How to Express and Channel Your Anger in Empowering Ways Without Hurting Other People
When were you last angry? How did it feel? Did it feel good/powerful to express your anger? Did you feel heard/understood/released?
Or did you feel embarrassed by the fact that you were so angry, ashamed that you should have such powerful feelings?
Were you afraid of expressing them…. Wished you weren’t feeling the way you did…. did your best to hide it – but knew perfectly well that everyone else can see that there’s something up with you.
Or did you “lose your rag”, you couldn’t help yourself and said some things you probably shouldn’t. Or because it was the honest truth of how you felt, and your trying to be more authentic in how you communicate. And now you’re paying for it, trying to pick up the pieces of the havoc that this little outburst has caused because other people can’t handle your anger.
Either way it seems you can’t win!
The Power of Anger
Anger is powerful. Anger can be destructive. It destroys families, relationships and lives. Anger is contagious.
Have you watched a clever speaker manipulate a crowd using the power of anger to stimulate them into action. Such anger can start wars, fuel conflicts that can last decades, effect generations and nations for many years to come.
No wonder we as humans are so frightened of anger and go to lengths to avoid it.
And yet anger is natural. It is our body’s response and way of releasing emotion that could otherwise cause damage to our internal system. The reddened face, the raised heart beat is just a sign that our body can’t cope and is looking for a way of discharging this toxic energy – or we will literally burst a blood vessel.It was also the way that primitive man survived. It is the “fight” response that enabled him to kill a dangerous beast so his tribe could eat. Anger fueled the fighting instinct so he could overcome his fear and meet a situation with all his power and strength. He needed to be angry enough with the beast to achieve this and his biology produced super human energy for this purpose.
So anger is not all bad. When channeled correctly it can be extremely positive.
It is the energy that enables you to achieve your goals and bring about change in your life. Have you achieved things in your life, that were deemed impossible because you wanted to prove someone wrong or because the stakes of not achieving them were just too high?
Anger too fuels countless heroic acts. Our history books and newspapers are full of accounts of situations, when against all odds men risked their life for the sake of others. It is the same energy too that enables a mother to save the life of her child by lifting a car off him.
Martin Luther King said:
“When I am angry I can pray well and preach well”.
Anger enabled him to change the course of history for millions of black people, through channeling his anger in powerful ways. He didn’t achieve what he did by being angry but through finding a powerful outlet for his anger as a preacher and speaker.
Anger has done as much good as it has done harm. Anger has brought about political, moral and social change. Anger has fueled the peace movement, has saved whales, children, victims of torture…. the list goes on.
Many People Don’t Know How Angry They Are
Many people do not know how angry they are. Because it has become such a habit to suppress their anger, and they have lived with it so long that they don’t even know it’s there.
Certainly that was true for me. I had sat on my rage for years, and it was buried so deep in me that I really had no idea it was there. As a result I was in a state of numbness. In fact I was half dead, going through the motions of my life and – deeply unhappy.You may have heard me talk about the volcano. This is the metaphor for the way in which your system deals with anger when you are unable to express it. You stuff it down so it can’t be seen and it doesn’t take long before your anger becomes a volcano, full of molten lava and extremely volatile. Anything could set the volcano off so it takes a lot of energy to keep the volcano from exploding.
One of two things are likely to happen. Either your volcano explodes and comes out in all manner of inappropriate ways, or you repress the volcano even deeper and turn the energy in on yourself.
This soon turns into depression. Because repression ultimately leads to depression.
But the volcano is never as dormant as we would like to think. Little bits of anger are coming out in covert ways. They are dressed up in other ways – in what is commonly known as passive anger.
I was an arch-fiend of passive anger. Anger was creeping out all over the shop. Other people were seeing it, or feeling it, except they didn’t know it. They just felt uncomfortable around me and so they stayed away. Thus I spent a lot of my time on my own, unable to share my true feelings and thoughts with anyone else, and I immersed myself in books – because that was the only place where I knew I was safe.
In fact I was depressed.
How Anger Can Be a Positive Force
So how do you use your anger so it can be a positive force in your life?
And so for me it was very important that I began to reverse that process. Drama became a powerful way for me to do that, because drama enabled me to take everything that I deemed as being unacceptable and to bring it out.
Anger, rage, jealousy are the stuff of drama. It is acceptable for anger to be expressed in drama – it is even entertaining, thrilling, cathartic for an audience to watch. Thus through drama I had permission to express anger in countless different ways, and the more I did this, the more my own anger began to diffuse. All that old, baked baggage that had lain at the bottom of the volcano at last had an outlet, and the pressure in the volcano began to reduce.
And at the same time my anger was being witnessed. And the more it was being witnessed, the more satisfying it was, and the more freeing and releasing it was for me.
My anger had a purpose. It was no longer a destructive force but an instrument of transformation and catharsis. And it didn’t matter that the situation bore no relevance to the original source of my anger. My anger was being seen, witnessed and welcomed – and that was enough.
I have observed this so many times in groups and workshops. That witnessing brings a healing power of ten. That when anger is seen, validated and approved of, and can even bring healing to other people – then at last it has a powerful role to play.You may remember me talking about Rob who was consumed with road rage. Whilst he may have had a guess as to what his anger was all about, knowing that didn’t help, because this anger was not logical. It could not be neatly explained away. This anger came from a very deep source – maybe beyond language.
Rob discovered a way of getting to the unconscious source of his anger through the Breakthrough Group, and it didn’t involve beating pillows or flailing around. But it involve him channeling his anger through archetypes that became a safe way for this energy to release. In most cases he didn’t even know it was happening. A lot of the time he was having fun playing characters that were anarchic and powerful.
Why Many Anger Exercises Don’t Work
Anger is complicated. Most people are frightened of the power of their anger, so it is not surprising that they clam up when they think they are going to do some anger work. This is why working directly with anger often doesn’t work.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve told a group that we’re going to work with anger, and seen everyone shut down. A much better tactic is to tell them we’re going to play a game (often with newspaper) and the results are very different. People happily express anger and aggression with alacrity, in a joyful, spirited way through the medium of newspaper. The room may be strewn with torn up newspaper, which also is rather satisfying, but no other harm has come.
And anger for many people is a camouflage for much deeper emotions – hurt feelings or grief. And so there can be many things within anger. This is why working with archetype and myth is so powerful – as there is so many opportunities within the story to express so many different things, so many different characters to choose from expressing a wide range of emotions.
And this is how Rob achieved such a powerful healing.
My sense was that the deepest release came – not when he was flailing around expressing anger, but when he was doing some much quieter work. In that way he was able to work on the many levels of his anger, in all its shades. And he was also able to work at a non verbal level too, getting to unconscious source of his original wounding.
And he didn’t have to experience the original pain, the principles on which many therapies work on. The pain just melted away.
There is a very simple exercise that I do in almost all of my groups and workshops that can very powerfully clear anger – or any emotion that is troubling you. Whilst a group or workshop is a much safer and more effective place to clear anger, because of the supportive power of the group and the presence of witnessing, try this simple exercise.
Find a place were you have some personal space and if possible where you can freely express noise.
Stand and connect with the anger you are feeling. It is much better if you stand because this will allow the emotion to flow freely and to be released through the whole of your body.
As you connect with the source of where you are feeling the anger, let you body move with the anger, let it go wherever it needs to go. Let any sounds that want to be expressed. Move around the room if you need to. Let your imagination play. Imagine you are a beast, or a fearsome warrior – what ever comes into your mind as you are exploring this. Enjoy feeling the power of this character/energy. Explore this character as long as you need to – until they come to rest.
When you are complete, take time to be still. Notice what is happening in your body. Then let the character go. Shake them out of your body. Shake anything that needs to be shaken out.
Then step away from the place. Let it go. Go for a walk, or do something that you really enjoy.
I hope you found this article insightful. I am also always delighted to hear from you for any reason so do write to me if you have any questions, comments or just want to share anything. I’ll answer as soon as I can.
© Claire Schrader 2010
Not yet receiving my newsletter. Subscribe now and receive articles like this one along with details of events I’m offering delivered to your inbox.