Wednesday, 27 January 2016

On Anger. a letter to my niece

My dear niece.
I was touched by your post a few weeks back where you felt guilty about feeling angry because someone had frightened and upset you. I wanted to share some of what I have learned about anger over the years of my life.

All your feelings are there for a reason.  They are your response to something that is going on in your environment.  Their purpose is to help you evaluate what’s going on around you.  They are as morally neutral as digestion. It’s not what you feel but what you do with your feelings that matters.
Anger’s purpose is to tell you when something is not right and to give you the impetus to act on that.  It is both information and motivation.  In Chinese medicine, anger is associated with the liver.  The liver is the organ that converts sugar into fat, to store energy, and then converts it back to sugar when energy is needed. (This is a simplistic version but basically correct). It is thus the organ of taking action in the world.  It is associated with the wood element and with tiger energy. 
Just think about this: - wood comes from trees.  Think how trees stand upright and grow against gravity. Think of their fibrous strength, that still stands whatever winds come and buffet them.  Anger is what enables you to stand for yourself, your truth, your needs, your right to be your own person.  Trees grow in forests, surrounded by others who also have their needs and rights to light and life.  Each tree has to find its own way – which they do. They each stand, and in their standing they create a whole ecosphere where each has greater being because of the standing of the others. In an unhealthy environment, trees compete with each other for scarce resources.  But it is our human, Western, over-individualistic perspective that sees the needs of one as always pitted against the needs of others. Trees don’t see it this way.  They share nutrients through their roots and the symbiotic fungi that live in the soil.   
And tigers are the embodiment of the ability to take action. They are bright and fierce with life, hungry and passionate for it, willing to be brave and fierce to meet their needs.  Think of a mother tiger defending her young. Think of the wonderful poem “Tyger, tyger burning bright, in the forests of the night.”  However dark the forest, they burn bright.  
But if you cut down the trees, and forbid them to stand, then there is no defence for the land against the flooding waters of emotion. They will rush in and cover everything and the earth will come landsliding down and everything will be out of control.  The trees, by their standing for themselves, keep the ground in place. As women we are taught from an early age to block our anger, to smile, to smooth things over and stay calm. These are useful skills and we all need to learn this, but when it means you feel guilty about ever feeling angry, no matter what the cause, then it’s unhealthy.  Swallowing anger fills the belly with toxic emotion, creating digestive problems, breathing problems (from not being able to speak), and unassuageable hunger from unmet needs (resulting in addictions, eating disorders, you name it.)    We’ve all heard of unrequited love - well I have a phrase I’ve often felt a need for – unrequited anger.  For all those times when I have not been permitted to speak out for myself. Or when I have spoken and my anger has been abnormalised, and unheard.
And that is the problem with anger. In itself it’s a perfectly healthy and indeed sensible thing to have around, but when you speak out in anger, people generally don’t want to hear you. It doesn’t matter how valid your point of view is, if it’s said angrily people just tell you you’re wrong.  I often find myself on the horns of the dilemma that if I speak my piece reasonably and calmly, then people think I’m not serious. But if I speak it angrily, they get that I’m serious and there really is a problem, but they invalidate me anyway just because I got angry.  It doesn’t help that I’ve been so conditioned and punished for ever getting angry that it takes a huge amount of awfulness in my life to make me speak out. So when I do, it comes out as an explosion, and I always get tearful and can barely articulate – which makes it soooo easy for anyone who just doesn’t want to listen.  Anger begets anger. But the other guy will always justify their anger by saying you started it. 
So - even though it’s true that anger is ok to feel, there are no easy answers to how you should express your anger in a productive way.  All I can say is, use your anger to give yourself the courage to speak out and stand for yourself.  But don’t expect others to like you for doing so.  When you resort to anger, do so in the acceptance that you may make others angry back with you.  And, however much you may want to, it’s not always possible to retain your sense of self and be polite and nice while you are angry. It’s more than likely you will say things and hear things back that you didn’t want to.  In my life I do try to save anger - or rather my expression of anger – for when it’s really needed.  And even when the fallout from it can be bad, and people get upset, I’ve reached the point where I can truly say that mostly it does achieve a good change in whatever situation I needed to deal with.
But even when that happens, no-one ever acknowledges that I had a point. Even when people do change their behaviour and it’s a change that benefits all – they still never thank me for it. That’s just the way it goes. Lots of times I just have to say to myself – “Just because people didn’t like hearing what I had to say, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been said.”
No-one likes to hear unwelcome truths, even when everyone benefits from the speaking of them.
And lots of times it isn’t right to say anything. Then I just note my anger and let it be. I never stop myself from feeling what I need to feel.

No-one should ever tell you what to feel.  

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