I’m not very in touch with my anger these days, yet I am, and I know it is there. When I numb, I know anger is lurking behind it. Often I squash my own anger. Sometimes I need parts to help me rationalize my anger…that helps me accept it as normal and good. I get angry when I think of my grandfather raping a little girl. Why on earth would I squash anger when it is so needed and necessary?
I read an article by Michel Odent discussing “stress deprivation” in pre-labor cesarean birth. Labor starts a cascade of hormones and body responses that help prepare the baby for life in the outside world. He mentions how the word “stress” has negative connotations and the impulse of our culture is to avoid stress. One of my favorite TED talks addresses this belief here. The article goes into detail about the implications for mother and child in denying the process of labor for whatever reason. Even if the reason is lifesaving, there are certain long-term consequences to doing it this way.
It is the same in emotional health. Skipping parts of the healing process has long-term ramifications.
Someone does not go from business school to head of company with no experience…it takes time to learn how to apply book knowledge to real life situations. You can’t take a block of clay and stick your finished piece in the kiln without conditioning the clay first. You can’t go from throwing ingredients in a bowl to eating a “cake”…you can’t have ingredients and call it a cake without sifting flour, creaming eggs and sugar, adding all necessary ingredients, and finally baking. There is a process, and it takes time. Not your time. Its own time.
This is what happens when we cut off our anger: it doesn’t go away. Just as a cake doesn’t hold together until it’s baked, anger doesn’t hold together unless it is healed. Instead, it comes out sideways and in all the wrong places. It makes you lash out at people who are helpers or friends. it makes you misplace it on to people who don’t deserve your anger. It might even make you become abusive and choose someone to bear the blame for all of your anger .
Birth is an apt metaphor for this, for when anger is cut out of you instead of squeezed out of you in a truthfully expressive way, there are repercussions to your mental health. You brood, you suffer, you feel confused or antsy or stuck or numb. Or you turn on yourself in self-deprecation. Stuffing any feelings, but especially anger, will literally make you sick. Stuffing it into passive aggression is even worse.
I get tired of stuffing. Having anger when you have every right and reason to be angry is a holy, blessed thing. Let me be straight. Having anger does not give you the power to change a darned thing about another person, except to hurt back if you so choose, and that will end poorly. Anger is your burden alone, but it gives you excellent information about yourself. It gives you clarity. It protects you, especially if you have been taught to numb out and not stand up and speak when things are very wrong. It is healthy to be good and pissed, especially if you have someone in your life whose goal is to limit your options, press you down, and unfairly punish you. It is healthy, and like giving birth, it is finite. Anger is an energy most of us didn’t learn how to handle. When we find situations where passive aggression is mistaken for mental health and where we aren’t allowed to be angry, we suffer. Our anger gives us clarity and strength and the energy to make things right.
If one has been in an oppressive situation, your anger has never been uncovered or welcomed. To accept and express anger is vital, otherwise it is as if a limb has been cut off your body and you will be emotionally crippled your whole life. The transformation happens when anger leads to truth which leads to grace. It’s a long process. I say to anyone who knows me, any angry part of me is just a part, just a stop on my path. I was stifled for so long and anger is like lighting a fire of Self. We all have to learn some time to light this fire of truth to get to grace.
Not being angry causes not just your suffering, but the suffering of others. Not speaking up when you should is an act of cowardice. Sometimes, awakening anger can keep hurtful people far away from us in our hearts. Hurtful people won’t acknowledge or honor your anger, because they can’t handle anything that isn’t superficial. Abusers and narcissists value image over substance. Their thinly disguised anger defends their image but not their humanity. It’s fake. They might have the same perception of themselves as victim, but it is not because their human needs were threatened, it is because their image was threatened. That, too, means it is fake. In the name of that false image, they create a victim to blame, judge, criticize, and heap all of their angst on. That isn’t the same as truthfully saying to someone, “your behavior has caused damage.” In fact, it’s the opposite because it is based on a lie.
To get to love and grace, these protections must be put aside. Imagine being loved not for your “fakeness” and “performance” but for your messy humanity. Often, the person pointing out your hurtfulness is giving you a gift: the possibility of being loved for being real.
Eustace, a character in CS Lewis’s “Voyage of the Dawntreader”, had greed in his heart. When he tried to selfishly hoard and keep a treasure when he had the option to share it, he himself was turned into a dragon- a scary, threatening dragon . This passage from the story illustrates beautifully the transformation of an errant heart:
“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I jsut stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
Do you see? Eustace had to claw his way out of his dragon skin…his anger and selfishness kept him trapped. Then he had to go through layers and layers until he was finally exposed for who he was- a boy. Imagine…clawing yourself out from a dragon’s skin…what an incredible process.
This is what anger does eventually…exposes the bare flesh, exposes our feelings of being trapped; our sense of powerlessness, our humility, our sense of righteous indignation at exploitation of any kind, and finally, our ability to be transformed. And we can find there that we are, in all of our humanity, deeply accepted and loved.