Pay attention to your first feeling of anger and stay clear of rage.
This is the second article in the series of five examining the emotions. In the first article it was discussed when sadness is repressed in turns into chronic depression. Any chronic condition is unnatural. We need to look at our first feelings. The core emotions of grief/sadness, anger, love, envy, and fear are being examined in this series. These are the natural emotions and are uncomplicated in their purity. I am not suggesting they are comfortable, I am suggesting they are uncomplicated in their truths. Anger is, in my opinion, the most misunderstood of all of the five emotions. I am teaching the emotions in an effort to help you to relate better to those in your life. In my article on communication I discuss how communication is not the issue, rather we have trouble relating. Use your five simple emotions and see how much better you can relate.
I would like to break anger down into its simplicity. Anger is our response that says “no thank you.” It is always attached to adrenalin and the more primitive parts of our brains, but anger is a natural emotion. Anger is an emotion we all feel, thus it is an emotion we can all relate to. Some outside trigger comes into our life, and the response from our guts tells us this is not correct for us and we have the emotional experience of anger. Its message to us is ‘please set a boundary.’ It is a signaling system. It is really that simple in its original form. Anger tells us to say no when we need to say no. It is intuition’s warrior serving to protect us from the unkind things of the world. If every time we felt anger and we had the simple knowledge that it is there to tell us when to say no, I believe we may all do things differently. Anger never has to be violent or disruptive. It is simply ‘no thank you.’
Anger is the most confusing emotion, especially for children. It seems odd to a child who watches their parent get angry, yell, and have tantrums, but when the child does the same thing it is considered bad behavior. Parents do not approve of anger and so do not want the child to even experience the emotion let alone express it. If we were angry as children and our whole system was flooded with the feeling of NO THANK YOU we were often punished, humiliated and degraded. We were considered bad. So we learned to repress our anger, to keep it in. In doing so we lost our ability to say no thank you. How scary is that? If as children we were allowed to not only experience this emotion but also express it, we would have learned our anger was the natural response we would have when we were not able to say no thank you. If that were the case we would have learned to work through our anger quickly and effectively and in a way where there did not need to be any violence.
The issue lies in the fact that most of us are saying yes when we need to be saying no. Why do we do this? To make other people happy. We also have a fear of negative consequences. We feel guilty if we say no when we are being coerced in some way to say yes, and so we go against our instincts. People pleasing creates an anger-sickness inside of us. We say yes when we want to say no because we are so afraid of letting someone else down, or looking weak, or not wanting someone to be upset with us and so we convince ourselves that saying yes is the more peaceful and right thing to do, after all the other person will be happy, or the situation will seem resolved for the moment and so we escape the fear of saying no thank you and the consequences we imagine that that will have. Thus, we do not grow. When we are able to say no we help to define ourselves as separate and different from other people. We let people know where we start and they stop. We give ourselves a clear identity when we assert ourselves to say no thank you. Also, when we say no thank you we allow the other person to learn their problems and/or wants are their own and they need to be responsible for them.
Anger that is repressed turns to rage. Rage is not a natural emotion. Enough times of being violated, the more we do not say no, or our no’s are not heeded, the more the anger builds and it turns into rage. Rage is violent and hardly gets our needs met. The end result of rage is shame. Shame is fixed and unmoving. Shame creates more rage and rage creates more shame. It is a vicious cycle, all resulting in self-hatred and the hatred of others. Rage is the body’s way of getting someone to take us seriously, and yet the louder and more belligerent we get the less people listen. Also with rage we tend to be ten steps behind our thoughts and actions, and we are only batting average on the truth. We are just spitting out venom. Why? In an effort to preserve our self worth.
Every time we say no and it is not respected, or every time we say yes when we should be saying no, we add resent into our emotional basement and we feel bad about ourselves that either we weren’t strong enough to make our no respected, or we are feeling weak because we said yes when we should have said no. So we collect our angry feelings, and throw them into the basement hoping that next time we can do better, but when the next time comes we still are not doing what we need to do and so we keep adding more anger to the basement. All of this collected anger turns into rage and it erupts, and often on some small non-issue.
At the core of rage is a feeling of low self-worth. When this core wound gets triggered all the anger that has been repressed awakens and we end up in the unnatural emotion of rage. The body is not designed to carry rage as a container. Rage often becomes one’s only mechanism for preserving their self worth, as a person looks for some sort of respect from the outside world. On the outside the raging person appears to be powerful. Rage provokes fear in the other and the smell of this fear is a drug to the person in rage. They feel temporary power and control that literally changes their neurochemistry just like a drug. However, the come-down from rage is shame. Shame provokes the justifying and rationalizing system to preserve self-worth and people who live in rage can justify and rationalize just about anything they do. Once someone is in chronic rage they are no longer interested in being smart. They are interested in being right. They are interested in power and control. Yet, the more shame they feel the less lovable they become, the more angry they become that people still love them when they don’t deserve it, and the more they rage.
When rage becomes fixed, the body is always on a hypervigilant stance waiting and watching for who or what is going to slight them next. Expectations of others become exaggerated and unobtainable and the rage increases as they always feel let down by others. It could be the waiter, who gets the order wrong, or the neighbor’s barking dog, or your husband didn’t say hello to you in the right tone of voice. Rage is a defense against intimacy and used to keep people out. People with rage are impossible to reason with, they are not open to new information and so their capacity to grow is incredibly limited. These people end up ‘right’ and alone. For them, to be right supersedes all love relationships. They become agenda oriented rather than relationship oriented. To be wrong is to be destroyed if you have a rage problem.
Imagine if as children when we said no thank you if we were heard, listened to, validated and were at least able to have some acknowledgement of the feeling we were having. We may not have always gotten our way, but we would have been given the gift of understanding that our no thank you’s were important.
Solution: At its core anger is a natural emotion. It is one we all feel. We can all relate to it. If you are angry, state it simply “I am really angry.” Then express your no thank you. If you are unsure of what made you mad then ask yourself forward-moving questions such as “at what point did my gut fire that I was mad?” “What made me uncomfortable?” “Who made me uncomfortable?’ “What part of this made me feel disrespected?” “What do I need to say no to?” Answer your own questions and you take responsibility for your own anger response. Once you find your own answers internally, with few words, state your boundary. If you feel afraid your boundary will make someone mad and you don’t state it in this instance you are being deceptive, and you will only bring on more anger. If you are saying yes when you want to say no you are being deceptive. Believe it or not, people would really rather hear your truth. You will find more respect for yourself and you will generate more respect from the other, all the while eliminating the repression and storage of anger that will turn to rage.
Little life message: Take care of the natural emotion while it is still natural and eliminate your rage. Anger is simply telling you to say no thank you.