The beautiful message anger can tell us
I must have grown up thinking anger wasn’t o.k. . . . shameful in fact. At any rate, the two emotions have often seemed paired up for me. But I’m beginning to see it differently these days – and am quite relieved, because attaching shame with anger is an exhausting endeavor – one that doesn’t exactly encourage self-acceptance.
Here’s the key: I’ve learned to understand that anger is a feeling, like any other, and is perfectly acceptable, like the others. It tells us something very essential about very important, personal unmet need(s). And if we tune into THAT underlying cause, then we are more in tune with ourselves, realize we have choices, and can better guide what we DO with that anger.
Blowing up and releasing our anger through raised voices or other forms of violence is the easy way . . . not to mention possibly very hurtful to ourselves, others, and our relationships. It puts our anger outside of ourselves, relieves us of the harder work of tuning into what’s really going on inside.
Here’s an example . . .
I was biking with my dog one day and stopped at a red light. A woman on her bike stopped next to me, and informed me that my dog’s leash was far too long. I inquired if she was referring to some sort of city policy. She felt sure this existed, but couldn’t tell me where I might find it. (I was in a bit of a stubborn mood that day, I admit.) By this point, we were both feeling highly frustrated with one another – I thought she was being bossy and without good reason. She no doubt experienced me as too strong-headed for my own good. Just as the light was turning green, she uttered that she was really an animal lover and felt concern for my dog’s safety.
“Well, why didn’t she say that earlier?” I thought. Was that the need underlying her frustration with me? If so, I could relate to, and even feel compassion for it. I just might have even thanked her for her concern and reeled my dog right in.
Or perhaps not – it wasn’t one of my better days, after all. It was very soon after moving to the Netherlands and feeling I might never “fit in.” I felt frustrated about this interaction for quite some time afterwards. What was going on – hadn’t I accepted that her real need was to simply help take care of animals in the world? Don’t I always value people like that?
And then came the inevitable “what about me?” question. It took some work, but I figured a few things out, and realized I probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly as upset about the whole thing, had I been a bit more tuned into my own personal needs. The thing is, I was working so HARD to fit in, wanted to blend and not stand out as “one of those [pick your irritation] American” (who me, paranoid?). So being called out in public, not knowing proper policy, and worst of all to think I was being judged as a misfit of sorts (there was no proof of this, just one of the many stories I may have told myself on that given day) all triggered me. I was angry with that woman! But what was really going on had little to do with her and everything to do with not feeling that my underlying needs were being met, e.g.in this case: recognition for trying, having an understanding of expectations, and autonomy.
Had I been in better touch with these needs, I could have more easily focused on the woman’s own need to care for animals and not felt overwhelmed by all the uncomfortable accusations I was sensing. My needs could have been met in other ways, e.g. through self-empathy and connections with other people in my life who know and care for me.
I’m feeling much relief lately, now that I’ve learned that when I or someone else around me is experiencing anger, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, resentful about, saddened by. In fact, there’s a beautiful message waiting to be unveiled. We just have to take the journey and be open to nurturing what the message tells us.