I am not an angry person, I am a repressed person. My tendency is to get down and turn inward rather than angry and lash out. If something p*sses me off I’ll tie myself up in knots thinking of the ways that the situation could have been my fault or how actually, I’m over-reacting.
I’ll try to think of reasons why the other person has behaved in that way. These days I’ll try to apply some psychobabble logic about how their childhood has made them behave this way.
I think this makes me a bigger person but, actually, it doesn’t. Not really. It’s patronising and a massive cop out. It’s just another way of denying reality, of not really feeling what you’re feeling or thinking that I don’t have a right to feel the way I feel. It’s not honest.
But this last couple of weeks I’ve realised that you can understand why people behave in a certain way and you can feel empathy for what they’ve gone through but you can also feel F**KING FURIOUS with the mess they’ve made.
And far from being a bad thing – you actually you HAVE to go through that feeling of rage if you want to move on.
I think I’ve mentioned a guy called Jeff Brown before. He was a corporate lawyer who had some form of existential, ‘what’s it all about?’ crisis – I guess like I’m doing now. He now writes books and I think he explains complex emotions really well.
Last week he put up these these two status updates on FB:
‘Anger is a river. It wants to be released into the vaster ocean. It wants to move naturally. When we repress it with premature forgiveness, block it with false positivity, repress it in the name of pseudo-peace, we just dam(n) our natural flow. The river then turns inward, against the self, or explodes outwardly, against innocents. Better we express it when it is in our awareness- not in a way that is destructive to humanity- but in a way that is authentic and that restores the integrity of our being. Anger isn’t the enemy. Misplaced anger is. Let the river flow…’
‘Forgiveness is one of the primary mantras preached by the ungrounded spirituality movement. This is not to say that forgiveness is a bad thing, but it is not the first place to go after an abusive relationship or traumatic experience. Healing is. Putting our focus on forgiving a wrongdoer before we have actually worked through our anger and our pain is another way the new age movement sidesteps their own unresolved shadow and the principles of accountability. I knew someone who had been stabbed by a lunatic and while they were bleeding, they were doing a forgiveness mantra for the stabber. Good thing someone else called an ambulance, or they would have died. When it comes down to it, healing and forgiving ourselves is the important step. If forgiveness of other arises organically, so be it. If it doesn’t, it’s not important. We are not responsible for those who wound us.’
These updates made so much sense to me. I’ve always tried to skip straight to forgiveness, I’ve tried to wrap things up in a nice bow but the result is a load of repressed feelings that are coming out in ways that I’m sure I won’t understand until I look back years from now.
When I did the Hoffman Process there was an exercise where we had to bash a big cushion with a baseball bat while screaming and shouting. The idea was to get out all the bad thoughts you have in your head towards yourself and towards the people in your life.
It was one of those moments when I felt sure there was a hidden camera in the corner of the room getting footage for some Ruby Wax style documentary. I felt mortified that somehow my life had come to this. I mean, bloody hell, I thought I was better than that.
Anyway, I’m not and it was brilliant.
When we started, some people could get straight into it. They shouted and roared at the top of their voices. I was embarrassed and self-conscious. I found it hard to raise my voice at all. It occurred to me that I have never ever – and I don’t think this is an exaggeration – expressed anger and yelled in public. I told you I was repressed.
To do it – even when it wasn’t being directed anywhere except a cushion – felt frightening. It felt ugly. It’s not something nice girls do.
They told us to keep going, even if we felt awkward and thought it was silly. They yelled at us to yell louder. We did. Three or more hours later I was the last person in the room, yelling, swearing and battering that blue velvet cushion into oblivion. Everyone else had gone to dinner without me even noticing.
I could have gone on all night, a full week actually. It was liberating and exhilarating but it was also quite shocking to think about all the rage that was in there. All those years of biting my tongue, of being nice, of never raising my voice, of people pleasing, of wanting to do anything to calm things down… well, it all stayed in my body.
In the real world it’s hard to know how to express anger in a ‘healthy way’. Until now I have relied on passive aggression, self-loathing and snapping at poor telesales people.
But in the last couple of weeks my anger has been off the scale – way beyond being sh*tty to cold callers. I haven’t known what to do with it.
So what I’ve done is try to take up angry running. Ha! No really I have. The theory at least is that I pound my anger away on the road and listen to really loud rage-y music.
Last week I tried to take my aggression for a run around Hampstead Heath. The weather was crap – there was a dull drizzle and the sky was grey. It suited my mood. I pictured myself in some sort of movie scene, you know the one where the lead character says enough is enough, things are going to change… a Rocky moment.
There’s just one problem – I AM SO UNFIT. I can channel my rage into a minute and a half of pathetic semi jogging before having to take it back to a walk. Oh well. It’s better than nothing.
I think there’s quite a lot of theory around how important physical movement is in helping to let things go – especially if you live, like me, in your head and on a laptop. My friend does something called Five Rhythms dance and she says it’s amazing what comes out when you do it – anger, sadness, ecstasy – the whole shebang. It’s on my list of things to try.
My other thought about anger is that it’s important to accept that you actually are angry – don’t try to wiggle out of it. In our house we were brought up to believe that anything short of death didn’t really warrant a reaction, to always think of how lucky we are and how much worse it could be.
This is healthy but only to a point. We are all human beings who are allowed feelings. The trick is how to express them without hurting others.
Does anyone have any ideas on that?
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