to figure out what exactly stops you from having and maintaining boundaries. 

In the meanwhile, you and I can listen to McLaren's wise words and pay attention to the rising energy of our anger. The roots of the word emotion point to the fact that they are something that moves us. Anger will move us too. 

One way to process and let go of its vigorous energy might be vigorous exercise or dancing. That way, some of the stagnant energy that creates so much pressure inside us, can find relief. This can give us time to think about what's the best thing to do right now, instead of stewing in the negativity. 

What about you? What is your anger trying to tell you? What will its healthy expression look like?   

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