I always imagined that when the day came that I found out I was pregnant; I would feel all the lovely feelings.
Joy! Elation! Happiness! Excitement!
Instead, I felt everything. I was buckled into the hormonal rollercoaster, and there was no getting off the ride until…?! In a single day (or a single hour), I might experience joy, confusion, terror, excitement, sadness, hope, and rage.
Rage was a new one for me.
It’s not that I’d never faced it within others; it’s that I rarely (never?) felt it within myself.
Over the years, I had cultivated a willingness and capacity to be with incredible joy and incredible sadness, within myself and others. Sitting in circle with women in my Freedom Mastermind, I’ve held the individuals and the group through moments of absolute ecstasy and deep pain. Because that’s life.
Growing up, for me – and most women – anger was not an especially “acceptable” emotion. Most of us were expected to be nice girls, sweet girls, pretty and happy girls. So, we got quiet (shut down). And polite (bottled-up). And good (repressed).
Socially, a woman’s anger is often met with reproach and dismissal.
Therefore, feeling anger and showing it has too-long threatened our sense of belonging and challenged our sense of self.
And when we did see anger expressed in others, it was often rooted in shame or expressed very unconsciously – through violence, oppression, the intent to cause (and exhaust) pain.
And because of all of the social and cultural shame surrounding a woman’s anger, if we feel it at all, it often seethes within us or comes out with the same daggers that we’ve seen and recoiled from in others.
Most of us had no models for how to dance with anger, so anger became unsafe.
Without healthier, more integrated paths for expression, we’re left with three options:
1. RAGE / BULLDOZE
“I’m hurting and now you’re going to hurt, too.” In bulldozing, we unleash the fury, to release our internal anger and (consciously or unconsciously) inflict that pain on others. Following this path, we often lose the opportunity for connection and intimacy with others, as most will naturally recoil in the face of this.
2. SHUT DOWN / SHUT OUT
“I can’t handle this, so I’m out.” This has been my lifetime go-to – a “compassionate bypass”, masquerading as simple compassion. Towards others, this usually looked like shutting-down and appeasing. Towards myself, it looked like not actually feeling anger, only sadness. When we shut down, dousing the flames of anger with water, we often lose a connection to what we care about along with the capacity to be with pain in ourselves and others.
3. SEETHE / CORRODE
“Happy on the outside, pissed on the inside.” This is where the feelings of anger remain active, but pushed down beneath the surface to fester. Often, this anger burns within our system, creating physical pain within the body. With no healthy outlet, we lose the ability to find a way to express or find a path forward.
While these expressions look very different, at the core they are the same thing:
A REJECTION OF, AND THEREFORE AN INABILITY TO BE WITH, ANGER.
When we don’t welcome, honor, and learn to work with anger in healthy ways, discovering the pain and desire beneath it all, we lose so much:
We lose connection with others.
We lose connection with ourselves.
We lose connection to deeper pain, desire, and wisdom.
We lose access to healing and integration.
When we can’t find a healthy way to be with an emotion within ourselves, we simply can’t hold space for that emotion in others, stunting our leadership. @AskNisha (Click to Tweet!)
I grew up in Hinduism, and in our tradition, we have a goddess name Kali Ma. She is known as the creator-preserver-destroyer, often seen holding the severed heads of men.
Kali is often misperceived to be an angry, ruthless killer, but she is not. She is not a vengeful serial-killer, but a representation of fierce, motherly love. She is the destroyer of attachments and illusions. She is a fierce stand for truth – in other words, she is a fierce stand for love.
When we recognize that the fire of anger is passion – the potent combination of pain and desire – we have the opportunity to find compassion for that anger and discover the capacity to open our hearts and listen when we face it in ourselves and others.
MAKING SPACE FOR ANGER WITHOUT GETTING LOST IN IT:
1. DIGNIFY THE ANGER
Dignifying anger does not mean accepting the actions taken out of anger. When we stop vilifying the anger itself as bad/wrong/ugly, embracing it for the potent combination of pain and desire that it is, we make way for healthy expressions of it. Because as long as the emotion we call anger is perceived as “bad”, it has nowhere to go but the realm of shame, where it sneaks out and wreaks havoc.
2. EXPRESS THE RAW EMOTION IN A HEALTHY WAY
Rather than unleashing our anger on others or having it fester within ourselves, we must learn how to express our anger in healthy ways, allowing the energy to move in our bodies. Take space to go have a temper tantrum and punch a pillow, wail at the moon, or vent to a friend who isn’t going to simply corroborate with your story, but instead hold space for the raw emotion.
Being a stand for anger to express in healthy ways also means encouraging others to do the same: This means creating clear boundaries around violence. We can dignify anger and remain open-hearted, without allowing ourselves or others to be physical or emotional punching bags.
3. USE THE ANGER AS A PORTAL TO THE PAIN AND DESIRE
When we stop at anger, rather than using it as a portal to go deeper – beneath the story – we lose the opportunity to feel the pain and desire behind it all. This mires us in the story and calcifies the anger, preventing us from discovering a path forward. Again, this isn’t about making the anger wrong – it’s about dignifying it, then going deeper to dignify what’s beneath it, so we can move forward with clarity and purpose.
“I’m so pissed, and if she really cared about me, she wouldn’t say that. She obviously doesn’t respect me whatsoever.”
The pain and desire beneath it:
“I’m hurt. This reminds me of that time with my mom when I was a kid, and I’m feeling the same way now that I did them. I feel so sad. I want to feel connected to my friend.”
“This presidential candidate is an absolute jerk! If they win, this country is going to hell in a handbasket, but at least we’ll take them with us, because that’s where they deserve to rot.”
The pain and desire beneath it:
“It pains me SO MUCH that this is the level of conversation we’re having in our presidential election. It hurts. I want us to do so much better. I want us to elect people who uphold the values I hold dear, and I will stand for that.”
4. LEAN INTO CONNECTION & TAKE ACTION
The path to healing is the allowing the anger and underlying pain and desire to first and foremost be deeply felt within ourselves. To embrace them and welcome them in, serve them a bowl of soup and a warm hug. From there, we can share that pain and desire with others, and take action around the things we care about, creating movement forward.
When we increase our capacity to be with anger within ourselves and others, we stand deeper in our leadership.
Thank goodness my pregnancy brought all that repressed anger up in me, so I could integrate it and learn how to hold space for this potent emotion in my child, in myself, and in the world, and harness the passion to contribute to the change I want to see in the world.
Nisha Moodley is a Women’s Leadership Coach and the creator of Fierce Fabulous Free, The Freedom Mastermind & The Virtual Sisterhood. Inspired by the belief that the world will be set free by women who are free & sisterhood is key to a woman’s freedom, Nisha creates communities of ambitious women to support them in redesigning their lives & businesses. Find her online at NishaMoodley.com and download her free Take Flight Action Guide to explore the next expansion of your freedom at TakeFlightActionGuide.com. You can follow Nisha on Twitter or FB.
Image courtesy of Melanie Wasser.