The Masks of Anger

Since I started my Shifting Anger workshops, I’ve been looking more at what other people have to say about anger. We seem to be a society of people, at least in the US, who have poor emotional language. We weren’t trained to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, for the most part, and a lot of us are used to having our feelings invalidated. As children, we were told to feel differently than we did, or our feelings were misinterpreted and labeled as something else. Consequently, there are a lot of people who default to unproductive anger rather quickly.

Some of the feelings that mutate into anger for a lot of us:

  • Grief
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Overwhelm
  • Confusion
  • Hurt feelings
  • Discomfort
  • Physical pain
  • Disappointment
  • Loneliness or not feeling “a part of”
  • Fear

If we can train ourselves to examine, when we initially realize we are in anger, what the underlying feeling is, we can start to look at root causes, and get back into solutions and take appropriate action.

The first step in this is to train ourselves to recognize when we’re going into anger before it gets too strong of a hold on us. The best way I know of is to identify the body feel of anger. Think about the last time you were angry. Bring your attention into your body, and locate where the sensation of anger was centered. Is that sensation hot or cold? Tight or loose? Smooth or prickly? Steady or throbbing? It might feel empty or full, or like it has a push or a pull. Take some notes, so you can refer back to it. Now think about another recent time you were angry, and do the same exerise. You may be surprised to see there are some differences from the first example you examined. Do the exercise for at least 5 different instances of anger, taking notes each time.

Now think of rolling around with the baby animals of your choice, just to reset your body chemistry.

Referring to your notes, what were the similarities across the board in body feel? What were the differences? Looking back at each example, were there other patterns in sensation you might not have picked up on initially? These are the patterns you are going to do your best to start to identify when they are happening. You’re not going to do it perfectly. You might not realize you’re in it for several minutes or more. Sometimes you might not even think about it until you have calmed down. If you remember after the fact, go back and recall the body feel. No matter when you recognize that it is happening, recognition really is the first step. Recognition brings you into the now and puts you back in the driver’s seat. And recognition is a muscle of sorts that has to be exercised. With practice, you will get better at it.

The sensations you are training yourself to recognize stem from a chemical reaction, in your body, in response to a stimulus. They are verifiable, scientific things. So stay with them. Continue pulling your attention into them. Your thoughts are less important than the verifiable information. Stay with the body feel, to the best of your ability, until the sensations subside. This means your chemistry has returned to normal.

Now you can use your mind. Without the hook of your reaction, what set you off? What was the situation, and what was your pre-anger reaction? Was it one of the emotions listed above? As you are looking at it, some of the emotions may come back; if they do, just go back to continually pulling your attention into the sensations of it.

Now, do you need to do anything about the original situation? If so, what are some solutions that will result in long term positive outcome? Long term solutions are much more desirable than short term ones. Ultimately, the goal should be to improve your life. So look at actions that you can take, because this is something you can have control of, that can lead to long term solutions, even if they’re just baby steps? Forward motion is forward motion.

The overwhelming passion of anger has a strong chemical reaction, so it has strong sensations. That makes it easier to focus into and identify. In doing so, we take our power back, and we can take effective action. The action our anger calls us to can be constructive rather than destructive. It can pull us closer to each other, rather than pushing people away.

If you are interested in playing with this idea more in person, the Shifting Anger workshop meets on the first Wednesday of the month at La Luna Healing in Newhall, CA (the north end of Los Angeles county).

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