What to do with anger?
Updated: Mar 20
One emotion that is often very complicated for people, including myself, is anger. Some people will often say they don’t want to be in touch with their anger because the only expression of anger they have witnessed is overwhelming and chaotic. Others feel a great deal of shame around their own anger, because it has led them to act out in ways that are harmful to themselves and others around them. Women especially often feel like it's an emotion they are not “allowed” to have, which means the anger often gets internalized and turned upon themselves.
However, anger is also very useful, when its energy can be harnessed and used in productive and targetted ways. Audre Lorde - “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” - talks about anger’s usefulness in pushing against oppressive forces in our world.
“Focussed with precision [anger] can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change….a basic and radical alteration of those assumptions underlying our lives….Anger, expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.”
I appreciate Lorde’s insistence on translation. And yet, this part of the process is also grueling and painful because it requires discipline and intention to sit with and in one's own anger (or any other strong emotion) long enough to get a sense of direction towards liberating change. Often people tend to blast the emotion out or dissociate/distance themselves from it.
One practice that is helpful in the process of translating anger is simply noticing and becoming more aware on a daily basis of the emotions that arise within oneself. Simply pausing a few times a day and asking:
What am I feeling right now? What is the emotion?
Where does this feeling show up in my body?
Can I hold space for this emotion?
One thing this practice does is that it helps to clarify the emotions that are impacting a person in a given moment and hold space for them, which is a way to validate the emotion. As well, by stepping back from the feeling and looking at it, it engages the mind actively, which is a way to harness the emotion and not allow it to become overwhelming. This process can begin to help to translate emotions (such as anger) and help give clarity because the mind and body are still actively engaged in the process of noticing emotions. Overtime, this can help to inform a person in actionable, measured, and transformative steps.
So when are the moments in which you often feel rage? On the road? At work with a particular co-worker? In your family? Perhaps making an intention to use this method in the moments in your day when you tend to feel anger might help you become more grounded and engaged in the present moment. If tapping into emotions is hard for you, simply doing this practice regularly might help give clarity on your emotional experience and help you to hold space for the feelings and sensations that emerge as a result. This can give you deeper clarity and help you become more in touch with yourself.