You have to take care of your anger to move through it
Spoiler Alert: This is a bit of a personal diatribe. If it feels too long and “ranty”, click right here to bypass the anger and go straight to the helpful suggestions about how to tame your anger when it’s eating you alive…
I’ve been mad. Not mad insane. MAD ANGRY. I am outraged about all the madness going on (and here I mean mad insane). I think actually that I’ve called it madness as a way of protecting myself – if other people‘s behavior is crazy or insane or outright mad, I can manage at least a little bit of empathy for them – they know not what they do… They can’t be blamed for their thoughtless comments; poor judgment. They are acting this way because of some underlying complex factors that I am not aware of yet. They must be suffering from fear or hurt and can’t access any kind way to communicate that. They are at the mercy of their mental illness…
But after this last week of Senate Judiciary committee hearings with Judge Kavanaugh, I have no empathy. I am incensed and furious about what I perceive as a complete lack of judgment, compassion or wisdom, and in fact an excess of calculated, deliberate, purposeful, vengeful and harmful words and actions. I am mad about the injustice of it all.
This anger has hit me like a tidal wave, making every little or big situation be kindling for my fire of rage. As a result, I realize how generalized and over the top my reactionary rage has been.
I AM MAD…
At the noise level in a restaurant, where I can hardly hear the person I am meeting with.
At two white women who obliviously entered the crosswalk in front of me as I was ready to turn left, moments before it turned green for me; trapping me…
At the service technician to come to my house, no less than five times to repair my dishwasher, And piece by piece, bolt by bolt, has replaced parts and rebuilt it rather than replace it altogether through the policy I have, through which I have already paid enough for a brand new machine. And mad at each technician who has complained about every previous technician who did not do his job right, who in fact put in pieces backwards! And mad that even after this last service visit, my dishwasher is still not working properly!
I HAVE BEEN MAD…
At my friend, a rich white powerful male (who is one of the good guys) who came to me at an event and was disappointed with me that I couldn’t offer him words of solace and hope, to make him feel better after the emotional week he had had listening to the hearings of Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh… Talk about white male privilege! Why isn’t he sharing his outrage and disappointment with all those powerful white males who don’t live by the rules they make or who have separate “rules” for themselves? And with whom he has much greater access than I?!
At every man, just because he is a man. I have been over generalizing my anger and disgust toward all of them – regretfully, even disparaging all the good guys.
At the black prospective mayoral candidate, who only acknowledged the men around me at an event, and did not shake my hand or introduce himself to me; making me invisible. What? My vote doesn’t matter to him?
At the guys I know and care about who have admitted to me their own improper behavior toward females while they were in high school.
At the two black guys who came to my door trying to sell (very expensive) magazines as a means of supporting themselves and who challenged me when I did not buy, with ‘didn’t I agree that people need second chances?’
I AM ANGRY…
At the ways so many people are leading with, and over-fueling their anger as they communicate with loved ones, and seeming to not care about the negative impact their rage has on those loved ones.
At the TSA customs officer who treated me like a criminal, recently when I traveled internationally and he barked at me; had his associate pat me down completely from head to toe; threatened to and did throw away my belongings in the airport security line, and scared and humiliated me as I was in his country and felt targeted, being one of the darker people in the line. (I had nightmares about this later, when I was in my own bed, and struggled with a suffocating sense that I could not breathe. This was just a little trauma and yet it stayed with me for days).
At the anxiety, shame, trauma, overwhelm, visceral shaking and quaking that so many of my clients and loved ones have experienced or had re-triggered this week, after listening to the hearings for our next supreme court justice. Many are talking to me as if they have just been raped (literally and figuratively) and telling me their stories again, or for the first time. I am angry that they’ve been knocked down from an already vulnerable position of balance, having worked very hard (or not yet been able to do the work) and having found a tiny place of healing or safety, where their daily lives are not completely consumed and determined by that horrible trauma they experienced at an earlier time in their lives. Things they thought had been put in place have re-emerged as disruptive, invasive and devastating, as if it were all happening again, and their world is rocked.
At the reminders of my own experiences as a teenager of having been sexually exploited by an older white good ole boy/man.
At the sense of hopelessness, I feel.
