What’s your capacity to be embodied, present and engaged with anger?
Before we jump into this topic, it might be helpful to reflect for a moment on your relationship with anger:
- When you read or hear the word “anger,” what do you notice in your body?
- In your personal history, what has happened when you experience or display anger?
- What do you feel or notice in yourself when someone around you is angry? Do you feel like you need to get away, or fix the the problem for them?
- Do you feel like anger is related to violence or aggression?
- How was anger treated in your spiritual or religious background, or in your current spiritual practice?
- Does anger feel uncomfortable, scary, wrong, or like something that needs to be soothed or solved?
- Are there potentially negative consequences when someone who looks like you (or who is part of a group that you identify with) displays anger?
While each of us will have a different response to these questions, I hope they’ve triggered some interesting inquiries for you. Anger is a complicated emotion, and it’s not an easy one. Many of us tend to think of anger as something that is negative, or an emotion that we want to stop as quickly as possible.
But anger is a powerful and motivational emotion. It arises to help us protect and defend:
- when a boundary has been crossed
- when something under our protection is threatened
- when we perceive danger
- when we feel that our values, dignity, body, soul, wellbeing, or community are not respected.
Anger is not the same as violence or aggression. It is an emotion, not an action. It’s possible to be simultaneously angry, loving, and completely functional.
Many of us have not learned how to safely experience anger in our bodies.
There are many reasons why this might be the case. For example, abuse or trauma may have taught us that any anger is dangerous. In this case, the experience of anger can feel literally unbearable. We will do anything to avoid anger– our own or others’. We might feel like we need to appease or engage in codependent behaviors. Or we will flee or shut down if anger arises. Our own anger can be numbed, suppressed, or bypassed.
It’s also possible that our culture or family values may have taught us that we should not express anger. What messages do you remember receiving about anger? Were you allowed or encouraged to express anger as a child, or were you taught (implicitly, if not explicitly) that anger was not acceptable?
For marginalized or minority groups, expressing anger can be dangerous or hold one back from social advantages (progressing in a career, etc). These folks will have learned that in order to survive or succeed in life, anger must be suppressed.
But all of us experience anger in some way, even if we are not allowed to express it overtly. It leaks into other areas of our life and cause serious issues— ranging from physical illness to painful mental states like depression.
Learning to embody anger helps to restore our sense of wholeness & dignity.
When anger arises, it’s possible to experience it as a generative emotion, rather than something to be avoided. Embodying anger– that is, experiencing it in our bodies in a way that does not overwhelm us– gives us the opportunity to use it wisely. We are better able to understand when a boundary is crossed, or when we need to defend ourselves or something we value.
Learning to experience anger in this way gives us the opportunity to integrate the parts of ourselves that we have had to hide or deny. It can help us to recover our sense of our own value and worth.
We can also increase our capacity to be present (and not flee or fix) when others are angry.
We can train our capacity for embodied anger.
There are many ways to improve our capacity to hold and experience anger in our bodies. Like any other training, it takes time and patience. It’s also crucial that we work with someone who is able to experience and be present with our emotions in a neutral way.
I am not talking about those places where you go in with a hammer and break a bunch of stuff– that can be overwhelming, which does nothing to increase our capacity and can be more detrimental than beneficial.
Nor am I interested in a practice that encourages “letting go,” “releasing,” or otherwise soothing anger away. This bypasses our own potential for growth (and often reinforces harmful cultural ideas about anger).
My experience is that through embodiment and movement practices, folks learn that not only is their anger not inherently problematic– it is profoundly healing.