Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.
– Harriet Lerner
Anger deserves attention in the realms of relationships, sex, and happiness because it is so misunderstood and yet so prevalent. With no permission for it to be expressed in healthy ways, repressed anger only contributes to the demise of intimacy – and society.
To paint it broadly, people get angry — and not just any “people”, but you. You may be in denial about it, but unless you’ve done a tremendous amount of work processing your emotions, chances are you’re angry as hell, and with good reason, too. How do I know? Listen, I’m a woman who has carried a lot of rage, so I feel like I have much to share about this particular emotion. And I’m not just talking about losing your temper because the car won’t start. I’m talking about anger so intense and volatile that everyone is afraid of it.
And it’s not just me. Take a look at the divorce statistics. Look at the rape, child abuse, and murder rates in America. Look at the number of people behind bars. What about the number of people on medication for their mood swings? Also, duh . . . our countries are at war as I write this – and have been at war for years. Can you really afford to deny anger and make it wrong when you’re so enveloped in it? To my way of thinking, it’s time to acknowledge and deal with it, so we can do as much as we can to halt the damage it causes in our lives.
How to do that? Good question. My answer, the Tantric answer, is to embrace it. That’s right, find the anger in yourself and embrace it with your whole heart. I know, this probably seems like a strange tactic, especially when society and all the major religions make anger so wrong. It’s considered unholy, unspiritual, and downright unpleasant. How can you own and embrace this thing that’s practically a sin? There’s no place in an artificially sweetened culture for anger. How can you give yourself permission to own up to it, embrace it, and listen to its message?
Here’s Osho’s take on it:
“Tantra says everything has to be absorbed, everything! Remember this, that Tantra accepts you in your totality. If you get a center of all your energies, you will be the richer if you have anger absorbed in it; you will be the richer if you have sex absorbed in it; you will be the richer if you have hatred, jealousy, absorbed in it – they are the spices of life, and you will taste…You will not become tasteless, you will have an enrichment to your taste. You need a little salt. And anger is exactly the same amount as is needed. When it overpowers you, it becomes ugly. If you eat only salt then you will die. Salt has a proportion, and in that proportion it is needed.
On the path, you will meet many people who would like to cripple you, to cut you, to dissect you. They will say, “This hand is bad, cut it off! This eye is bad, throw it out! Anger is bad, hate is bad, sex is bad.” They will go to cutting you, and by the time they have left you, you are simply paralyzed, a crippled one. You have no life left. That’s how the whole civilization has become paralyzed and crippled.”
I’m not advocating that you go out and bop the guy in the local café on the head for making your coffee wrong. I’m not advocating screaming at your partner because she looked at another man. To honor your anger isn’t the same thing as indulging your temper. Temper is what you have when you don’t take your wants and needs seriously enough to get them met. Instead you revert back to childhood tantrums and hope that some adult will take care of these wants and needs for you. Acting out your temper is actually another way of being a victim. And depression? It’s anger turned inward, anger turned on yourself. If you think you’re not angry, but you know you’re depressed, I’ve got news for you. You’re angry. So listen up!
Anger is important. It’s telling you something about yourself and about your life, about what isn’t acceptable to you. When the anger rises (or the tears come), you don’t have to act on it, but in order to evolve emotionally and spiritually you do have to listen. Anger is a fight reaction that comes straight from lizard brain’s small but essential repertoire of responses – “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze.”
Anger is a natural response to danger; it’s deeply involved in your survival. Survival helps you outlast fear and threat. In other words, when you’re angry, it’s because you feel threatened and you want to survive. Something is threatening you. What is it? Discover that, and you have the key to working with your anger in a positive, not destructive way.
The first step to honor your anger is simply to witness it without judgment and without taking action. In a quiet moment, when you aren’t angry or afraid, take a good look at anger and how it figures in your life. Do you give in to it when it arises, or do you suppress it? Do you have shame about it, or regrets about how you handle it? Just notice these things. Try to notice and, of course, do some emotional clearing. Find a safe jungle room where you can do some roaring and roaming and release until you’re feeling human again.
Then, when you’re able to focus, concentrate on what would please you, and I mean in the deepest, most gratifying way. What would feed your bliss? What would contribute to your happiness, and can you get some of it into your life, like right now?
You might need to experiment with allowing yourself to get angry when you are not necessarily angry at anyone or with anything in the current moment. Basically you’re going to get on the floor and do emotional release. Use your hands to beat down on the pillows. When you’ve gotten to the point of hitting really hard and getting lost in it, then yes, start yelling.
Allow yourself to express any of the unreasonable things you feel like saying, but usually censor because you judge them as unfair, unreasonable, unladylike, ungentlemanly, out of character, embarrassing, etc. Say things like, “I hate you! I hate you!” or “How dare you! How dare you!”
