Dealing with emotional pain, part two

This is part two of a four part series taking a closer look at painful emotions and how to work with them in meditation. In this article we focus on the nature of anger.....

Dealing with emotional pain

Dancing with anger

Let’s focus on the nature of anger and how to use its energy in a constructive way. In this article, I will hopefully give you some guidelines to deal with this challenging emotion and inspire you to dance with your own fire. 

Anger, a challenging emotion

Anger. An emotion that ranges from a small irritation to flaming rage. It’s a physical, cellular reaction that can light up like a fire whenever we feel someone tramples on our self-esteem or just comes too close…arising from our gut, anger can burn, boil or turn icy cold, ready to destroy what’s in its way.

All in all a challenging emotion to handle in our civilized world in which we have learned to relate to each other in a kind and reasonable way.

Where we are supposed to be nice and grown up and not smash each other’s faces whenever we feel like it. But no matter how civilized we are, anger seems to be rooted in our cells, ready to flash when someone steps on our toes. How do we deal with this emotion?

Suppression versus losing control

Most of us learned that anger is something we need to suppress in order not to harm other people. Sometimes we do that so thoroughly that we don’t recognise our own anger even when we are practically on fire. We focus on less “dangerous” emotions like sadness or hurt instead, not aware of the aggression in our system.

But even when we suppress anger it will find ways to get its point across. We have countless ways of expressing anger in a passive way: making cynical remarks, being distant, not cooperating, making other people feel guilty, shutting off…It seems more sophisticated, less harming. But we all get the message.
When we disconnect from our anger by suppressing what we actually feel, we lose our energy and get depressed in the long run, without knowing why we feel depressed. We get literally stuck in our attempt to deny our own angry energy, trying to be harmless and “easy” for people around is.

Another possibility is that anger builds and builds, and then explodes. We just throw it out like garbage, lashing out at someone without staying connected to what we say. A destructive outburst, wanting to damage something in order to get rid of the tension. There is little awareness and control when this happens, and others will be hurt. In either way we do not consciously connect to our own anger; we either deny it or identify with it.

In either way we do not consciously connect to our own anger; we either deny it or identify with it.

Allowing anger

The first thing we need to do when we want to work with anger is acknowledging it is there. As I said before, we don’t always recognise it, so this takes some effort. Personally, I’m still quite good at ignoring the option of anger, losing myself in a vague mist of hurt and indecisiveness instead. But I’m learning to recognise the signs, and every time I feel this way, I sit down and allow my anger to talk to me. In most cases, the mist clears and my energy starts to come back. 

Allowing anger doesn’t mean expressing it right away.

Allowing anger doesn’t mean expressing it right away. It means feeling the energy, embracing its presence. Anger is energy. A vital force, charging our batteries. In that sense, we might as well appreciate and enjoy its vitality. In this welcoming embrace, we can look at what caused it, what exactly made us so irritated or even furious. Take the time to observe this, to become aware of what is going on.

When it is hard to connect to anger in yourself, it can be helpful to look at your thoughts about it. You may have painful memories of experiencing rage when you grew up. Or suffered from suppressed aggression around you. You may feel fear or lack of power when you come across anger. Just take a pen and paper and start to make a list of all the associations around this subject and feelings that come up. This can help you to become aware of any blockages that prevent you from welcoming anger.

The truth is that we are angry more often than we think we are. Whenever we feel hurt or humiliated there is also anger. When there is a lot of tension in our body, rest assured there is anger. Once you become more at ease with this, it is alright to allow it to be there.

Working with anger

Anger is an outgoing force. It needs to be directed towards somebody or something to release its energy. Like lightning needs to connect to a treetop or some high point to strike, anger needs to be projected in order to be able to free itself. It is a physical, instinctive impulse and we need to address it at this level. We can’t think it away! Releasing anger is about releasing built up energy in our body.
Now, this is an interesting dilemma.
How to release when we don’t want to hurt somebody?

Simple answer: by imagining its release in a conscious setting.

In meditation, we can work with this… After we have allowed our anger and found its sting, we will now point our energy.
We do this by imagining the situation that made us angry and project our anger on the particular person we are mad at. In our imagination we just let our anger have its way. The trick is not to hold back or try to be reasonable: remember anger is an instinctive force, a physical impulse. Its energy wants to destroy, that’s its nature. By imagining 
its release in a conscious setting (on your meditation cushion), our energy starts to flow again, our heads clear and we can now look at the issue in an empowered way, in charge of our anger and responsible for our own behavior.

When we learn to work with our anger this way, we can relate to others in a more balanced way. It doesn’t mean we lost our anger: it means we are now conscious about what bothers us and are open to communication again.

Recommended meditation

Be guided through the process of working with anger: Dancing with anger

Shouldn’t we be loving, forgiving people?

Maybe the idea of even imagining projecting your aggression on to somebody feels like a wrong thing to do. Aren’t we supposed to transform our anger during meditation, find forgiveness and focus on love? Aren’t we supposed to be good people?

Well, this might work sometimes, but when we are angry, we are just that, angry!
Anger is here, part of life, so why deny what we are? Why deny a thunderstorm or tell yourself there is no such thing as lightning striking a tree?

I think the best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to learn to deal with our aggression in a constructive, intelligent way. So we no longer need to hurt others unconsciously but can dance with our own shadow.

When we sit down to work with anger, the main goal is to stay awake and conscious.
We want to work with it in order to learn to use its power, not to be its servant.

The process step by step

In the linked meditation above you will be guided through the process of working with anger.
In order to grasp how it works, I will describe the steps in detail below.

1. Becoming aware of our anger and what caused it

After you centered yourself, visualise the situation that made you angry. Feel the anger again, feel the tension, heat etc in your body. Connect to these sensations. Then observe what causes your anger. Be specific, find the sting, what in particular makes you furious…your body will tell you.

(Some people feel step one is sufficient. But “understanding” your hurt might be an excuse not to address your anger. So if you easily blame yourself, I would encourage you to continue with step 2.)

2. Imagining the person you are angry with and project your anger

Imagine this person. (In case of a group, take one person at a time) Feel your anger again, and fantasize what you want to do to him or her. Don’t hold back! You might want to hit, rip apart, shout, scream, smash. Remember you are imagining this, the impulse is coming from your gut. it is only physical aggression looking for a release, it is not what you will do in real life.
Feel your body. Feel your energy. Stop when you feel it’s enough.

3. Coming back to the here and now

Let go of all the images. Bring your attention back to the here and now, to sensations felt in your body. You might feel hot, energised, grounded. Feel the energy of your anger and realise this is your energy. Observe how you feel. Stay focused on yourself.
Open your eyes.

This might have been quite a journey. Working with anger can be challenging and even a bit scary in the beginning. So give yourself some credit for being willing to face your “wild side”. You may feel energised and clear afterwards or maybe you need some more time to explore this. Either way, I hope you feel encouraged to dance more often with this fierce quest called anger, which is only there to empower who you are.

If you want to contribute your experience or have questions about this subject, please feel free to leave a comment. All input is welcome!

Love, Esther

This is part of my series “Dealing with emotional pain” 

If you would like to keep reading more on dealing with emotional pain why not read:
Part 1 – The wisdom of hurt
Part 3 – The root of insecurity
Part 4 – Into the heart of sadness

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Esther TeuleEsther Teule is a meditation teacher and personal coach. Over years of practise Esther has developed her own style of meditation, based on inquiry and the practise of self love.