As we get older, we are expected to feel better about ourselves, know how to better handle situations, and most importantly, know how to say things the emotionally intelligent way. Right? Well…as we get older the ideal is tuning in to our emotions vs. disregarding how we feel. However, as adults, it becomes challenging to maintain such awareness when routine or life throws at us so many things at once. The more we choose to handle, the more we lose track of what to really pay attention to, or better said, we lose track of what we are really paying attention to.
In sessions, clients often struggle when asked to identify how they feel. Their feelings have become, what I call, a blob. Nowadays, we stay so busy that no one makes time to decipher their inner world or dissect their hidden emotions. Usually, when probed, clients resort to characterizing themselves as feeling confused, unsatisfied, indecisive, or, drum roll please…anxious. Reality is that any of the latter words can serve as synonyms for anxiety, and anxiety is synonymous of fear. Here comes the million dollar question. How do you typically witness others or yourself expressing fear?
Let me illustrate. Let’s say I got off late from work, as usual, drove in heavy traffic and rushed to do groceries or to get home to defrost what will be dinner. The entire time I was rushing, tapping into my “anxiety,” worrying about me doing all this as quickly as I could. I finally made it home, hoping that my loved one started prepping a side dish. Once I walk in, I find the house “a mess” and no side dish, so how do you think I’ll react? Drum roll please….angry. In reality, I was already angry since the moment I left work late because I am truly unhappy about working so damn late every day. “But” since routine comes and stays, and I am truly afraid of “this” being my life. I rationalize my feelings by me just getting used to it all, becoming a ticking bomb. A ticking angry bomb set off by “others.” Can you relate?
Anger is a secondary emotion that stems from a primary emotion usually identified as a vulnerable feeling. Fear and sadness are primary emotions. The problem with primary emotions is that they disappear as fast as they appear sometimes. Their replacement by secondary emotions complicates the situation because we tend to pay more attention to the secondary emotion/ response than its root cause, making it difficult to understand what is really going on internally.
For instance, if you were told throughout your formative years that “negative” emotions (sadness, fear) are a weakness, you probably unconsciously began to reject your “weakness,” resulting in its suppression. Nevertheless, the primary emotion remains and becomes expressed through fears or growth blockages. It’s like an internal threat that we decide to protect ourselves from by ignoring it or reacting to it through anger. Anger is more socially acceptable. Anger then just becomes a defense mechanism and as such it comes with its benefits.
Anger, when allowed to be observed, can serve as a personal alarm system. If we start paying attention to the primary feelings that are very much active and wanting our attention, then we can work towards release. Forgotten dreams, suppressed desires, unbalanced life style, and unhealed wounds are usually some of the causes of our unconscious defensive reactions. We really are trying to defend what we really want that we have not allowed ourselves to materialize. That brings pain. Pain hides in anger. That is why we can become angry at something that to someone else is “no big deal.” We try to excuse our anger/pain by rationalizing that we are just passionate about a topic; or feeling exasperation from a specific situation; excusing ourselves through our temper; indignation; soreness; vexation; impatience; annoyance.
Regardless of its display, anger has its benefits. It alerts us to pay attention and that an action is needed in order to bring resolution or light to a situation. We just have to connect with our emotions through silent observation, without judgment.
Think of the last time you felt angry. Do you remember why you were angry? Can you really pinpoint what personal value/ boundary or primary emotion you felt was infringed by you, which caused the anger in you?
We tend to displace and/or project our anger unto others. Have you ever said, “He/She made me angry…I am angry because they/he/she…” If you have, welcome to the club! We all have. The goal is to now recognize that no one really made you angry. That person or moment just served as an opportunity to bring awareness to your emotions. Let’s explore some reasons why we displace:
- It’s always easier to look outward than inward. Consequently, it is easier to blame than to self focus. Pointing the finger feels so much more doable because it does not involve exploring your own baggage.
- How will that help you?
- How many bags do you carry?
- We have ignored our patterns for so long that we immediately become defensive when they are identified. Denial has become our friend.
- Which patterns do you still outdated-ly defend? Why?
- Could you change your ringtone?
- Our expectations have merged so much with others or another, that the price we pay is feeling we have sacrificed something of ours, so of course, when our sacrifice is not recognized we blame and become angry.
- Are you able to recognize the self imposed sacrifices that no longer serve you
- Are you willing to heal from such patterns?
Within these three reasons, I have identified ways in which we also perpetuate our anger: unspoken expectations; unbalanced boundaries; lack of assertive communication; routine responses; denial; blame; judgment; feeling unheard/unseen. Our self talk also assists in eternalizing and internalizing our patterns expressed through anger. In extreme cases, unexplored anger translates into self-hate or self-injury, including risk taking behaviors.
Take some time and evaluate your expectations, boundaries, personal values, communication “flaws,” your routine and protected or hushed emotions that have become forgotten. See what really comes up for you. Write it down so that you can then decide how to respond to what you found.
If you catch yourself feeling angry, think of it as your wake up call. Don’t shy from it. Don’t ignore it. Pay attention to what you really have been waking up to. Ask yourself if you really want to continue perpetuating such response. The beauty of anger is that it is very personal- “I’m angry,”- so own it! Anger is there for a reason, for your reason. When angry, take a knee and analyze your possibilities, your true root causes so true solutions can be implemented. You hold the key. You hold your answers.