Recently I’ve been making room for quiet in my life. This has opened up space for my thoughts and feelings around some difficult experiences to surface. There has been plenty of sadness and a fear that won’t quite let go.
At times, there has also been anger.
I’m angry that things didn’t turn out the way I hoped they would. I’m so angry that the people we counted on to help seemed to abandon us in the hardest moments. I’m angry about all the tactless and insensitive words that were spoken.
My anger is real and I’m not criticizing myself for feeling it . I do, however, want to be careful to not let my anger take over. It’s tempting to surround myself with anger as a layer of self-defense.
When I feel powerless, it’s almost comforting to find someone to blame. But I’ve learned from experience that feeding my anger is yet another way I distract myself from dealing with more painful emotions. It’s easier to feel angry than hurt or afraid, but eventually that limits my emotional experience to numbness and rage.
It can be tricky to discern whether I’m letting myself feel my anger or hiding behind it. I’m still learning how to do this. There are, of course, plenty of great resources out there to help us navigate our anger. For now, here are a couple questions that are helping me.
What else am I feeling?
Not only is it a general good practice to paying attention to all my emotions, but asking what else I’m feeling also helps me notice if I’m hiding behind my anger to avoid feeling something painful. Making space for all my emotions keeps anger in its place as one piece of my experience.
This certainly isn’t easy. Ranting about how someone didn’t do her job is easier than facing how scared I was when she wasn’t there to help. Part of me believes that if I can make the fear someone else’s fault it lets me off the hook for dealing with it.
But feeling anger in place of sadness and fear doesn’t make them go away. They are still there. The longer I hide behind anger, the more I disconnect from my true experience.
Can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?
If I’m being honest, how many times have I turned away from someone who needed me because I was scared and didn’t know what to do? Now, to be clear, seeing the person I’m angry with as an imperfect human doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not angry anymore. I’m still angry at all the people who didn’t face their fears, do their jobs, and be who we needed them to be. But I need to remember that they are more than their mistakes.
Part of this is asking whether I’m being completely honest about the focus of my anger or whether I’m turning someone into a dumping ground for everything that feels too hard to face. I guess in a way remembering their humanity is more about me.
Seeing them as terrible people who did me wrong is another layer of armor around my own heart. It keeps me from openness and connection. It keeps me stuck.
Putting myself in their shoes isn’t about excusing their actions or really even about sympathizing with their side of the situation. I need to keep them as humans, not monsters, so I don’t harden my heart too much to feel. Seeing them as human helps me let them go so I can focus on what really matters now instead of fixating on what they did then.
I’d love to know…when have you turned anger into a layer of self-defense? How do you let yourself feel anger without letting it take over? How do you stay connected with yourself, even through painful experiences?