Therapists teach clients how to deal with anger in healthy ways. Supposedly. This therapist has all kinds of questions about anger and how to work with it constructively. Big Question: How do we REALLY heal our negative emotions, and not be overrun by them?
Melissa’s mother was a mean and critical alcoholic; warzone describes family meals when she was growing up. This mom picked apart everything Melissa said, wore, did. Every boyfriend she brought home, every interest she had, every detail about her appearance. This mom sabotaged. Not surprising that Melissa turned to drugs, alcohol, sugar, and sex in her late teens and early 20s and had a couple of pregnancies out-of-wedlock….
Clean and sober over 30 years, but tired of her battle with weight, her sugar addiction, and done with dieting (“I just CAN’T do another diet, I just can’t!”), Melissa tried Eating with GraceTM groups and individual counseling. She has done wonderful work owning her sugar addiction and shifting many unhealthy self-care and relationship patterns….
And here comes the ANGER. Her husband complains that since menopause she’s irritable, quick to bite his head off. She owns it – and secretly, she likes it. Isn’t she allowed to speak her mind? At her age, can’t she finally stop being nice and just tell it like it is? Plus, he does go on and on.…
The psychotherapist in me appreciates her anger. Under the lid of depression, under the rage of addictive behaviors: healthy anger. We need our anger to fight the lions of our lives: cruelty, mistreatment, abuse, mockery, bullying, injustice, discrimination. As kids, we needed anger to train our parents about our individual needs and feelings. (We do train people how to treat us, you know!) And as modern women we are coached and praised for our righteous anger: women down through the centuries, heck, our own mothers and grandmothers, have suffered oppression and humiliation, and we are finally owning our power, or at least, somewhere inside, we want to begin to own it.
And how do we “work through” healthy anger? (Google just gave me 183 million results in 0.36 seconds for that phrase.)
A close colleague taught a weekly bioenergetics class for many years in Burlington in the 90s. Picture 5 or 6 women, all ages, circled around, learning to stand firm in their bodies, hold their ground, and say “NO” and “OFF MY BACK” and “STOP IT.” Outloud, LOUD. I was in my early 40s and this was the first time I had EVER expressed anger or said a firm NO.
Since then I’ve given myself lots of permission to dance my anger, draw my fury, and stand my ground in lots of situations. I know these healthy, expressive, body-centered anger practices have been very healing for me; my Inner Child now believes I will hold my ground and speak out for her. And I see how they empower and relieve my clients. How can I not want Melissa to have this empowerment and release?
Still, when Melissa left, I felt unfinished and off-center. Yes, I want her to appreciate and express the depth of her healthy anger, appreciate and own the pain of her childhood and teen years. Still….
We erupt AT others, often our loved ones. We nurse resentments, the story of “what he did” replaying, replaying. I know in my own case, I hold some very deep core beliefs about having been wronged; there is a feeling tone held in my lower abdomen and a way my breathing closes in associated with these core beliefs.
Mindfulness practice asks that we sit still with it, with whatever it is. We stay balanced in our posture, and rest our minds on the breathing, like riding a raft lifting up and down on gentle waves. The awareness, the mindfulness, is full of space – it witnesses whatever arises, without judgment. It just STAYS.
And of course it doesn’t stay. Legs fidget. Ears are pulled out by traffic. Nose itches. Mind takes off, chasing likes and rearing up against dislikes.
The grace though, of our gift of mindfulness, is that the awareness wakes up. Ping! And here we are, simply sitting, witnessing again.
Now this can be pretty boring or ordinary a lot of the time. But sit down for mindfulness practice when you’re irritated or downright angry, and wow – it can get pretty hot!!
Pema Chodron, a beloved teacher of Buddhist meditation and author of wonderful books and CDs [ http://pemachodronfoundation.org/ ] , encourages us to STAY right here, restraining the reactivity, witnessing, watching it build and ease, over and over. Staying really involves letting go of the storyline and staying connecting with the body sensations, breathing in, breathing out, experiencing what arises and passes IN THE BODY.
I find this teaching so inspiring, in that it totally trusts the wisdom of the bodymind to move from distress to balance, from confusion to clarity. Anger is pretty muddy water, and it really doesn’t taste that good to us when we are carrying it. By using mindfulness practice with our anger (or any difficult emotion), we become more aware of where we are hooked, what our habitual negative thought and story patterns are, and we grow BEYOND our storyline, beyond our wounds and conditioning.
The gift of this practice for me, over the years (yes, years), has been that SOMETIMES, when I’m about to be reactive with someone, I can pause, breathe, and not go there. And later, in meditation or journaling, I can get in touch with how that person or situation connects down into a core belief, or deeply habitual body feeling, that I’m conscious of BECAUSE I’ve sat with it mindfully. This is a taste of freedom. Wow. To have even a moment of freedom from deep, old habits of reacting….
The Buddha taught that the mind is already enlightened. The clouds just have to drift away.
Blessings on your cloud practice.
Take good care, Anya
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