Thursday, March 5, 2015

What Anger Looks Like

Anger is an emotion that hisses and burns. It curls inside, wrapping itself around our hearts, crushing them. It burns our insides with its vitriolic fumes.

Anger also rises like a magnificent wave, and offers protection when we most need it. It helps us right our wrongs and address injustices.

It helps us claim our space and gives us the strength to stay on course.

It comes in many guises. We only identify it when we rupture, but it's also the sentry that stands guard to our souls. Only this far, and not beyond, it says. It keeps everything harmful outside.

We have to learn to use it, so it doesn't destroy us or others. We have to listen to its messages. We have to ask it questions, so that it can give us answers. What line has been crossed? What part of us needs to be defended?

In her lovely book about the meaning of feelings, The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren tells us that anger needs to be listened to and channeled, and not vented or repressed. In this wonderful post on increasing our emotional vocabulary, she tells us about what anger looks like. Just like all other emotions, anger comes in different shapes and sizes.

Sometimes, we can't recognize that what we are feeling is indeed anger because nothing we've been taught points that out. Resentment is anger. Irritation is anger. Contempt is anger. So is frustration, impatience and indifference. These are all different intensities and degrees in which anger shows us its primal face.

We don't often call these states anger, and so we don't use the information that lies encoded inside. When we are resentful, we might just seethe inside, and not really be consciously aware that we need to enforce anger's protective mechanisms.

When I am resentful, it's often because I have given too much of my self away. What needs to be done is to realize that this has happened, and to start building a fence-line around my behavior. This will help me restore a boundary, and ensure that I don't start straying into dangerous territory again.

When you start recognizing your anger -- understanding that coldness, exasperation and indignation -- are all forms of anger, you can start asking the questions that McLaren urges us to ask: What must be protected? What must be restored?

When exactly do you need to change to untangle the twistedness you feel inside? How can anger help you protect both your own boundaries and also serve others?

Once we start asking these questions, we can start course correcting. But first, we need to get familiar with the map that McLaren offers us. We need to learn what different places in our emotional lives are called. We need to expand our understanding of the routes to awareness.

When we can catch our different feelings and be able to start identifying them correctly, we will also be able to start becoming more comfortable with our inner worlds, the last frontier that we are often most afraid of.  

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