Awesome Brie’s Burning Question: “Hi Melody, you often mention anger as part of a process in becoming aware of our feelings/ becoming aligned with our truth. It seems you encourage anger as it is better than suppressing our feelings. What about if someone is driven to explosive anger with nothing in between rational and angry? My boyfriend expresses all emotions other than happiness as anger, no matter what he is feeling; fear, anxiety, impatience, frustration, etc… If this anger is actually helping him be in touch with his true feelings, when will he constructively react to life? Is this really a pathway to self-awareness or an excuse to behave selfishly as it’s the only way he knows and doesn’t reach for more effective resolutions to deal with his feelings?”
Dear Awesome Brie,
Anger is indeed an incredibly important, healing emotion. It’s also, unfortunately, the most misunderstood of all the feelings.
What anger is
Although I’ve written about anger before, I’m always happy to extoll the virtues of this incredible emotion. Anger, in a nutshell, is the emotion that takes you from powerlessness to empowerment. When you’re stuck in depression or sadness, for example, and you reach for a better feeling vibration, it will be anger that comes up for you. Think of it this way: if you’re cowering in the corner and you’re being beaten up, it feels a hell of a lot better to get mad, stand up and fight back. The anger is what makes it possible to move from that powerless, “I just have to sit here and take this” place into “I’ve had enough of this! Prepare your bottom for a thorough kicking, good sir!”
Anger is what fuels revolutions. People will feel more and more powerless under a dictatorial regime, for example, until it simply becomes too painful to sustain. At that point, they finally allow their rage to come out, and they go and overthrow the government, or behead someone, or organize themselves into unions. Anger is what gets you to quit that job you’ve hated for years or finally stand up to your mother in law. Anger can be incredibly useful when used constructively.
It can, of course, also be used destructively. This is what we see when we witness violent rage, people hurting others, bullying, destruction of property, and the aforementioned beheadings. In our society, we tend to think that those destructive anger releases are what all anger looks like, but that’s actually incorrect.
The scary kind of anger is a result of a fear of anger:
- We teach our children not to be angry and that anger is wrong (instead of discouraging certain displays of anger, we demonize the emotion itself).
- We punish displays of anger, instead of getting to the root of the problem, encouraging people to try and simply control their behavior instead of the underlying causes. That never works and solves nothing.
- We fail to teach our children how to deal with anger properly and constructively, thereby giving them no outlet for this emotion and shutting down the process of empowerment.
As you may have gathered, I consider this a systemic problem, at the root of much of society’s ills. Generations of powerlessness, locked in due to an inability and reluctance to release anger, have filled our prisons, kept huge segments of our population in poverty and caused more suffering than all other belief systems combined. Beliefs that cause various forms of powerlessness are one thing. A blanket belief that inhibits our ability to shift those powerless beliefs does far more damage.
What most people think of when they hear “anger” is actually suppressed anger – powerlessness that has been squashed due to a belief that showing any signs of being angry is BAD. Perhaps we are afraid of hurting others’ feelings (or worse), of being punished, or of simply not being heard. When we allow anger to flow freely, in its natural state, it takes seconds to move from a place of powerlessness to empowerment.
If you’ve ever seen a small child playing with a toy he’s not yet quite ready to master, you may have witnessed natural anger. The child, unable to do what he wants to do, gets frustrated. He may cry a bit and wave his little arms about. But, providing he hasn’t already picked up limiting beliefs about anger, the tantrum will be over quickly. He’ll go through the process of feeling powerless (I can’t do this!) to anger (shifting out of powerlessness) and into recovery (moving on to play with something else) in a short amount of time.
No traumatic imprint will be left, no limiting belief will be formed. The child will NOT have decided that the toy doesn’t work the way he wants to because there’s something wrong with him. It was the ability to release anger in a healthy way, to shift to a better feeling energy, that prevented the forming of the limiting belief. Are you beginning to get a glimpse of just how powerful and important a healthy relationship to anger is?
If the child, however, is stopped from having such a release, if he is punished for or discouraged from crying and pouting, he will then get the idea that something is wrong with him. He has been given the confusing message that following the natural process of feeling better is bad, that his emotions are bad, and that he is, therefore, bad. Mind you, I’m not advocating for uncontrolled, destructive anger releases all around. If a child hits another kid, he can be taught not to do that. But there’s a difference between teaching a child that hitting (the anger display) is wrong, and making the entire emotion wrong (it’s wrong to be angry). The former does, of course, require more effort since the parent or authority figure now has to offer an alternative way to release the anger, which can be a challenge when their upbringing was based on the same anger-demonizing beliefs.
Please note that the failure to allow anger is not at the root of ALL limiting beliefs. I’ve simplified this example to make a point. It would be more accurate to state that ANY failure to allow ANY emotion will lead to the formation and retention of resistance.
The relief valve
When we suppress anger, it doesn’t just go away. Instead, like the steam in a pressure cooker that’s been left on the stove, it builds. And like that pressure cooker, it can’t keep on building up indefinitely. At some point, she’s gonna blow. This is when you see explosions of rage and violence. During this type of anger release, the urge to relieve the pressure can be so great that the person literally loses their ability to think straight. All that matters is getting relief.
Once some of the steam has been let out of the kettle, however, cognitive function returns quickly, causing the angry person to realize what they’ve just said/done/thrown, making them aware of how they must look to others, and usually effectively shutting down their anger release before it’s over. So, while the immediate discomfort has been alleviated, the actual problem hasn’t. The source of the powerlessness (which is what the anger was designed to shift) hasn’t been released. The steam in the pressure cooker begins, once again, to build up. The next explosive anger release is just a matter of time. If the person is then punished for that display of anger and made to feel even more powerless, the degree of the pressure can actually be increased (think of prisons as big, giant, pressure cookers), causing once relatively minor outbursts to turn violent.
On a smaller, every day scale, this can take the form of bitchy, little, passive aggressive comments, temper tantrums and of course, alcohol fueled assholiness. In other words, when your boyfriend explodes, he’s letting off some of this built up steam.
Why he’s not improving
The problem with repressing anger until it can’t help but explode out of us is that, as I said, we tend to come to our senses after the first initial bit of pressure has been let out and, in an attempt to be socially acceptable and not get into trouble, we shut down the anger release. Because we don’t know how to let the anger out constructively (most people don’t even know that this is possible), we never actually complete the shift from powerlessness into empowerment. We become stuck.
Your boyfriend doesn’t seem to be improving because, although he’s releasing anger, he’s only letting it out in little explosive bursts. He’s not ever actually shifting the underlying energy. The fact that almost all of his emotions are being released as anger would indicate that he’s been suppressing it for a long time. Suppressed anger that continues to be suppressed doesn’t get better. It’s a bit like being constipated, if you get my point. This doesn’t mean that your boyfriend will necessarily become violent (it’s all a matter of degrees). But it could lead to him yelling at his boss one day. Long-term suppressed anger can also and often does lead to illness. Or, it could just turn him into a giant douchebag (see how I lightened the mood there?).
How to use anger properly
Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple solution to all this: All your boyfriend has to do is allow himself to have a constructive anger release (or 20). I actually wrote a whole blog post on how to do this, which you can read here: What To Say When Others Won’t Let You Be Angry.
Basically, if your boyfriend realizes that anger is actually a healthy emotion, and then creates an environment in which he can display his anger safely, therefore allowing him to let the release come to its full conclusion, the underlying powerlessness will be shifted. You see, if you’ve fully released anger, you’re not angry anymore. You may be exhausted and tired or even just kind of numb (releasing large amounts of repressed anger can lead to the Void), but you don’t have to “pull yourself together”. You don’t have to practice control. The pressure is gone. And you feel well and truly better. You will also often be flooded with insights at this point. You’ll understand what the anger was actually about (it’s hardly ever about the thing that triggered it), and you’ll be able to finally tell a new, better feeling story.
Now, it’s important to note that you can’t let go of years of repressed anger in one go. Your boyfriend will have to do this exercise multiple times. The trick is for him to notice when he’s being triggered and then allow that anger to be released in a constructive way (I explain how in the anger post I linked to above). The beauty of it is, though, that once he’s let go of at least some of the pressure, his anger releases will become far less explosive. He’ll have more control over how and when he lets go of his anger. When you actually allow the anger to do its job, it dissipates pretty quickly.