I AM OUTRAGED…
At the terrible terrible heartbreaking interrogation done of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – having to answer absurd questions, so many that so clearly had nothing to do with the trauma she had experienced, but that grilled her publicly for hours. I felt I was witnessing a grueling therapy session that was actually re-traumatizing in that moment. I wanted to be a kind caring listening therapist to her, and support her in her struggle, but could not protect her. I learned a lot from her about how to be vulnerable and strong at the same time, and how to handle one’s emotions honestly, even when in the middle of trauma. I hope she didn’t watch Kavanaugh‘s interview since that would’ve only traumatized her further.
At Kavanaugh‘s defensive, petulant, entitled, compassion-less, lying, disrespectful, narcissistic “testimony“ after Dr. Ford’s courageous, heartfelt, honest, vulnerable and incredibly strong testimony at the hearing.
At the rules made by the good old boys network that is so biased and only good for one side and that was practiced and heralded by most of the old white male senators at the hearings – the unfairness of it all is so maddening.
At the lies blatantly spoken and emotionally cried about in Kavanaugh’s testimony.
At the utter disrespect shown by Kavanaugh to Senator Klobuchar when he turned her questions about his drinking onto her.
I AM ANGRY…
At the man who sat across from me while I was dining, who winked at me and blew me a kiss and licked his lips while staring at me.
At the members of my family who perpetuated any kind of sexually abusive or otherwise abusive behavior.
At the horror of watching Trump publicly shame, blame and basically re-traumatize Dr. Ford – who has more courage in her little pinky than he has in his whole life. And at yet another demonstration of him having no empathy/compassion whatsoever. I am angry to witness his vileness.
At the sham of the investigation the FBI conducted, and the restrictions put out by the White House of who’s truth would be considered.
At the invasiveness of receiving a ‘Presidential Alert’ on my cell phone. How fu**ing dare he come into my personal space? I don’t know about you, but I feel as if all of my devices have been hacked and are operating in a dysfunctional way, since that alert. Later it occurred to me that this warning of ‘something terrible is happening’, was indeed a true and accurate metaphor for the times.
At myself for allowing a couple I was seeing to carry on a long hurtful argument with one another, right in front of me, without helping them to have understanding or compassion for one another. I essentially stood by and witnessed them injure one another…My deepest apologies for my overwhelmed inaction…
At a guy who has known me for a long time and reminded me that I stole and shoplifted when I was in high school. He then questioned if I should be judged for that misbehavior, in my role today as a therapist.
At the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, even though there is nothing just or fair or honorable about him…
These are but a few of the many transgressions I have had a strong reaction to in the last ten days, that have connected me to a deep anger within. Some have brought forth an over-reaction on my part, or an irritation, or some a sense of long standing resentment, or a brooding grievance. Some have brought forth outright rage. I have been like a bundle of fireworks, one setting off the other in an explosive chain reaction.
When I read this list now I can see how absurd and over reactionary and even unfair and judgemental some of my rage has been in response. But all together it has been quite a tumult of righteous anger, rage, grievance, condemnation and my own animosity, for me to hold and try to deal with. This is definitely work in progress for me. My intention is to move through it with minimal residual damage to myself or anyone I care about.
I have felt the many layers of this anger in my body – as a tense agitation, tightness in my shoulders and arms, frequently clenched fists, ready to throw blows. My body is strained, hurting, my head throbs, my brow is furrowed. I feel an intense heat coursing through my veins, a kind of boiling over. I feel heaviness in my chest, and an overfilling of my tear ducts. I feel particularly bristly and full of sharp edges. Teeth grinding, jaws locked, heart steeled but searing. I am angry. Hear me ROAR…
So why am I describing all of this to you, you might be asking?
I have been keenly aware of the pervasiveness and global feeling of my anger. I am not usually given to react only through my lense of anger. Usually I can access a much wider range of feelings, and be present to their comings and goings.
But this anger has been all encompassing and unwieldy. And I have struggled to contain it. Or move through it. Or release it. Or not let it poison me. Or manage it somehow.
I know I am not alone in being flooded with anger. Many of us share this difficult emotion, whether it’s in relation to what’s going on in our current socio political arena, or related to past hurtful, unjust, fearfully perceived or actual mistreatments.
