Anger takes its time to flare up from inside of me. It smolders and burns like Hawaiian pahoehoe lava, a slowly moving flow submerged under the surface. It twists my stomach, turns and aches as my skin heats up. I notice the burning in my chest and the movement up into my throat. My breath becomes hot. Like a bull ready to charge, my nostrils flare, my eyes becomes focused and intense, and fiery energy fills my body. Even though my body is prepared for action, my first response is to shut it down. It takes time for me to recognize that my silence, avoidance and distancing are a sign of anger. It may be the next day, before I realize what I wanted to speak in the moment of a confrontation.
I had learned to control anger by suppressing it. Yet, as a result the churning in my stomach would turn into pain, nausea and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. At one point in my life, I kept a bottle of Mylanta on my desk at work and would regularly swallow large gulps of it to get through the day.
It has been a lengthy, compelling journey of getting to know this formidable energy that can so suddenly dominate my field. What I have learned is that anger demands attention and some kind of response. It is asking for something to change. It wants immediate action. Stifling or quelling anger never works. It dislikes being controlled and patronized. This goes for the anger erupting inside of you as well as what comes at you from others. People have attempted to contain and trap their anger for centuries, but it still lives inside. Held anger seethes and foments into resentment, contempt, rage and even depression.
Projecting anger explosively outward isn’t any better. Besides destroying relationships, it also diminishes your immune system. It heightens the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline and testosterone, which will increase your blood pressure, risk of heart disease and heart attacks if you habitually express your anger in this way. Both suppression and projection of anger manifest in your body with detrimental health issues ranging from insomnia, depression, headaches, stomach issues, ulcers, arthritis and skin problems to high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.
You have a “Stand Up Guardian” in Anger
It seems this culprit causes nothing but problems. So why do we have this emotion of anger? Think about when it arises. It is present, along with fear, when you are in danger in order to protect you. Anger speaks loudest when you have been violated. It arises when your values have been confronted or abused. Anger defends your ethics and morality. If by your standards and perspective you are treated unfairly, exploited, or your self-respect and esteem have been injured, anger will come to the fore to defend your honor. Anger is the “Stand-Up Righteous Guardian” that validates your beliefs and vindicates your self-worth. It keeps you from passively giving up and being helpless. Anger offers an internal validation that you and your values are worthy of upholding. It gives you an inner sense of strength to hold and preserve your dignity increasing your responsiveness and self-empowerment. It can bring you out of grief, despair and depression. Its forceful energy creates heat and expansive movement throughout every cell of your body stimulating your verve for life. You may be inspired to take action to right injustices or to make a healthy change in your life.
Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight
Get up, stand up. Life is your right
Getting to Know You, Getting to Know all about You
Figuring out how it shows up for you is part of the task of meeting and getting to know anger. For some, its appearance is so bold and disruptive that there is no doubt that anger has surfaced. For others, the slow burn of apathy, criticism and bitter cynicism can disguise its signature bluster. It is good to know your own temperament. How often do you recognize yourself experiencing anger? If you yell, scream, shout, and rage, you know anger is there. Anger is also present when you are irritated, annoyed, resentful, bitter, insulting, cross, contemptuous or offensive.
What is your Current Relationship with Anger?
Do you find it beneficial, are you unaware of it, or is it causing you or others harm? Is it affecting your relationships?
Your Anger Style
How do you respond when anger is present? Do you generally suppress or project? Do you react quickly or slowly? Are you more passive or aggressive? Are you assertive and reasonable? The passive aggressive and purely aggressive reactions may help you in the short term, yet in the long run these are always destructive to healthy relationship. Your anger style is a learned response. No matter how strong the habit you have developed, it is not fixed in stone. You have the power of choice. Knowing your prevalent style enhances your ability to choose a healthier response that is beneficial for you and others.
- Silencing, withdrawing, being cold, manipulating, being contemptuous or resentful, having righteous indignation, holding a grudge, gossiping, being mean, taking revenge
- Nagging, relentless verbal expression, obnoxiousness, insulting, intimidating, baiting, bullying, controlling, yelling, screaming, fighting, raging, hitting and causing physical harm
What to do When Anger Surfaces; Slowing down the Reaction
Breathe…always...breathe: This allows your reasoning mind to come on board and begin to calm the intensity of the anger.
Be Aware of the Physical Sensations
Notice the actual physical sensations in your body and where the anger originates. Where is it located in your body; does it move, what is the temperature? Scan your body. What do you sense in your stomach, chest, throat, arms and head? Do your muscles tense? Does your face flush or teeth grind? Are you more alert? Does your energy expand or contract or is there a mixture with some parts of you tightening or contracting and some of the energy expanding? Do you have an urge to confront, attack or fight?
Be Aware of your Impulse to React
This is the moment of choice. Pushing down anger by ignoring it or acting out anger has its consequences. Be aware of your first impulse and choose a better response.
What is Anger Upholding?
Before responding consider what anger is defending, endorsing, supporting or vindicating. What is motivating the anger?
- Value: Is this a moral or ethical value that is important to you? Is there an injustice occurring? Have you been violated or abused? What is at stake if you do or do not uphold this value?
- Need: Is my need necessary for survival? Is it giving me the energy to move out of sadness, grief, depression or a dangerous situation? Perhaps it is inspiring you take on a challenge.
- Self Esteem & Identity: When you are judged or when you judge yourself as being unacceptable, anger offers you the impetus to value and esteem yourself. There are healthy ways to stand up for yourself. Curb the impulse to escalate harm through criticizing, taking revenge or attacking.
- Wants and Desires: Is my desire in line with my highest good? Does it respect the needs, values and desires of others? Am I being self-serving or in service to all of life?
- Expectations: Do I experience anger when I do not meet an expectation of myself? Do I react with resentment when I believe others have failed to do or act in the way I expected? Am I angry if I do not get my way? Can I accept and forgive when expectations are not met?
- Self Righteousness: Anger is used to uphold a false sense of being better than others. False pride feels empowering but it actually diminishes your authentic self worth. Do I believe I am ‘the one’ with the correct knowledge and rules or that my values are the only right ones without considering others viewpoints, ethics or values?
- Past Hurt and Guilt: Anger can be triggered when an unresolved painful situation or trauma from the past is similar to something happening in the present. Anger attempts to bring forth resolution for our past hurts and failures. Am I locked in the past and taking my stored fury out on the present circumstance?
Rather than backing away from anger, I have found that it can be a resource pointing me in the direction of what is truly ailing me. Finding resolution occurs when there is deep reflection on the source, the consequences of reacting and finding what is truly important. Conflict is still not my favorite cup of tea, and anger often is contentious, but my comfort level has increased. Knowing that I primarily contain my anger has helped me to find it, welcome it and look it in the eye. An honest assessment of what is motivating the underlying root of anger has enabled me to discern how to respond in ways that sustain communication and relationships.
Before changing your dynamic of anger with others, you must first develop a relationship with anger realizing it is the Guardian of your most cherished values. It is a helpful companion that offers a moral compass. When you use this energy to inquire into the true source of what it is upholding, you can resolve much of the inner pain. Your “Stand Up” Guardian will give you the emotional courage and strength to uphold your life giving values and esteem without destructive consequences.