I always imagined that when the day came that I found out I was pregnant, I would feel all the lovely feelings.
Joy! Elation! Happiness! Excitement!
Instead, I felt everything. I was buckled into the hormonal rollercoaster, and there was no getting off the ride until…?! In a single day (or a single hour), I might experience joy, confusion, terror, excitement, sadness, hope, and rage.
Rage was a new one for me.
It’s not that I’d never faced it within others; it’s that I rarely (never?) felt it within myself.
Over the years, I had cultivated a willingness and capacity to be with incredible joy and incredible sadness, within myself and others. Sitting in circle with women in my Freedom Mastermind, I’ve held the individuals and the group through moments of absolute ecstasy and deep pain. Because that’s life.
Growing up, for me – and most women – anger was not an especially “acceptable” emotion. Most of us were expected to be nice girls, sweet girls, pretty and happy girls. So we got quiet (shut down). And polite (bottled-up). And good (repressed).
Socially, a woman’s anger is often met with reproach and dismissal.
Therefore, feeling anger and showing it has too-long threatened our sense of belonging and challenged our sense of self.
And when we did see anger expressed in others, it was often rooted in shame or expressed very unconsciously – through violence, oppression, the intent to cause (and exhaust) pain.
And because of all of the social and cultural shame surrounding a woman’s anger, if we feel it at all, it often seethes within us or comes out with the same daggers that we’ve seen and recoiled from in others.
Most of us had no models for how to dance with anger, so anger became unsafe.
Without healthier, more integrated paths for expression, we’re left with 3 options:
1. RAGE / BULLDOZE
“I’m hurting and now you’re going to hurt, too.” In bulldozing, we unleash the fury, to release our internal anger and (consciously or unconsciously) inflict that pain on others. Following this path, we often lose the opportunity for connection and intimacy with others, as most will naturally recoil in the face of this.
2. SHUT DOWN / SHUT OUT
“I can’t handle this, so I’m out.” This has been my lifetime go-to – a “compassionate bypass”, masquerading as simple compassion. Towards others, this usually looked like shutting-down and appeasing. Towards myself, it looked like not actually feeling anger, only sadness. When we shut down, dousing the flames of anger with water, we often lose a connection to what we care about along with the capacity to be with pain in ourselves and others.
3. SEETHE / CORRODE
“Happy on the outside, pissed on the inside.” This is where the feelings of anger remain active, but pushed down beneath the surface to fester. Often, this anger burns within our system, creating physical pain within the body. With no healthy outlet, we lose the ability to find a way to express or find a path forward.
While these expressions look very different, at the core they are the same thing:
A REJECTION OF, AND THEREFORE AN INABILITY TO BE WITH, ANGER.
When we don’t welcome, honor, and learn to work with anger in healthy ways, discovering the pain and desire beneath it all, we lose so much:
- We lose connection with others
- We lose connection with ourselves
- We lose connection to deeper pain, desire, and wisdom
- We lose access to healing and integration
When we can’t find a healthy way to be with an emotion within ourselves, we simply can’t hold space for that emotion in others, stunting our leadership.
I grew up in Hinduism, and in our tradition we have a goddess name Kali Ma. She is known as the creator-preserver-destroyer, often seen holding the severed heads of men.
Kali is often misperceived to be an angry, ruthless killer, but she is not. She is not a vengeful serial-killer, but a representation of fierce, motherly love. She is the destroyer of attachments and illusions. She is a fierce stand for truth – in other words, she is a fierce stand for love.
When we recognize that the fire of anger is passion – the potent combination of pain and desire – we have the opportunity to find compassion for that anger, and discover the capacity to open our hearts and listen when we face it in ourselves and others.
MAKING SPACE FOR ANGER WITHOUT GETTING LOST IN IT:
1. DIGNIFY THE ANGER
Dignifying anger does not mean accepting the actions taken out of anger. When we stop vilifying the anger itself as bad/wrong/ugly, embracing it for the potent combination of pain and desire that it is, we make way for healthy expressions of it. Because as long as the emotion we call anger is perceived as “bad”, it has nowhere to go but the realm of shame, where it sneaks out and wreaks havoc.
2. EXPRESS THE RAW EMOTION IN A HEALTHY WAY
Rather than unleashing our anger on others or having it fester within ourselves, we must learn how to express our anger in healthy ways, allowing the energy to move in our bodies. Take space to go have a temper tantrum and punch a pillow, wail at the moon, or vent to a friend who isn’t going to simply corroborate with your story, but instead hold space for the raw emotion.
Being a stand for anger to express in healthy ways also means encouraging others to do the same: This means creating clear boundaries around violence. We can dignify anger and remain open-hearted, without allowing ourselves or others to be physical or emotional punching bags.
3. USE THE ANGER AS A PORTAL TO THE PAIN AND DESIRE
When we stop at anger, rather than using it as a portal to go deeper – beneath the story – we lose the opportunity to feel the pain and desire behind it all. This mires us in the story and calcifies the anger, preventing us from discovering a path forward. Again, this isn’t about making the anger wrong – it’s about dignifying it, then going deeper to dignify what’s beneath it, so we can move forward with clarity and purpose.