And I wanted to offer some tangible things to do with it, so this anger that is a perfectly human and normal emotion doesn’t become self destructive or destructive to the larger community.
As you know, anger is one of the more difficult emotions to handle. Teasing out what’s legitimate about it (when it all feels justified), while not letting it contaminate everything else in our lives is really challenging.
Anger is not bad. It is not something to be gotten rid of. But we need to learn how to manage it in order to benefit from the potential constructiveness of it. We need to learn to take care of our anger. Not blame others, or blame ourselves. Anger is a natural reaction to threat, hurt, fear and can teach us or help guide our attention to what is truly needed.
So here are a few helpful and practical tools I have sought out, researched and tried myself that I think will be helpful to you as you try to manage any anger you are struggling with…
How to get the best of your anger so it doesn’t get the best of you:
- One meditation on anger I listened to suggested when you are angry, don’t do or say anything. Sit still and find your body via the breath. Do this by feeling the temperature in your hands, or noticing what’s going on in your lower jaw, or checking in with where in your body you feel stirred up. This meditation indicates that when we’re angry we can’t feel anything. And that anger is a reaction to feeling. To take care of anger we must let our bodies become a big enough container to simply feel the raw sensations of the anger, without attaching our story about the anger. Check the energy in your legs, forehead, the skin on your neck. This allows the anger to settle so that we can more easily connect to and feel the feelings underneath the anger (being hurt, abandoned, afraid, disappointed). When you’re angry you don’t know what you feel even though you think you do. If you can ride out the wave of anger, which usually lasts at most a few minutes, then you can move through the fire of anger to the place of feeling again. To that human place, where connection, compassion, communication can occur.
- Another meditation offered a way of addressing the anger within and the different shades of it. Do this by being mindful of the discomfort it causes in your body, and any attachment or justifications you might have to your anger. Notice if you appraise it in exaggerated or simplistic ways, or how much energy you give to making a case about what you’re angry about. Be aware of your own moral judgments that have become righteous or have a sense of superiority about them. Be mindful of intentions you might have attributed to others, or how personally you are taking a situation. Maybe you truly are a bit player in this situation? Shifting your perspective about the anger that you’re feeling helps to release it and then you can replace anger with more positive emotions like peace or forward thinking or self-confidence or forgiveness. It is a kindness to you to find forgiveness for them. Releasing anger helps you to find appropriate determination or principle or future wise action.
More tiny steps to working through your anger include:
- Notice when your anger is generalized or exaggerated, and acknowledge when it is sometimes unfairly and overly reactionary.
- Try to tolerate your anger and just be with it a moment longer.
- Say things like, “I don’t like it but it’s here and I’m acknowledging it.”
- Notice when your anger is building, when it peaks, and when it begins to subside. Notice if it is a ripple or a wave or a tsunami of emotion.
- Take care of your anger so it is not acted out and not acted in.
- Notice the way the leaves shimmer in the breeze, or how the light falls as the time changes.
- Walk in nature.
- Pet a dog.
- Be intentional and limiting about the time you spend with the news cycle or on social media.
- Help someone.
- Try to feel your anger without the story attached to it.
- Acknowledge your grief, sadness, hurt, anger, disgust, powerlessness. Have compassion for yourself for feeling these difficult emotions.
- Do no harm.
- Write out every little thing you feel angry about.
- Be creative, artful.
- Breathe. Breathe again. And again. Rinse and repeat.
- Share how you feel with someone you trust.
- Ask for a hug.
- Send thank you notes to people who have acted in courage and identify everything you appreciate about them.
- Speak your anger clearly, firmly, with conviction, from your heart.
- Limit what you absorb.
- Notice the beauty of your real life versus the online distasteful life of politics and news.
- Do things that make you feel safe and in control.
- Make choices about how you express your rage. You do have control over that.
- Recognize you are safe in the here and now.
- Identify and tend to all the parts of your body that are manifesting the anger.
- Have gratitude about the things that are right in your world. Even have gratitude that you have the capacity to feel your own shades of anger.
- Find and be with the soft feelings protected by the anger.
- Make your heart a zone of peace. Keep the peace.
- Stretch to mend the part of the world that is within your reach.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s making you angry these days and how are you taking care of your anger?
If you or somebody you care about needs help around managing the anger that you feel, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist