Suppressing anger can be toxic. Just as resentments are a form of taking poison hoping the subject of your feelings dies – so can repressed anger churn and infect you.
What happened was this: someone said something uncaring and unkind to me. The top of my head blew off. Well, it felt like it. I was swelling with rage in my body; heart rate was going sky high, my breath was shallow, my blood pressure spiking, my voice became shrill and the urge to scream was nearly overwhelming. My arms were just vibrating with the barely constrained desire to pummel this person. WOW! I am a woman in long term recovery. I am a yoga practitioner. My daily prayer is to be compassionate, to be loving, accepting and forgiving. Where was this kinder person now?
I pushed these physical manifestations of fury aside. I still retained enough yogi in my character to slow my breath consciously, to soften the muscles in my neck, to unclench my hands and jaw. I mentally talked myself into a semblance of homeostasis. Not complete, but out of the trees where my animal self had sprung.
I tried talking it through. My ability to communicate was impaired and my ability to listen was non-existent. The discussion went from misunderstanding, to rude and then to downright mean. I could not continue. I left.
With my stomach churning with acid and my body aching with the fever of suppressed anger I tried to lie down and “sleep it off”. I could not. The thoughts kept swirling in my head. “What did I say or do to cause this?” “Why can’t he understand me?” “I shouldn’t be angry! That isn’t an enlightened way to be! What is wrong with me!” And so it goes, the second arrow hits, the self-recrimination for feelings felt. I am now going down the rabbit hole of thinking that I cannot be angry. “Self-righteous anger is the dubious luxury of other men” comes to mind. If I am a good “AA-ette” then I will avoid anger. If I am a good practicing yogi then I will follow the path of non-harming and contentment. Well – now I am mad, I am not a good practicing member of my 12 Step program and I am a sham of a yogi.
Danger Danger Danger: This is toxic thinking. Not only can anger be appropriate, I would be out of touch with my emotions and myself if I denied myself an actual human feeling. One does get angry from time to time. Pushing the anger down, repressing it, started to cause me to feel a total failure – not just around this issue in this relationship but in all spheres of my life, particularly those I held most dear.
In the denial of my feelings, I was continuing to feed my sense of negative self-worth, that part of me that I have spent YEARS trying to heal. This kind of activity will lead me to an emotional relapse. Unabated other addictions will kick in. My disease wants me to be overwhelmed with emotions and self-doubt.
The mindful way back into my true self, my complete self, my healing self, is to admit the emotion, see the anger, feel it and feel it pass. Yes – it will and does pass. With breath and acceptance that THIS is what I feel, not act upon, but feel will allow the sensations to flow through and to leave behind the lesson.
There are lessons. One – I had a profound physical abreaction – a nearly out of the body experience of rage that I did not act upon. I repeat this for my own well being: I did not act upon this rage. Two – with time I have been able to unpack, to uncover, the real source of the pain that lay beneath the anger; the pain, the fear, and the need.
As I investigate the reason that the words hurt so much and look into the history that lay behind my reaction I am able to respond and discuss the situation. I can take care of my side and be open to the other side. My ears were open now that the sound of my blood pounding in my head has abated. My physical reactions to anger have subsided so my voice has a softer quality, my lips are no longer thin with hysteria, my pupils no longer dilated with rage. I can use words that are more expressive of true feelings and explanations and we can talk this through.
Amends are a huge part of my recovery program, not just the frequency with which I seem to need them, but for the lessons that the situations provide. I learn about me and I learn about you and I change my behavior, and, with luck, my outlook. In time the amendment, the transformation, becomes permanent and I move on to the next challenge.