If I asked you right now, “What makes you angry?” I tend to believe you would have something to say. National politics? The lockdown? The policies? The lack of policies?
Maybe there is someone you are having trouble with lately? Or just the difficulty of living together in tight quarters?
Is it someone who’s hurt you?
A painful experience?
Something in your past?
Right now, there is so much going on, that getting overwhelmed is almost a given. So many of us are struggling with a reality we never thought we would face… and the surprises seem to keep coming.
On top of that, we are more separated from each other than ever before. And as humans, our natural way to regulate our emotions builds a lot on connection: We share. And I’m not talking about sharing memes. I’m talking about sharing contact. Eye contact, physical contact, emotional contact. Sharing space. Sharing touch. Sharing ourselves.
If we don’t share, our emotions have nowhere to go, and they build up. And they just keep building up.
And here we are - run-down, worn out, frustrated… and very likely, angry. Even the silly experiences of our everyday lives, like slipping and falling, or accidentally dropping a glass on the floor, have nowhere to go. The emotional buildup just gets stuck in us, and a million little things pile on top of each other. And anger accumulates, over time.
If you have been facing genuine hardships, then all the more so.
Anger is a beast with its own set of rules.
First of all, it’s connected. Anger connects to anger. It works a lot like grains of gunpowder, all sitting next to each other, in a pile. If I am generally holding anger inside, then any little thing that sets me off is likely to set off the entire pile. When we are healthy, we can respond to the situation at hand without it triggering a bunch of accumulated anger. But if there is anger inside, then we will tend to feel like all of it is lighting up very quickly… even from little things. And this is what we often call “overreacting”. And I don’t know about you….. but I am not feeling altogether healthy these days. I feel like even little things are driving me nuts. And I know it’s because of my accumulated anger.
Rule number two: We cover our real anger with superficial anger. My favorite example is politics: I have discovered that whenever I go off on a diatribe about politics, I end up realizing that in fact, I’m angry at something deeper - typically someone who has upset me. But since I cannot resolve it with them, as is sometimes the case (I am no angel), I go off on politics.
And clearly, when I am at odds with someone else, it may very well be covering up an even deeper issue that is even harder for me to confront - which is really the reason why I can’t resolve things with this person in the first place. If I could be present during our conversation, without the accumulated anger, I might just be able to hear them clearly. We just might be able to work things out.
It once occurred to me that if I searched my old emails, I would inevitably find some letters I had written to people - containing difficult conversations. Some I had erased, to be sure, but some were still there. Honestly, it was the angriest ones that I erased… and now I regret that. Because I realized something when I read them again, years later: I suddenly noticed things that the other person had said, that I could not at all remember them saying. And I saw things that now had a whole new meaning to me, as well, even though at the time, I understood them all the wrong way. And going through these old emails, it became very clear: I had been missing things in the conversation - critical things, game-changing things - because I was angry.
Let's talk about politics. The image up top is that of Yizhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel in 1993, shaking hands with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in those same years. I could have used any image of an Arab and a Jew shaking hands, but I figured that this one would be easy to recognize.
"Under the ground" of that image, so-to-speak, we see the roots of each man, and in a way, each nation. Tangled into their roots are the traumas of their past, which may not show up at the surface, but their presence is clearly felt, and clearly an obstacle, toward any real communication between the two men - and between their people. It is my strong opinion that some of these traumas are not even related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; but each nation still caries its burdens wherever it goes, and they get in the way of every attempt to see the current situation as it is - without being influenced by these burdens - and to see the other side as trustworthy and genuine.
Some time ago, I saw a fascinating TED talk by a man who had spent years as a leader in the neo-Nazi community. He finally broke away from that life after a series of events that began with the birth of his son, which caused him to question whether this was the kind of culture he wanted his son to grow up in. But in the process of coming out, he realized that he had never really known any Muslims, Jews, gays, or others whom he had been venting his anger upon. His anger at them was only covering up other emotions, deeper inside, that he had been carrying around since his early childhood. These, as it turned out, were related more to his own family and upbringing than to any political group.
So when they say that "the real enemy is within", they're not at all kidding.
Anger can go a long way. Unchecked, it can tear us apart as individuals, and it can also tear us away from each other as human beings. And we all have anger. This year, there are so many reasons to be angry, and we are building it up inside, day by day. But if we let this anger fester, we will only be adding more gunpowder into this pile that is just waiting for a spark. We all need ways to deal with anger, and we all need ways to deal with it in our own lives. Having anger - in this generation, in any generation, and especially at a time like this - is normal. It is completely normal. But we need to find ways to deal with it.
With that in mind, I would love to open this post up to ideas - I want to ask you: What ways do you know for dealing with anger?
I know that “taking a deep breath” or “counting to ten” and the like - are common suggestions… but with this iceberg, I want to encourage using more than just a toothpick or a pair of tweezers. I’m talking about big stuff. How do you deal with anger? How do you dig into it, to get at its roots?
Here are things that have helped me. Bear in mind that when anger runs deep, it takes some regular work over a period of time to really heal it. There is a difference between calming down, and dealing with anger.
1) Talking to friends and loved ones. Taking a walk with someone who is open, and willing to even just listen, can be extremely helpful. The combination of movement with emotional processing, especially in the presence of another person, works amazingly well. They don't necessarily have to respond; just listening and acknowledging the emotions goes a long way.
2) Talking to a pro. And there are many people out there offering healing, coaching, and therapy of all kinds… so do make sure that you insist on a very good pro. Don’t waste your time (and money).
3) Physical touch. Get hugs, if you can. Even just one person you can hug makes a huge difference. Another funny solution that I’ve made some good use of is foot massages :) The way I figure, I’m about six feet tall, so it’s within bounds if it’s outdoors. Wear masks, be safe… but do what you can.
3) For a relatively light practice that I would even consider fun: Try “Kundalini Meditation”. I’m referring to a very specific practice, not related to kundalini yoga. Check it out here and here. This meditation has music that was specifically composed to accompany it, which can be found online. And bear in mind that it’ll only really work if you do it regularly - ideally every day. It only takes an hour. If you have someone you can do it with, you may find it to be more powerful. But try it any way you can, for at least three consecutive days, and see how you feel.
4) On the heavier side, try “Dynamic Meditation”. But only if you can find a safe, private place. Explanations can be found here and here. This meditation also has music, available online, that accompanies you through the stages.
5) Holotropic breath work is excellent for anger, though it has to be done with a pro.
6) Native ceremonies - again, only if they are done with someone who really knows how to do them.
Keep in mind that if one of these activities brings you to connect to an even deeper anger, it could be a sign that you are on the right track. Remember that help is available if you want it. But keep going! It’s a lot like a dirty room. Eventually, you can clean it out if you just keep up the good work.
Please make your own suggestions for things that have helped you! I would love to add them in. I cannot put comments directly on this page, sadly, but please get in touch and tell me what you think!
Love to everyone.
The events that are represented in the lower half of the image are as follows:
On the Israeli side, from bottom to top: The crusades, Nazi persecution, and attacks against the Jews and Jewish settlements in Palestine in 1929 and 1936.
On the Arab side, from bottom to top: The crusades, colonialism (and I am not necessarily referring only to British colonialism), the 1948 War in which Arabs were expelled from their homes, and the Six Day War (1967), which started Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.