Buddha stated that, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” This is a great image of how we often handle anger.
As infants we cried and even screamed to release our discomfort and distressing emotions. For the most part, our cries were ‘what babies do’ and evoked others to get us food, change our diapers and to hold us. However, as we learned to use our words, we were discouraged by parents and society not to cry or to show other forms of dissatisfaction, especially in public.
We were taught to repress anger and to deny or rationalize any issue around the anger. We learned there was ‘no sense in fighting’ and began to shut down voicing any displeasure. It is interesting to note that the word anger originates from the word angus, meaning narrow, painfully constricted and a strangling. In Latin, angere means to throttle and torment.
Anger not expressed in its true form is mismanaged anger and shows up in different anger styles. Somatizers suppress their anger due to fear of rejection or disapproval. They become passive, often playing the role of martyr. Anger in this case shows up in the body as migraines, ulcers, colitis, arthritis, TMJ, breast cancer and coronary heart problems. Conversely, Exploders verbally and/or physically express anger which has been held in and released aggressively onto people not even involved with the anger. This anger style shows up in road rage.
Self-punishers passively channel their anger into guilt and punish themselves. Anger shows up in behaviours such as excessive crying, drinking, eating, shopping and even cutting. Underhanders express their anger in aggressive yet deemed more socially acceptable ways. Anger shows up as revenge, sabotage, sarcasm, complaining, blaming and gossip and is a means to control others.
We all mismanage anger at some time and tend to use some anger styles more often than others. So, how can we express anger better? First, know your anger style so you can become aware of it sooner in order to stop your behaviour. Then, address your true feelings. Start with, “I am angry!” Like any strong reaction, view anger as a tool for inner reflection and growth.
Take ownership of your anger and ask, “What am I really angry about?” In most cases, the sources of the anger is our self for something we did or didn’t do. In other cases, it may be long repressed childhood anger which continues to interfere with current happenings. For the most part, anger is there is to tell you something needs to change.
As we consciously look at our red-hot anger, we cool its volatility, and are then able to hold it and use its warmth as a catalyst for creative change. What is your psyche or soul angry about?