Anger arises when someone or something obstructs our needs or desires. It is an essential and intelligent part of our survival equipment. We need it to know when our boundaries have been crossed. It lets us know when something feels unfair/ unjust/ threatening to our well being.
It is essential that we listen to it but also essential that we do not get caught in ongoing stories of blame and resentment because these cause us to suffer – they diminish us, cut us off from our true nature and our joy.
And anger is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die, or it’s the hot coal we pick up to throw at the other – we suffer so much ourselves.
It also prevents us from getting our needs met – if we blame and accuse, we tend to set off the other person defensive strategies and they cannot hear our needs, only the danger in our accusations.
A grandfather was speaking to his young grandson about what causes violence and cruelty in the world. He says that, “in each human heart there are two wolves battling one another – one is fearful and angry, the other is understanding and kind”. The young boys looks at his grandfather and asks, “which one will win?”. And his grandfather smiles and says quietly, “which ever one we choose to feed”.
And it is easy to feed the fearful, angry wolf – especially if we feel wounded by another. It happens without us noticing often, the mind starts telling the story of blame and anger and we get caught, we let it run and by allowing these thoughts to run, we are feeding the fearful, angry wolf. It becomes a habit of the mind this story and so we perpetuate our suffering, get triggered into the anger and hurt again, say and do things we later regret.
But we can train the heart and mind to deactivate these habitual anger or blame pathways.
Usually anger is protecting other softer feelings….e.g. sadness, fear, shame, jealousy etc
And under that unmet universal needs…. e.g. to be seen, to matter, to be respected, to feel connection, to feel cared for.
So we can make a U turn from fixating on the ‘bad other’ to attending to the wounded place inside ourselves.
We do this because the other might be a trigger for the pain but the source of the pain is within us. And to be able to communicate our needs usefully we need to be calm and not speaking from our reactivity….we need to step out of the dance of reactivity that causes us and the other to suffer.
It takes a really deep intention/ commitment – because the story of the anger/ blame is SO compelling. So we need to be able to remember that we suffer when we get hijacked by stories of anger and blame. We have to really want to commit to this….to really want to free ourselves from getting caught in this small sense of self which diminishes us.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist meditation teacher wrote, “There is a teaching that says behind all hardening and tightening and rigidity of the heart, there’s always fear. But if you touch the fear, behind the fear is a soft spot. And if you touch the soft spot, you find the vast blue sky. You find that which is ineffable, ungraspable, and unbiased, that which can support and awaken us at any time”.
Working with Anger Practice
• Close eyes, settle into your body, connecting with the breathing etc
• think of a relationship interaction that you feel angry and resentful about – mild or moderately anger provoking not traumatising – also a situation where you feel that the anger is not serving you anymore, and you feel ready to let go.
• remember what happened in as much detail as possible
• now getting in touch with your anger – feeling it in your body….
• and knowing that it is completely natural for you to feel this way, perhaps saying to yourself “Of course I’m angry in a situation like this!” – “It’s okay to feel angry about this”.
• Now, if you were to drop below the anger….what do you notice beneath?
• What are the soft feelings underneath the anger?
• Perhaps you’re feeling hurt….betrayed….scared….unoved….lonely?
• Now going a little deeper…ask yourself “what is the unmet need here?”
• Seeing if it’s possible to release the other person for a moment and dive into your own experience….what is the universal human need that is generating the soft feeling?
• perhaps it’s the need to be seen….or heard….or to feel you matter too….or perhaps it’s the need for connection….to feel safe?
• remembering that whatever it is you’re needing…we all have these needs.
• perhaps putting a hand over your heart and giving yourself some love….not to get rid of the feelings but because it’s hard to have these feelings
• Perhaps imagining a dear friend was expressing the same needs you have….
• what would you say to your friend?
• can you say the same to yourself?
• and perhaps seeing if you can meet your deepest needs directly?
• If you feel unloved….can you tell yourself “I love you”
• If you feel unseen…can you tell yourself “I see you”
• If you feel alone…can you tell yourself “I’m here for you”
• seeing if it’s possible in this moment to give yourself what you’ve been hoping to receive from others.