Getting Mad

I’ve been practicing getting mad lately. That is a big deal for me, as I grew up with a strong message that anger is bad: People get hurt and go away, and that’s no good. But someone recently asked what I thought about the power of anger to motivate action. That question has really stirred me as I contemplate how angry I get in the face of lies and injustices. It wells up in me like a heat wave when I witness or even hear a news story about mistreatment of innocents, especially children and animals. Anger wants me to do something. If I witness something I most often go toward the situation with my anger in action. If it is a news story from what I consider to be a reputable source, I do what I can to find an action to take. Sometimes that is writing a letter or signing a petition. Sometimes it is just sharing the information with others so that we can be informed and aware together.

As a massage therapist some of my most important service in the world, perhaps my most sacred work, is helping people to discover and understand stored emotions; to begin mobilizing and ultimately clearing them. In reading Karla McLaren’s audio book Becoming an Empath many years ago I was deeply impacted by the way she describes the questions that our various emotions ask us to answer. Anger’s questions are, “What must be protected? What must be restored?” I recognized that, without anger, we might be complacent to the injustices in the world, failing to take action on behalf of those being targeted. I understood that my anger requires an outward action in order to bring resolution within myself. A big issue arises when we don’t move through the energy of an emotion; it gets stuck inside. I see stored emotion as the root of a prevailing sense of being a victim. It can be an enormous energy drain and leads to dis-ease (lack of ease in the physical body) that ultimately theoretically becomes disease. In bodywork circles we have a saying, “Our issues are in our tissues.”

So I have had a relationship with this concept for quite some time. Yet, while I have a habit of taking action on behalf of others, my interpersonal interactions have been a different story. I used to delude myself into believing I didn’t get angry very often, thinking of myself as having a lot of patience. But I am uncovering the truth that I have actually fairly often felt anger. Instead of taking an outward action to move the energy I stuffed a lot of it. Sometimes if it had been building up inside of me for a while it would erupt in a burst disproportionate to the moment. But most often I have used quieter, more passive aggressive means. That sucks to admit, but it is true. Acting out anger in non-productive ways such as withdrawing physically or emotionally, withholding connection, or trying to control the situation in some way ends up alienating and hurting others and me, the very thing I tried to avoid as a child.

So I am trying out a new strategy in my interpersonal interactions. Action! I am practicing noticing my rising anger and admitting it to the other person if that seems important and productive. I check in with myself about what is happening to bring up the anger and see if I can figure out what I need. And I gather the courage to express myself. Although my new anger practice feels really scary sometimes, it has been surprisingly liberating. And instead of “people getting hurt and going away”, it actually seems to open opportunities for more communication and connection. I am finding that getting mad might not be so bad after all.

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