Friday, February 20, 2009

Dealing With Anger

(This article originally appeared in my former ezine: Whole Life Development, July 2006. It is reprinted at this time because 25% of new contacts to my blog have been the result of searches for information on the subject of anger. This blog can be searched by using the box in the header to find other articles related to the subject.)

I have discovered that I have within me a deep anger. It is so deep that I did not realize until recently that it was lurking within my subconscious mind. This anger has been disguised increasingly through the years as sadness, sympathy, suffering and frustration because these were acceptable feelings whereas anger was not. We are not supposed to be angry because it is considered a destructive trait.

What is likely to happen after years of suppressing our anger is that some assumed slight or a cross word will trigger an explosion in us and we blurt out an undeserved destructive barrage upon the unfortunate person we consider to be the reason for our anger. In fact, the anger released is similar to a steam pressure cooker that builds almost unnoticed as it sits upon the burner. It reaches its maximum capacity and releases the excess through the pressure valve. When we deal with anger as an emotion to be suppressed, it builds pressure until it finally explodes.

When we feel angry it is important to step back and ask our self, “Where is this coming from? Why is this situation appearing to trigger so much energy?” The sooner we can learn to do this the less pressure will build up within us. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to know the answer to the question we ask. But, even if we do not discover a satisfactory answer immediately, by taking time to consider the question we remove much of the energy from the situation, just like the steam valve vents the excess pressure.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, (Riverhead Books) says this about embracing our anger.

The Buddha never advised us to suppress our anger. He taught us to go back to ourselves and take good care of it. When something is physically wrong with us, in our intestines, our stomach, or our liver, we have to stop and take good care of them. We do some massage, we use a hot-water bottle, we do everything possible in order to take care of them.

Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, “Go away anger, you have to go away. I don’t want you.” When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, “I don’t want you stomach, go away.” No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger. We recognize it as it is, embrace it, and smile. The energy that helps us do these things is mindfulness, mindfulness of walking and mindfulness of breathing.

Mindfulness is another way of meditation. It is bringing your attention fully to the moment. When we are fully in the moment there is a sense of peace, a sense of stability and understanding. It is beyond the blast of emotional steam that may vent as anger has built up. If you carry the simile to its end with the steam cooker, you have a satisfying meal. Of course that is only true if the steam cooker is tended to as Thich Nhat Hahn suggests in his book. You do not throw the pot away. You turn down the heat (mindfulness), let it cool to relieve the last of the pressure (allow inner wisdom to be present), then you open it to discover your meal (the potential resolution). I say “potential” because the meal still has to be eaten.

It is true of any potential resolution to our anger that we discover in our mindfulness. It is up to us to examine what it is possible for us to do regarding the situation that has grown into the pressure that we are experiencing. One thing I discovered through my own mindfulness about anger was that through the years there had been situations that I had not finished. There were loose ends in terms of some relationships and actions that I had taken, or not taken. Interestingly, these things did not seem connected to my anger. They simply appeared to me as unfinished business. I know they came to mind because I had made room for them by being willing to look into my anger and care for it. Where it was possible for me to do so I communicated my apologies to those persons I felt I had treated poorly. For the most part those persons seemed surprised, but I was not. Sometimes we have so convinced ourselves that everything is okay that others are convinced as well. Mindfulness, quiet attention given to our higher Self, will open the path to resolution and satisfying results.

When there are specific people with whom there is difficulty that has resulted in deep anger, every effort must be expended to bring resolution. This is for your own health if for no other reason. Of course, ultimately we are only as healthy as our relationships, so it is important to give the other person every opportunity to find healing as well.

Everything is possible when the door of communication is open. So we must invest ourselves in the practice of opening up and restoring communication. You have to express your willingness, your desire to make peace with the other person. . . You have to start negotiating a strategy. No matter how much the other person can do, you have to do all that you are capable of doing yourself. . .Don’t put forth conditions, saying ‘If you don’t make an effort to reconcile, then I won’t either.’ This will not work. Peace, reconciliation, and happiness begin with you. Ibid, page 50, 51

Beginning with ourselves is perhaps the greatest stumbling block we have to restoring harmony in our relationships. If we feel we have been slighted or misunderstood, if we feel we have been lied to or abused verbally, it seems only natural that the other person should begin the process of healing. If we attempt resolution by requiring someone else to take some action, resolution is unlikely to take place. Take care of your anger through mindfulness, open your heart and mind to the Wisdom greater than self and make room for it to bring right action into your life.

Finally, there may be those situations that are truly out of your control. You cannot make others change or “see the light.” You can take care of your own thoughts, feelings and actions. In so doing your life will experience the peace and inner harmony that you seek. Do not delay that positive outcome by waiting around for others to change. Get on with taking care of you!
In case you are interested in the blog articles that came up in my search, they are listed below. Click on the title to go to the article.

Jan. 28, 2009 On The Occasion Following the Inauguration of Barack Obama As President of the United States of America
Dec. 4, 2008 Promises
Nov. 15, 2008 Unresolved Anger
Oct. 15, 2007 It Would Be Good For You To Hear This
Jul. 25, 2007 I Have Broken My Own Rules!


The Logistician said...

Dan, you may be interested in some of the works of Professor Robert M. Sapolsky at Stanford.

His latest book is "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." I had to good fortune to hear him spoke as a guest lecturer at a local university. He has researched anger and stress extensively, and how they affect the body, and lead to serious maladies.

Lily-Wren said...

Hi there Dan,
Just spotted your wonderful blog. You offer insight and wisdom there and you can never go wrong with the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh :)

I think ultimately the first step is, as you have done, in recognising these feelings and exploring them and 'opening the door of communication'. Kept inside, as we know, it builds and builds, festering causing untold physical and emotional difficulties. But yes, the key is in that first step of realisation.


Dan Perin said...

Thanks for your comment and welcome to LC. Since the article, originally written in 2006, I have continued my efforts to recognize the hidden angers and mindfully resolve them.