On Not Bypassing Anger

Yesterday we were talking about anger. I am generally pretty even keel with the day to day.

This doesn't mean I don't get rattled or stressed or overwhelmed; those are familiar states. When I'm feeling prickly, I tend to either a) talk to one person, often my wife, or b) go it alone by taking a walk or a nap or something that won't cause harm. The introvert in me follows the latter route, whereas the verbal processor in me needs to say words and have a trusted listener help me reflect on things.

What's missing from all of this? Purely emoting, in particular when it comes to anger. Just unprocessed, pure white-hot flame.

The thing with fire is, well, the obvious. It can cause harm. And I don't want to go around indiscriminately doing that. As with anything, I remind myself, there are more than two options. The all or nothing is rarely the whole truth.

Anyway, we were talking about this yesterday. I recalled my first coaching slogan: "Be curious, get furious." I was in my late 20s at the time. I think on some deep level I knew that fury would be a necessary component of liberation.

We can "peace" our way out of anger, but what gets lost? As we talked about it yesterday, I did get curious about my apparent lack of day-to-day anger. Then I remembered the things I was angry about in the past and didn't speak of, that ate away at me on the inside. I avoided interpersonal conflict.

Anger scared me.

The whole thing that what we avoid or deny has power of us is so true. The more honest I became about my anger, the more forthcoming and direct, the less it burned inside of me like an ulcer. This does not mean I was comfortable with it; on the contrary, an email could send adrenaline through my system, alerting my nervous system into fight-or-flight on a dime. If I was going to get in touch with anger, I also had to get to know this fear that arose anytime I might have to speak up for myself.

It is easier to be angry about "bigger" issues. Lawmakers deciding what choices women have about our bodies, transphobia and homophobia and the very real human cost of these, for-profit prisons, inhumane treatment of immigrants, many of them children, not to mention those who have already been living and working and raising families in this country for decades, the fact that parents in this country struggle to pay for child care and health insurance, if they can at all, willful denial of climate change. The hypocrisy, the hypocrisy, the hypocrisy. It doesn't take long for my anger dial to go to 11.

This is necessary anger. This is "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" anger. Feeling it matters. The thing is, it's easy to get stuck in the feeling, paralyzed in place by heat and hormones, unable to see a way forward. It's especially easy to feel defeated at a time when the polarity between "us" and "them" is ever-widening, sometimes even within our own families. Conversations become land mines.

We avoid the hard stuff and smile and say, "How are yooooou?" And then we say, "Oh, I'm good, super busy with everything." Or we say, "Ugh, so awful, all the things," and then we say, "Yeah, ugh, I feel so helpless." We reinforce each other's avoidance or sense of helplessness.

This is simplistic, obviously. Many conversations go well beyond this. But it does take some intention and some effort. It takes more time and care, to say, "Tell me how you've been. What's going on with you right now?" Or, "I am so angry about this latest legislation and don't even know where to start. What about you?"

How do we keep connecting, in other words? Or is it asking too much of anger for it to be "productive?"

What I have experienced is that by giving myself space to FEEL anger, to truly just feel it, the pressure to "make it something" is lessened and I do, in turn, feel more able to take action. But if I don't allow myself to FEEL the anger first, if I bypass that realness and try to skip to the "productive" stage of action or the peace-out stage of nap/walk/calm down, I am missing out on something essential in the process.

Maybe this is why it is so awesome to have a few people in your life with whom you can just say all the things, knowing that there is no expectation of resolution, that they will not judge you or advise you or try to make it make sense or try to help you "move through" it.

Space to just FEEL and REVEAL and not try to sound good or sensible.

I don't get angry at my kids or my wife or the day to day all that much. I get annoyed, yes. I am getting better at speaking up about the small stuff instead of being all martyr-ish or fearful. But with so much in the world burning before our eyes, I can't help but keep things in perspective. The gratitude I feel when I see my kids, when I greet my wife good morning or snuggle in with her at night, when I am able to pay for groceries and feed my family, when I get to work with thoughtful humans, is real. It's not a hashtag or a gloss-over, and if anything, if is more genuine when I allow myself to also be fucking pissed about so much that's happening before our very eyes.

One thing I will not ascribe to, though, is powerlessness. So I will keep doing my best to find ways of using my power for our collective freedom.

As Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883: "Until we are all free, we are none of us free."