For the better part of a decade, I was angry.
Crappy customer service made me angry.
People carrying on conversations without making eye contact made me angry.
Factory farming made me angry.
Slutty Halloween costumes made me angry.
I was one angry girl.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, I was angry that I was angry.
Anger is no fun. It’s pretty much the opposite of all the fun emotions and feelings so, obviously, I didn’t like being there. Not one bit.
So the moment I noticed I was angry, I’d either:
1. Jump straight into problem-solver mode, trying to change the person or situation that I thought was the source of my anger
2. Begin a frantic search for the magical Exit-Anger-Immediately formula
When I chose option #2, my anti-anger inner cheerleader would lurch into a mad dash to heal myself out of anger as quickly as possible. I’d cheer myself on with thoughts like:
C’mon! Let’s get rid of this anger! We can do it! We’re gonna read these books and meditate on that patch of grass and snuggle with the puppies and radiate loving kindness, and it’ll be GREAT. Anger, you’re about to be donezo!
And the disappointment of that decade was this: It didn’t work.
You cannot hurry Anger away. You cannot snuff it out with a quick snap of your fingers.
@AnnikaMartins (Click to Tweet!)
Racing to get rid of anger with superficial solutions is like quickly trimming the branches of a tree but leaving the roots intact and then being confused when the tree starts to grow back.
Sure, for a while, you might feel all holier-than-thou pure in your belief that you evolved past the rage, but I bet your rage will return.
Why? Because you left your landscaping job unfinished.
You pruned the branches, maybe even whittled the trunk down to a tiny stump, but the roots…The roots are still there. The core of your anger is still pulsing down below the soil.
And in time, those roots that you ignored will start to stretch and spread up into a new tree, its leaves heavy with fresh rage.
The place that needs your attention first is not actually the anger itself. It’s the root. It’s what lives underneath it.
Once you heal whatever is underneath your anger, then your head and heart are freed up to consider whether there are inspired actions to take.
Skipping this step and going straight into action mode just keeps the anger simmering on a slow boil. Even if you manage to change the situation drastically, the root issue hasn’t been dealt with so the anger hasn’t actually gone anywhere.
Your anger wants to be seen. See it.
Underneath most anger is some version of sadness.
Pain. Hurt. Grief. Abandonment.
Anger is the outward expression of the internal burn of your particular brand of sadness.
So if you want to address your anger, the place that needs to be healed first is your sadness.
Sadness wants to be seen. Pain wants to be acknowledged as pain. Hurt wants to hear you say, “Yes. It’s true. I am hurting.”
Once your sadness is looked at, the rage-fests will transform. Maybe they’ll disappear entirely, or they’ll turn into righteousness. Either way, the transformation will take you out of I’m-angry-and-it-sucks Land (and take it from a former resident of this angry land, leaving that place feels damn good).
So what’s the fastest way to do this? Here’s my two-part approach:
1. PHYSICALLY EXHAUST YOURSELF
My anger is sort of like a pig-tailed toddler having the tantrum of the century.
So much energy. So much madness. Stomping her feet, pointing her finger at the bad guy, screaming her frantic demands as she chaotically spins around.
The crazed energy needs to move out before I can even begin to look at the sadness. There’s too much commotion happening. I have to deal with the energy hurricane first. So that’s my first stop: moving my body.
That could be a long walk, 100 jumping jacks, a sweaty yoga class, or a finish-the-box-of-tissues cry.
Anger gets stored in your body, and until you find a way to release that pent-up fury, moving forward will be agonizingly slow, if not impossible.
Once the screaming toddler is sleeping peacefully in her bed…
2. ANSWER THIS: “WHAT IS UNDERNEATH MY ANGER?”
You may know right away, or you might need to ask yourself that question every day for a week. Or a year.
There might be some action to take. There might be someone to forgive—that someone might even be you. There might be some deepening into compassion. There might be nothing to do other than grieving the existence of this pain.
Be gentle with yourself. This is heavy excavation. Translation: you might want to have your best girlfriend and a quart of coconut ice cream nearby.
It may not be fast, and it will almost certainly hurt. Like hell.
But it will probably lead you to the truth. And truth is the only language worth speaking.
Annika Martins is a spiritual curator, which is kinda like being a museum curator. Except instead of curating paintings, she curates spiritual practices. From prayer and meditation to surfing and self-touch (oh yah!), pack your curiosity and prepare to expand your definition of what’s high and holy.
See God. Your way. It’s all going down at AnnikaMartins.com.
*Image courtesy of Nicole Hanusek.