Being Angry

Do you get upset easily? Do other people set you off? Do you get angry, explosively so, at your partner? Worse yet, are you unremittingly harsh on yourself? What about other drivers? Or, conversely, are you withdrawn and totally timid? Do you live in abject fear of being hurt if you speak your mind?

A certain amount of anger is normal and healthy. It helps establish healthy boundaries. But, if you lose it, if those around you fear “those episodes”, if you’re reaction is the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown when something goes wrong,then there is something more going on, and it would do well to pay attention to it. Conversely, covering up or hiding your feelings is not healthy either.

First of all, you need to understand that your rage or fear has little to do with the present circumstance. The other person just happens to be in the crosshairs of an old wound. Nobody gets that angry or fearful without sufficient provocation and it is the imbalance in your reaction that tells us that something more is going on here. Other drivers will do stupid things and politicians are corrupt, but the pain we are talking about is old.

If your inner child is feeling that kind of rage, she had good reason. Inner children are never irrational. Inner children live in the past. Something happened to cause her response. Something abusive. Maybe it was physical abuse, emotional abuse, possibly even sexual abuse. It would take something of that magnitude to cause your present reaction.

If something happened to you, until you heal the wound, your only protection is your rage or collapse. They create psychological distance between you and a world that your inner one judges to be unsafe. She felt powerless then and she feels powerless now to someone who she feels could violate her boundaries. And I am the last person who would seek to take that protection away from you, because until you heal you need it!

The problem is that rage can keep you from healing. It doesn’t matter that the original perpetrator is no longer a part of your life or that what happened was 30 or 40 years ago, until your wounds are healed, the effects of those events and her reactions are current.

If you’re sitting on a boatload of anger at someone who took advantage of you, that anger is likely to boil over onto safer targets. It’s a lot easier to be incensed about some politician or God or a some other driver than to deal with a parent or relative about what happened. And, you get to wrap yourself in moral righteousness and therefore don’t have to address what’s really going on with you either. But that does nothing to resolve your issue.

When you were young, you didn’t do anything wrong. In situations of physical or sexual abuse or feelings of being abandoned because of adoption, for example, you did not do anything! You were a victim. That’s what generates the rage. It’s the inherent unfairness of the thing. You were a victim of circumstance. Most victims blame themselves in part, and have a hard time believing they truly were innocent, but it’s true.

Since that time, your feelings about yourself undoubtedly led to a poor self image and a succession of poor choices, which in turn, further reinforced your bad feelings about yourself. But if a railroad engine jumps the tracks, the cars are obliged to follow. You acted as you had been taught. One of the hardest things for victims to accept is that regardless of how they feel, they were still victims. There never was anything wrong with you.

What to do? Swallow your pride, face your shame and get help. The feelings associated with abuse are severe enough (witness your present reaction) that dealing with this by yourself is pretty tough. You need that guidance of an experienced healer. Now, I’m prejudiced, I’d send you to a good shaman because we are trained to deal with these issues.

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More About Anger

After posting my recent article on anger I got an email from my friend George Cohen, who teaches anger management. George brought to my intention some things I had inferred but that perhaps I could have made more clear:

We label two behaviors as anger when really we should separate them. Real anger serves to bring us together. It says, “I love you enough to tell you that I don’t like what you did.” It is a primary response to injustice – feeling cheated, used or abused for example. Abandonment and rejection can also fall into this category, although they get muddled by the other form of what we call anger, which really isn’t anger at all.

False anger, technically an aspect of rage, is what we most commonly see. This is a secondary reaction to protect us from feelings of insecurity we are afraid to expose. That includes things like fear, hurt, vulnerability, shame and guilt. False anger creates walls. It serves to create distance between us because we are afraid to let others see our “defects.” False anger is fear based.

This duality, by the way, can be found in all emotions. Every real emotion has a false side that mimics the real thing. Real love, for example, creates intimacy, brings us closer together. False love, based in neediness and insecurity, will ultimately drive us apart. What can be confusing is that the false stuff seems like the real thing. On the surface it looks like love or anger, but with a little digging . . . Sadly, few people in our society know or experience real love. Like anger, we mostly see the false kind.

Legitimate anger tends to mirror the offense, where with false anger the response will be far in excess of the immediate cause. Because it is driven by vulnerability, a false anger reaction can be quite explosive. That’s because with false emotions we aren’t dealing with the present situation, but rather seek to protect ourselves from a childhood vulnerability that has not been healed. With false love, for example, we seek to cover over our “inadequacies” through relationship.

Let’s say someone cuts you off in traffic. There is a legitimate response to that intrusion, normally irritation. You slow down, change lanes, get out of their way and go about your business. If however, you come into the situation feeling vulnerable, then your reaction can become explosive. Responding to the other driver’s carelessness is understandable, but exploding has nothing to do with the present situation. It’s old, unresolved pain. A vulnerability has been triggered that you don’t want exposed. But, since you can’t do anything about the other driver’s intrusion, you cover your feelings of vulnerability with an outburst of rage. It’s smoke and mirrors.

If we are able to focus on our underlying feelings and deal with them, even after the event, we might be able to not only limit our explosive reactions, we might just prevent them from happening altogether. This is where a rigorous self-inventory can be valuable. What are you vulnerable to? What or who do you feel you cannot protect yourself from? What beliefs about yourself do you hold that do not serve you? Certainly some of this you can deal with on your own, but for the big issues, get yourself a good shaman.

copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016

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