IraAnger seems to be on its way to becoming a cultural taboo.

Let me be clear – I’m not advocating for the uninhibited expression of fury and abuse here. Far from it.

But anger is a normal reaction to frustration and unfairness. And it has to be looked at honestly.

Especially in spiritual communities, anger easily becomes a bone of contention. We are supposed to love each other as we love ourselves (which may not be all that much to begin with, really), be kind and mindful and polite and so on.

The chronic repression of anger in childhood leads to compliant children; boys and girls who don’t know what they want because they were only there to attend to the parents’ needs — for example their need to have a “good boy” or a “sweet girl.”

When there is no room for anger whatsoever, it goes underground and expresses itself later in the form of uncontrollable outbursts or depression.

I just finished a highly compelling book by Rob Preece, “The Wisdom of Imperfection,” in which he discusses productive ways to deal with anger.

“As long as we live with the view that anger is to be condemned, we can easily fall into the habit of repression. We will also fail to hear what truth lies behind it that is not being voiced. When we ask questions such as ‘What do you really want to say?’ or ‘What are you really wanting that is not being heard?’ we will begin to hear what is at its root. This becomes a healthier way of living with anger, rather than creating a regime that fears it and tries to disown or suppress it.”

Aggression is a necessary ingredient of assertiveness. Of course, we don’t want to come across as hostile or blindly attacking (which is what usually happens in a fight).

But an honest expression of what need was frustrated, paired with an openness to listen to what the response will be, can be a productive way of dealing with anger.

As Preece points out: “When we listen more deeply to what lies beneath or behind the anger, we will often discover some inner truth that needs to be asserted more clearly and creatively.”

Anger always covers up a need: A need to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be validated. When we can see the vulnerable part underneath the angry person’s armor — and if the angry person can show that vulnerability — it’s only a short distance to resolving what went wrong.

 

photo credit: sanmilano