I hate getting angry. It’s unsettling, right?
Think about it: how many acts of violence, declarations of war, and petty arguments about whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher begin with anger? A lot, I think.
Anger has done some serious damage is what I’m saying, and it reminds me what I’m capable of, what we’re all capable of.
I still remember the time I got so angry at my brother that I completely lost it and called him a mean name (which may or may not have included a swear word). I was ten. It haunted me for years. I vowed I would always keep it together after that.
But having since acquired a rudimentary grasp of psychology 101, I now understand that it is profoundly okay and often exceedingly helpful to feel emotions.
And I’ve found that when I let myself feel my emotions, good things happen: I often feel a little less shitty, get to relief and clarity, instinctively know what to do next, experience paradigm shifts, and, on rare and special occasions, hear wise and helpful voices talking to me from the Great Beyond. Success!
But often, anger still feels tricky – like it carries with it elevated levels of danger and darkness I need to be careful of, tiptoe around, or stuff in a basement closet.
My most recent experience of intense anger came in an encounter with a “splainer” (someone who explains things – often in a condescending manner, never pausing to ask questions or hear feedback – about a subject the listener already knows a lot about). In this instance, my splainer was explaining me to me.
God, I was annoyed – also affronted, enraged, and filled with indignation. I knew I should probably release the pressure valve and just allow the anger to move a little, but directing my fury at my splainer – an actual person, rather than an impersonal system or circumstance – seemed violent, and I was a little worried I might be dooming myself if I let this energy loose in my body.
But since it had worked so well in other cases, I went ahead anyway. I raged; I ranted; I said mean things to this person in my head I would never say out loud to another human being ever. It felt good…and villainous, especially when I realized it wasn’t just anger I was feeling, but hatred…which was sort of horrifying. Like, was this okay?
Absolutely not, according to my social programming. As a woman, I was socialized away from anger (just as men are socialized away from sadness), and if anger wasn’t allowed, hatred certainly wasn’t. There was also the influence of my Lutheran upbringing, the echoes of which now coalesced into some sort of pious Ghost of Christianity Past, suddenly appearing to guide me through key memories of my religious history. I returned to one of the more dramatic Bible verses I’d learned in Sunday School: anyone who hates is a murderer.
And I sort of get this. Yeah, our intentions matter. Also, don’t sit there fondling your hatred. Don’t stew in it or use your stories to keep you stuck in the muck of it. And please, for the love of God, don’t make it into a thing that gives you license to treat other human beings like crap. Yes. Okay.
But it was also a message that had programmed a certain theological point into my consciousness: sins are not only the things you do, the wrongs you commit; they are the thoughts you think, the feelings you allow, and the fantasies you entertain. God can read our minds, and if what God finds there is bad, well then you’re in trouble. So essentially, the message was: it’s not really safe or okay to feel what’s real inside of you.
But here’s the thing: I’ve learned that to be okay, I need to do just that: feel what’s real inside of me. So, I flouted my Christian education and felt the hatred anyway, and this is what I discovered: it is an emotion like any other! It has important things to say. It’s meant to flow. It’s not meant to settle into absolute truth or permanent conclusion. It wants to be something we catch and release.
And sure enough, after I felt the feelings and worked the story, the charge of my hatred was gone. The obsessive, sick feeling had been burned up in the fire of my rage, and in its place was a newfound spaciousness. I saw my hatred then for what it was: energy coming and going, a benevolent force instructing me to restore a boundary and take a closer look at my own shadow. Shutting it down would have only separated me from myself.
So, yay! I can feel a thing and not be bad. I can hold what’s hard. And I can trust my emotions to show me what I need to see, take me where I need to go, and ultimately steer me toward something good and true.