So many of us go through life everyday dealing with feelings of anger, resentment and frustration. How do we diffuse these experiences?
Over the course of the month of February I have been considering the topic of compassion and sharing my reflections. First, I explored how we can have more compassion for ourselves, and also the subtle ways we can overcome a fear of reaching out to those in need.
A final reflection on the topic brings me to explore how we can try to bring more awareness to our own ‘triggers of anger’, to understand the need for connection and to truly engage our feelings when we encounter these experiences.
Start by taking a moment to reflect on the things in your life that stir up your own feelings of anger; it could be a person, a situation, or a memory. Without becoming overwhelmed by these feelings, try to think about the thoughts in your mind that come up when these feelings are triggered. What comes up for you?
When we feel anger we think, “these things are happening to me,” we say, “I deserved something else other than what happened!“
Am I right?
Here is the problem with this line of thinking: these kinds of thoughts that come up when we are angry automatically put us into the position of being a victim. To feel anger is to accept a relationship structure wherein there is a victim (you) and an aggressor (the object of your anger).
Anger brings up feelings of injustice, disappointment, frustration, and a sense of helplessness because what happened, or is happening, is WRONG and SHOULD be different. These feelings even manifest as physical symptoms in the body: the stomach tightens, muscles tense, the skin of the face can feel hot or we experience headaches.
The emotion actually becomes a poison in the body that we don’t have the ability to absorb.
So how do we get rid of it? We have two choices. One is to accept this intense feeling of being wronged and allow it to ‘fester’ in our bodies, we don’t know what else to do so we keep this poison inside. It seems like a good idea at the time, but the problem is that the anger doesn’t really disappear this way – remember it is a poison that we cannot absorb. Instead it lingers as a reminder, triggering those thoughts of frustration and physical responses every time we recall that experience of ‘injustice’. The anger grows and becomes more intense, more suffocating, each time it is recalled.
We may feel depressed because we have directed our anger inwards towards ourselves. We blame ourselves for being the cause – we become both the victim and the aggressor at the same time.
Or, we pass it onto someone else, by projecting our anger out to another person, we may lose our temper, or take an aggressive or demeaning tone that subtly cuts someone down, we express frustration with someone we love and they don’t quite understand why. We can’t help it sometimes because it feels good – projecting anger out instead of keeping it bottled up inside finally brings a sense of relief!
At the time it feels better than keeping it bottled up inside, but it feeds a vicious cycle.
We take control by becoming the aggressor ourselves and making someone else the victim, but where does it end? And it gets worse because we become ashamed of the things we say and do when we are angry, and so then we have to deal with those feelings of shame along with anger.
But here’s the thing: we can break the cycle when we realize and accept the experiences and feelings that were ORIGINALLY UNDERLYING as the real source of our anger. This is where compassion is needed. Compassion, willingness to feel and acceptance.
Consider this: anger is ALWAYS a reaction to another feeling. Anger is a replacement emotion;
It is the result of another experience of tremendous sadness or disappointment; an uncontrollable amount of grief that we didn’t know how to process in the past. We felt sad or disappointed and we didn’t know what to do with those feelings, so we became angry. When we are angry, we are trying not to feel those other emotions.
When we are full of anger, we do and say things that are ugly and it becomes a terrible cycle. When we are angry, our thoughts and actions and emotions isolate us. When we do not feel, we are disconnected and alone, even in the middle of a crowded room. So here is my final reflection on compassion for this month: compassion is the cure that can bring us out of a state of anger and isolation.
Compassion, willingness to feel, and radical acceptance. Sounds scary right? But it’s true and it’s the only way to break the cycle.
When we have compassion, we all feel even sad and painful feelings, but there is also connection, and in connection there is healing. This is the energy of Pisces and the reason why I have been focusing on this topic over the last 5 weeks – to explore the energy of connection, of finding connection even when we are overwhelmed and when we want to escape because we feel SO much.
Everyone doubts themselves: we all feel loss and fear. We all feel the inevitable endings that come with change, the gentle sadness of beautiful moments passing; of time passing. Of knowing that every moment is fleeting.
We all have insecurities that we don’t want others to see. We all feel ugly. We all say things we regret. We all fear not belonging. We have all been disappointed or let down, by our parents or by others we love. When we have anger, we reject these painful feelings. When we dare to have compassion, we dare to feel all of these things, and that can be terrifying. This vast sea of human emotion is overwhelming.
Some people in this world have not felt tremendous of pain and loss yet in their lives. These people have innocence and they don’t know what it feels like. Innocence is something we often idolize but what is more beautiful? What is more human? Connection is what makes us human. When we are hurt, we desire to go back to a time when we still had innocence, when we did not know pain, but innocence is not connection.
Connection is healing.
Human beings have an incredible ability to express pain, sadness and grief through love, forgiveness and courageously honest creative expression. But why do we need this? What is the purpose? This is my argument for having more compassion, for opening ourselves to be vulnerable. When we express pain, sadness and grief in these ways, we are able to release negative emotions. This is compassion for ourselves: allowing ourselves to feel because it is healing. Having faith that it is going to be okay even though it seems terrifying.
When we do not accept anger as an option, we can express painful emotions without losing our humanity, without having to do something that we regret or will not be proud of. When we have compassion for others we say ‘I forgive you’, ‘I see you’, ‘I know you feel the same pain that I feel or maybe even more’, ‘I know there is sadness inside of you that I cannot see, because I have it too.’
Compassion is radical acceptance. The opposite of anger is radical acceptance.
Think of a very beautiful, very sad song that you know. In fact, most beautiful songs are sad. Why is this? How can somebody’s pain and sadness be turned into such a beautiful song? What makes it authentic to you?
It takes courage to express such feelings. It is a release of sadness, pain and grief. It is acknowledgement and acceptance of those feelings. They are not pleasant, but anger does not make them go away. The only way is to feel them. To accept them. But also, to not stop loving ourselves. This is connection and feeling, and forgiveness.
When we are open to forgiveness we discover unconditional love and acceptance.
Showing compassion is wrapping a child in a blanket of unconditional love and acceptance. That child is your younger self. That child is your parents when they were very small. That child can also be a stranger. Because we all share a common experience of pain and suffering.
Thank you for sharing these reflections with me for the month. I hope you enjoyed them!
Peace and love,