Author: Tom Rhodes, MFT
If we all embraced and embodied this, saying the most true thing, to ourselves, to our husbands, wives, friends, family, children, a lot of pain and suffering could be avoided. Or, once induced, it could be repaired. However, there are seemingly plenty of good reasons not to, from a certain perspective. Namely, the perspective of our own self-image. From the idea of ourself, there is a tremendous amount to be protected; our very life, at least as an idea, thought or image, is at stake. We get so stuck in protecting ourselves from this vulnerability, I think, because it is thought of to be just too painful to go deeper, to find out what lies underneath. Underneath what? Anger.
You may or may not have heard; anger is usually a ‘secondary emotion’. It can be secondary to quite a rich inner world of feeling actually. Hurt, sadness, despair, shame, to name a few.. Not for all, but perhaps for around half of us, anger is the safer, less vulnerable, easier emotion to feel and express. Anger is big, brawny, kind of a bad-ass, AND, often enough, kind of a charlatan. That’s right, it would appear that most of the time anger is not the most fundamental or useful emotion that is ‘up’ for the one emoting and expressing it. Of course, that being said, anger is not ‘wrong’, even when it’s not the most true thing, it can simply be destructive, i.e.– to relationships, to one’s deeper sense of integrity and quality of life, and in some cases to embodied life itself. There are, however, also certain expressions of anger that do serve the greater good I think. Protecting oneself or another from physical or emotional abuse or attack, anger can serve very well, can protect very well, although it’s not necessarily always a requirement for protection. The purpose of this blog and inquiry, however, is more oriented toward those moments where anger doesn’t serve and actually erodes or destroys what we don’t actually want eroded or destroyed deep down.
A catchy ‘catch-phrase’, albeit with what could be considered a pathologizing twist, for this act of self or relationship-destruction is ‘acting out’. We usually think of this term as applying to young children, perhaps in the midst of a tantrum of some kind. They want to be in control! They want their way! And they want it NOW! Sound familiar? Well, in moments of certain stressors, where that shiny red button in us gets pressed, BAM! So do we. As adults, when the underlying hurt, despair, or sadness is just too much to tolerate, usually unconsciously so, there’s our friend anger to the rescue, to protect us from what in actuality is usually a more fundamentally real and authentic emotion. So acting out, when we strip away any pathologizing associations, is really just short-hand for ‘acting outside of our own deeper truth or integrity’, or quite simply, ‘not saying the most true thing’.
It feels important to recognize and embrace the fact that we are taught this. Anger that serves to hide a more tender emotion, anger as ‘decoy’, is generally a learned or conditioned response. It usually runs on auto-pilot. It wants to control a situation, in one way or another, in the same way we were controlled, on the receiving end of ‘behavior modification’, which often involves a parent acting out their anger. I hope it comes across that my intention in presenting this subject is not to shame us in our experience of anger, nor to shame our parents and other adults in our early lives who may have unskillfully navigated their own anger, and displaced it onto us. I am coming more from the spirit of ‘Wow, look how much our relationship with anger can, in moments, prevent us from getting what we most deeply want, i.e.- being seen, heard, held, and honored while opening up our hearts and embodying a vulnerability that is true, beautiful, and fundamentally and spaciously sweet.
How to get to the heart of the truth underneath the anger? Well, not by denying it or stuffing it, but by loving it. Loving your anger is not the same as a license to let it run your life though. To love anger is to neither turn it up nor down, but to take good care of it just as it is. We can love it by feeling it stream through our bodies, like a waterfall of energy, or a mountain of groundedness, or even a pristine, open sky of clarity within.
We can also love it, and ourselves, by expressing it to the one we’re feeling it toward in a way that is self-responsible, and open to finding out what may lie underneath. An example would be something like, “I’m feeling a lot of anger toward you right now in response to what you just said, but I also want to stay in connection with you and find out what else I might be feeling.” Or, if it becomes obvious that the anger is too big to be with in a way that you may anticipate could cause unnecessary suffering and pain for yourself or, for example, your partner, then something called ‘opposite action’ is generally advised. Opposite action simply involves removing yourself from being with that person for a period of time, and expressing that you’ll come back together at a specific time after you get some space to be with yourself. I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with this. Anger, like any emotion, secondary or not, is a doorway into raw presence and ground of being. To pass through it with the blinders off, and your awareness in tact, to the degree possible, is a gift to yourself and all others you may come into contact with. This is just one of many contexts or flavors where there is an invitation for full allowance to be your most true, authentic, and alive self.