All of us have experienced anger in our lives at one time or another. As children we react to things quickly when we don’t get what we want. In our development, we learn to manage our anger to deal with the intense emotions in a way that gets our feelings out, without creating negative consequences. Yet, throughout our life anger will continue to be a recurring emotion in our working environment, relationships and obligations. I have been noticing my own anger lately and thought I would explore this topic for your consideration and comments.
Anger often occurs when emotions surface that are uncomfortable or that we have trouble processing. Hurt feelings can be the trigger that ignites the emotion of anger. When we feel as though someone has done something to us or said something hurtful about us, we feel anger. Our instant reaction is to lash out to let the other person know we feel hurt. For introverts, this situation can create withdrawal and periods of quiet reflection as they process what they are feeling. Fear is another trigger that can cause an anger response. When we are fearful of an upcoming situation or someone has startled us we can react with anger. The unexpected or the anticipated (future thinking) can make us feel uneasy, resentful and angry.
Anger can also occur as a result of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Our capacity to process information or requests may have been maxed out and we are unable to cope. The feeling of being overwhelmed, and a sense of frustration sets in, and we become angry because something or someone is making us feel this way. This may be a result of a request that a friend has made, leaving you feel as though they are making too many demands and not considering the imposition. There may be a work situation where a boss keeps piling on the work and doesn’t seem to consider the stress level it is creating for you. Positions of authority can always trigger feelings of anger because we often have difficulty saying no or challenging back. In many situations, as we have grown, we have been discouraged to challenge authority. Our parents, teachers and even some relationships have been based in some form of subservient role.
The need to be in control can be another trigger for anger to surface in us. When we feel as though we have no influence in a situation we may lash out. This may occur in a work situation when changes are made that we seem to have no influence over. It may occur in a relationship where a friend or partner places conditions upon us. Life situations often result in feelings of not being in control. For example, when health issues surface we may feel that we don’t want this condition or have to face treatment prospects. Even as we age, for many people there will come a time when family members or health care professionals will be making decisions for us that we don’t like. In all these situations we want to have secure ground to stand on in which we are making the decisions. We want control over the next moment rather than feeling vulnerable to what is happening. We want things to be other than as they are.
Often when anger surfaces we feel unable to deal with the overwhelming emotions and we dump our feelings onto another. Our anger gets the better of us and we project all that we are feeling onto the person or situation that is causing the feelings inside of us. Anger is an intense emotion that can feel ugly and unwelcome; it is ruining our bliss. When anger surfaces, rather than dumping it on others we can turn towards it to face it full on. We can explore what is the underlying emotion that is behind the anger. There is always more to anger than just feeling angry. Feelings of fear, hurt, frustration or wanting to be in control provide insight into our beliefs and values that may not be serving us. By turning towards our anger, we begin to learn more about ourselves, our expectations and needs. We discover the conditions that make us who we are and in the discovery we are able to free ourselves from the binds that limit our view of the world.
In a Master/disciple relationship, my experience has been that teachers will use the expression of anger as a way of waking up disciples from their unconsciousness. The startling response from one’s teacher that brings to the surface one’s limiting beliefs can catapult students through years of self-discovery and reflection. This is often an underlying factor as to why people seek out a teacher or guru. However, this is not their only method for showing students their unconsciousness, but one that can be quite powerful when more gentle methods have proven unsuccessful. Having a teacher who has experienced and worked through emotional reactivity, such as anger, can be very beneficial for the spiritual journey but may not be appropriate for everyone.
When anger surfaces for you, consider the amount of energy you want to put into maintaining or growing anger within you. Thich Nhat Hanh uses a beautiful analogy of watering the seeds that you want to grow in your garden of consciousness. If you water seeds of anger then that is what will grow. Watering seeds of love, compassion and understanding versus watering seeds of anger and resentment will determine what kind of garden you grow. Choose to water what you want to nurture.
One final thought for your consideration is in trusting that whatever is happening in life is as it should be. It is the culmination of all that has gone before it. When anger surfaces, look to what you have planted and watered in your garden previously in the way of beliefs, values and the need for secure ground. Trust in what is, doesn’t mean that we blindly surrender to whatever is coming up in the moment. It is in looking at the reflections of life and trusting that the lesson being presented is the one you need to learn.