How to help
I truly believe that suppressed anger is responsible for much of the violence in this world, although that doesn’t mean I excuse it. I do think that we’re all responsible for evaluating our own responses. But, I also believe that if you are taught to release your anger in a violent way, you’re going to be very prone to doing the same.
I know, I went a bit overboard in answering your question, Awesome Brie (I hijacked your question to make a bigger point). But helping people understand the power of constructive and healing anger is a total passion of mine. You asked if your boyfriend was actually getting in touch with his emotions or being selfish. I would say neither. Selfishness would imply that he’s aware that he could truly feel better but is choosing not to. I promise you, that’s never the case. No one consciously chooses to stay in suffering when they see a valid (to them!) way to stop it. But he’s also not really getting in touch with his emotions, either. He’s just letting off some steam, letting it re-build, only to blow his stack again a few days or weeks later.
This is going to sound weird, but if you want to help your boyfriend, you can do so by actually encouraging his anger. I don’t mean that you should do your best to piss him off. I mean, don’t take his anger personally, and encourage him to let it out. Ask him to tell you why he’s so mad. Keep him talking and keep him focused in an angry state. Or encourage him to go for a run, punch a couch cushion or a punching bag. I would strongly suggest that you talk to him before you attempt this, though. If he has an intellectual understanding of the process, he’ll be much more likely to allow the full anger release. In any case, he’ll have to feel safe to let his anger out in order to allow it (this is why I usually recommend doing a constructive anger release while alone). Creating an environment in which anger can be expressed in a healthy way will also help you with your own anger issues (we’ve all got them; don’t even pretend you don’t).
My personal experience
I’ve got another Peru story for you! Yay! I was with the most awesome group of people in this healing center. After a rather, um, difficult healing experience (I puked for 12 hours. No, it was not pleasant. Yes, in hindsight it was totally worth it. No you should not try this at home), I experienced some anger. In the interest of honesty, I must confess that by “some anger” I mean that I was so pissed off I actually wanted the waitress at the restaurant we were at to give us bad service so I could gleefully rip their face off (she did, and I didn’t). I hadn’t felt anger like that in a long time. Now, because I know what anger is and how to work with it, I didn’t suppress it. I let it out. I didn’t lash out at anyone, but if someone asked me how I was doing, I told them. I was mad. And I wanted to bitch about it. I had no idea why I was so angry; the source of whatever powerlessness I was unleashing hadn’t revealed itself. I just had to trust that something good was going to come out of all this snarkiness.
The reason I’m telling you this story is twofold: One, I want you to understand that anger is normal and healthy and we all experience it. It’s just an emotion and you will never reach a stage where you’re “beyond” it. Your anger will become less volatile, less explosive and the things that make you angry will change. The problem is not anger, but suppressed anger.
The second reason I wanted to share this story with you is to illustrate how freeing it is when you’re in the presence of people who get it. Not one of the members of our little group tried to shut down my anger release (for the record, I wouldn’t have let them. I would’ve left). They knew that my emotional reaction had nothing to do with them, and that nothing had gone wrong. None of them let my mood or energy affect them. This gave me the freedom to really feel my own emotions without having to worry about anyone’s feelings getting hurt (nothing quite like having to babysit someone through your own anger release…) Even though I never directed my anger AT anyone, most people are so uncomfortable with anger that they try to shut it down even if the person is just keeping to themselves. I was allowed to go through my process, while being a part of the group and benefiting from their energy. I was able to move through the anger relatively quickly (it took me a couple of hours to really feel better) and by the next morning I’d fully cleared the underlying issue.
To me, this was an incredibly beautiful experience. I saw a glimpse of the future, of what it will be like when most people understand their emotions and how to connect to one another authentically. I experienced safety among a group of strangers, people I hadn’t known for more than a few days, but who were so in touch with their inner beings that they all intuitively knew how to support me. The path to peace, to happiness, to enlightenment sometimes leads us through anger. And when it does, we can’t shrink away from it. We can’t suppress it or be afraid. We have to face it, embrace it, allow it and let it do its job. We have to see it for the healer that it is. We have to learn how to be gloriously, furiously, and constructively angry. We have to teach our children that anger is ok and how to express it in a healthy way. This is how we finally shift our cultural powerlessness. This is how we heal the world.