“I’m so pissed, and if she really cared about me she wouldn’t say that. She obviously doesn’t respect me whatsoever.”
The pain and desire beneath it:
“I’m hurt. This reminds me of that time with my mom when I was a kid, and I’m feeling the same way now that I did them. I feel so sad. I want to feel connected to my friend.”
“This presidential candidate is an absolute jerk! If they win, this country is going to hell in a handbasket, but at least we’ll take them with us, because that’s where they deserve to rot.”
The pain and desire beneath it:
“It pains me SO MUCH that this is the level of conversation we’re having in our presidential election. It hurts. I want us to do so much better. I want us to elect people who uphold the values I hold dear, and I will stand for that.”
4. LEAN INTO CONNECTION & TAKE ACTION
The path to healing is the allowing the anger and underlying pain and desire to first and foremost be deeply felt within ourselves. To embrace them and welcome them in, serve them a bowl of soup and a warm hug. From there, we can share that pain and desire with others, and take action around the things we care about, creating movement forward.
When we increase our capacity to be with anger within ourselves and others, we stand deeper in our leadership.
Thank goodness my pregnancy brought all that repressed anger up in me, so I could integrate it and learn how to hold space for this potent emotion in my child, in myself, and in the world, and harness the passion to contribute to the change I want to see in the world.
I’m about to send out the invitation to deepen your leadership through the 9-month journey that is my Freedom Mastermind.
It comes around once a year, and for 2017 we have some very exciting plans. If you’ve been waiting for this, or if your interest is piqued for the first time, please email [email protected]. We’ll be sure to follow up with you personally.
—> In the comments below, I would love to hear how comfortable you feel with anger, what your challenges are in facing it in yourself and others, and where you want to grow as a leader.
Nisha, thanks for putting this into words. I was working through repressed anger with a friend of mine. He could see it; I “didn’t feel much” about it.
Parts of my life I thought I had dealt with, I really just numbed out.
My challenges are: It was SO not OK to express anger growing up that it feels like my body will not (refuses) to open up that much to express it. So, I can see that it’s a block, but it feels like I have little access to it in this world.
I loved your path forward to make space for it. I’m looking for good models on how to connect with it as a portal to pain and desire AND also express it in a way that makes a difference in the areas I care about. Like, adding love to the fire and letting the fire burn anyway.
Nisha, I also want to share this article about how the political campaign has impacted women. Support groups are popping up because of the suppressed memories of abuse women have endured are being released now to be dealt with. This is actually what I was referring to in my previous comment – psychological and sexual abuse by men – that I thought I had fully processed.
There is a collective impact when we as women suffer, stuff, and suppress our hurt *and* when we don’t lean into the pain with connection. It is a huge missing in our leadership as women and I think you’ve really tapped into something huge.
I bring it up here because I believe it is relevant to this post, and I know you read the comments and really think through these tough issues with care.
Here is the link: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_5804d6ece4b0e8c198a8fb66
Thank you for consistently showing us a place to listen, learn, and be heard. Your leadership is extraordinary!
Thank you for this post. I just opened my email this afternoon and couldn’t believe it when I saw the title of your post because I literally posted a new blog about anger just yesterday on my own blog. It would seem coincidental, but I think that a lot of women – due to the current political situation – are reaching a point where their anger feels too important to dismiss any longer.
Thank you for giving voice to this important issue.
Beautiful post, Nisha, thank you.
As a therapist I have spend over two decades observing women denying, stuffing and cutting off from anger. Of course, this never works, because it will come out in some form or another and cause bigger troubles than the anger itself. So many women cling to ‘staying positive’ as a vehicle to deny and avoid their anger. Then there is the shame that results after acknowledging that the taboo anger exists.
—Nisha, thank you for being brave enough to own your rage and show others that it can be channeled in a healthy, productive way. As you showed us, what’s underneath the anger is the opportunity for healing. Paradoxically, we get ‘stuck’ in the suppression of anger but we are released through the healthy expression of it.
Your tiny baby is already teaching you (and all of us!) so much. Love and light to you through the rest of your pregnancy.
What an inspiring blog, written so eloquently about such a powerful element that we’re all affected by on some level. Whether it’s expressed from within or projected towards us from someone in our life. It speaks volumes and draws attention to a deeper wisdom behind the emotion.
I feel like I have a hard time with anger as it’s often an emotion I have difficulty emoting! Plan and simple. For fear or how I’ll be received or judgement that may ensue because I “shouldn’t” be expressing anger, or that there must be something wrong because I”m feeling it in the first place. There’s judgment within myself for the reason that I feel anger in the first place. Why does it arise? Where is it coming from? What’s behind it when it does surface? I’ll find myself exploring.
I experienced anger from a very close family member growing up and I feel in someways I’ve taken that on and it’s uncomfortable. I feel frustration within myself because I’m feeling anger in the first place and there’s a desire to recognize it more so with awareness and learn how to process it. It doesn’t always feel easy though (not that it should) as I’ll equate anger with negativity and that’s when the judgment creeps in.
My desire is to utilize it as a means of growth, to channel it in ways that foster strength and evolution, which is why I appreciate this post so much as it addresses the challenges with anger.
Thank you so much Nisha for sharing.