Okay, so my company is now gone, and while the house is not quiet, I can at least spend some time in my office without feeling like a poor hostess. It's still early in the day, so I'm not scrambling to play catch up. The biggest issue today is condensing my thoughts about such a huge topic into a blog-worthy length. I don't twitter, so I don't know how many people chose to participate in this challenge via twitter - but I bow in amazement to any of you who are capturing thoughts about these topics in 140 characters!!!
It feels dangerous to even open the door a little to this topic. My family did not give feelings of any kind a predominant place in our lives when I was a kid - it was a sin to be TOO anything - overjoyed, devastated, anxious, excited, sad, proud or disappointed. And God forbid anyone ever ADMIT to being angry - although everyone seemed to BE angry an awful lot. I think the message I received through osmosis about anger echoes the message children of closet alcoholics receive. It's a message where the spoken and acknowledged environment totally denies the reality of the situation, leaving a child to question whether her perception of the situation is true. The end result of this constant cognitive dissonance is a loss of trust in one's own intuition and judgment. Constantly told that one's felt and perceived reality is indeed NOT true, one loses the ability to trust any feeling or perception. While there was no alcohol involved, I experienced much of the same deception. Anger lurked under the surface almost all of the time, occasionally exploding in flash of flying sparks or sometimes bubbling through the crusty surface that looked solid but barely covered a mass of molten fire. I learned early to tread carefully and avoid the sudden shower of sparks.
I was taught to believe anger is not productive. That we should turn the other cheek. That we should make amends before the sun set, and that we should forgive and forget. But now, I believe something very different.
I believe anger is a warning sign to me that something is wrong, out of balance, unjust, or harmful. If I experience anger I need to stop and spend some time in examination of myself and of the situation. Maybe the anger has pushed me into a reactive space because it's come close to an old, vulnerable wound that I need to uncover and shine some light on in order to heal. Maybe the anger shows that something in my life is out of balance, that I am not taking responsibility to get my deepest needs met in a healthy way. Maybe the anger indicates a situation where I need to step in and lend a helping hand to someone in need or advocate on someone's behalf. Maybe the anger tells me I'm in a situation that I need to remove myself from because it is soul-killing rather than life-giving.
I'm still wrestling with these ideas. Sometimes I don't want to look at my unconscious reactions and change them into self-awareness. I get frustrated with external situations that cause me anger, and I'm still in the process of trying to figure out where I should advocate and where I need to let be. Anger directed toward me feels uncomfortable, and I still feel a sense of guilt when I experience anger toward someone else.
But I believe that anger must be honored. I believe it's okay to be angry. I believe the heat of anger, appropriately managed, can fuel great personal growth and social change.
I do want to add a caveat - anger inappropriately managed - can of course cause great harm. In my anger, I do not have a right to harm anyone else. I do not have a right to inflict injury on another because I am angry. Out of control anger is dangerous.
I believe that using anger as an internal temperature gauge can be very useful - and acknowledging the feeling and using the anger to point to the areas of growth - is one of the most beneficial things I can do.
I believe learning to approach anger with curiosity rather than fear changes everything.