Repeat the sentence over and over again, beginning softly and then getting progressively louder and louder. If anyone you know comes to mind as you do this, add their name to the sentence, and experience what it feels like to say, “I hate you, (lover, dad, mom, boss, friend, neighbor, whomever)!” “I’m so angry at you!” “You really hurt me!” Give yourself permission to yell freely. Please don’t worry here about whether it seems logical, fair or politically correct.
At first, you may not totally feel these things. You may not ever want to say them to another person (and I don’t advise that you do), but if the feelings exist in you and go unexpressed, they will fester. Of this I am sure. This so-called “unacceptable” emotion gets in the way of your enjoying your alone time and your time with your partner. It takes so much effort to hold onto and resist the unacceptable, repressed feelings that they end up blocking your vital energy, and thus blocking any genuine intimacy. Once you let the anger and other repressed feelings out, during a release session, you will be freer to put your attention and energy into the present in the rest of your life.
Often resentment from repressed anger comes out as sexual coldness or verbal abuse, and is a weapon used by both genders which destroys any hope of intimacy. The next time your partner approaches you sexually and you notice that you feel distant or annoyed, ask yourself, “What am I angry and resentful about? Am I holding out now because I failed to express myself fully before? Do I even know why I am angry?” Just witness.
Then, after doing emotional release, go ahead, take the next big step toward true intimacy, and share your feelings with your partner. It might be embarrassing or potentially hurtful, but chronically rejecting your lover is more hurtful, and opens up a wider and wider chasm between you. One that may never be crossed. If you’ve practiced saying unforgivable things while screaming out your anger and upset to the sound of primitive music in your emotional release sessions, then the act of expressing your feelings calmly to another person, instead of choosing a weapon to protect yourself, will come more easily. With practice you’ll be much more in tune with all your feelings and emotions; you will learn to speak up before you’re blind with anger. You and the other people in your life will all find relief in this, great relief.
Using “I” statements is key when you finally do express the feelings to your partner minus the emotional charge. Examples of “I” statements are, “I resent you for________________,” “I am angry at you for_____________,” “I was hurt and upset when _______________.” “I haven’t felt safe around you since ____________.”
Using “I” statements helps you to remember that the focus here is you, not your partner. It’s not your job to diagnose your partner, to accuse your partner, or to pretend you know what’s “really” going on with your partner.
Nobody likes to be diagnosed and accused. When you use the word “I” and then describe what you feel, you’ll find a way to open up conversation that can solve a problem. Using “you” statements will only shut your partner down, turn you into an accuser, and lock you both into old accusing patterns that are barriers to intimate knowing of each other’s inner truths.
I have found it invaluable to use “I” statements when expressing difficult emotions to another person, but that alone isn’t always enough. It helps to know what you want or expect from the other, because after sharing what you’re feeling – and actually hearing the response – it will probably be necessary to make a request.
You might request that the person stop a certain behavior, like telling jokes about you. Or you might have to request an apology. That’s right, sometimes people do not readily apologize, but you’ve probably already noticed this. So, if an apology is what you want, go ahead and ask for it.
When you receive it, pause for a moment to accept the apology into your body, and notice if that helps how you’re feeling. If it doesn’t help, you might need to make another request. For example, “Thank you for saying you’re sorry. I realize, though, that I need you to look directly at me, so I can feel connected to you when you say it. Please look into my eyes and say again what you just said.”
Where does the responsibility lie for these feelings in the first place? I finally realized (or chose to assume) that the people in my life don’t purposely want to hurt me or anger me by their actions toward me. True, I might get hurt or angry, but that has more to do with what’s inside me, my expectations, than with what their motivations are. Practicing Emotional Release gets rid of the anger inside me, so I don’t get triggered much anymore.
But it still happens, and I still have to share my feelings and make my requests. I inadvertently anger other people too, and they have to make their requests of me. That’s human nature, making those “mistakes.” It’s how you learn about each other, and it’s how you grow. I’ll go so far as to say it’s part of the beauty of being with someone else. I see it as a vital part of the intimate dance between women and men learning the path to eternal ecstasy.
What I know for sure is that in honoring my own anger rather than making myself wrong for having it in the first place, I have been able to work with it, express it, and release it. I’ve come to more peace than I dreamed possible. What I think has happened is that I’ve come through to the other side. On this new side, mostly I feel filled with compassion. Honoring My Anger has allowed me to do this.
I know you, too, can come to this peace for yourself. You may not come away with the answers to all life’s questions, but you will feel a whole lot better. I can tell you that after all the work I’ve done; I still have so many questions about life. Oh well. I guess we’ll be in on the quest together.
This is an edited excerpt from Laurie’s latest book, SEX HAPPINESS & The Tantric Laws of Intimacy. To find out more, see www.lauriehandlers.com.
Laurie Handlers is a Tantra Teacher, an intimacy coach and a Spiritual Leader. She is the host of Sex & Happiness Podcast and the internet radio show Tantra Café.
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