As a continuation of my February 2021 post titled Acts of Radical Kindness in Times of Collective Trauma, I am exploring the impact anger has in relation to trauma in this post.
I define trauma as an experience(s) that overwhelms the body, brain, and nervous system where we do not experience resolution and as a result stays stored and unresolved in the body. All of us are susceptible to trauma and can experience it in multiple ways including via our personal experiences, our observation of traumas those near us have experienced or that the collective has experienced, and intergenerationally.
The Many Forms and Causes of Anger
Unresolved trauma can often be found to have a correlation to anger with a variety of harmful impacts when left unaddressed. In this post, we will explore how to be with anger and its various manifestations including rage, frustration, irritability, and the states underneath the anger such as hurt and woundedness.
It’s really important to have a skillful practice for being with anger as there is just so much that can contribute to our anger.
What’s your relationship to anger? Is there anything that you have to be angry about on a personal level in your day to day life? Not to mention, unresolved childhood or adolescent traumas that may also contribute to the anger that is present for you. Do you address these challenges and make space for anger or do you push it away?
And what about all of the collective challenges — the year anniversary of COVID-19 and all the changes and losses associated with this pandemic, climate crisis, systemic injustices resulting in violence and murder, poverty, food insecurity? What do these challenges and injustices arise within you?
And what about the intergenerational impact of challenges that have been unaddressed for generations? Although we may be aware of the impact of childhood or collective traumas that may impact us in the present moment, we often are unaware of the legacy of brokenheartedness and rage that is centuries old that may have been passed down to us from our ancestors that we are also asked to take care of and heal.
The Impact of Intergenerational Rage
“All of us are part of a much larger tapestry of familial and ancestral rage. We are all recipients of a rage inheritance…This includes generations of unresolved rage from institutions of influence, such as the family, law, politics, education, and religion, as well as from social constructions such as ethnicity, race, class, gender, and culture…Whatever our parents and ancestors could not or would not resolve is gifted to us to transform — this is our karmic reality and our challenge. We are usually unaware of our rage inheritance…We innocently embody the unresolved generational rage and pass it on to the next generation. When our rage inheritance is unknown or ignored, we subconsciously collude in contributing to a society of ignorance, war, greed, indifference, hatred, violence, and abuse. This recycling of rage continues until we can heal the traumas that caused them.” ~ Ruth King from Healing Rage
I like to repeat that last line again: “This recycling of rage continues until we can heal the traumas that caused them.” We take on this healing not just for ourselves but for the whole lineage of beings that have passed and still are to come.
Is this something you would be open to — being with anger not just for your own well-being but for the well-being of your community and lineage?
Anger as a Protector
“In my practice, anger arises out of tension. There is a tension between being hurt and wanting to take care of myself but not knowing how to do that…I had to learn to turn my attention back to the hurt, to the woundedness beneath the anger. Taking care of the woundedness was the path out of this suffering.”… ~ Lama Rod Owens from the book Love and Rage
In the book, Owens invites us to check in with the energy of anger to find out where we are hurting and what hurt is the anger trying to protect. He offers these questions for reflection: “Where are you hurting? Where is the aching? Where is your woundedness? What is your anger trying to protect?”
He indicates that by addressing the hurt that the anger is protecting, we offer ourselves what is needed and begin giving more space to the anger. We need that space to see more clearly and avoid reactivity or violence. We will explore ways of addressing the hurt and allowing space for the energy of anger to move through us in the practices below.
Anger as a Teacher
In Chinese Medicine, anger, frustration, and irritability are thought to be associated with a stagnation of energy (qi) in the liver that can be caused by chronic or acute stress. Anger has an elemental wood association and a wind-like quality which can offer a sense of direction and purpose when cultivated skillfully.
In learning how to be with anger, we can begin to see anger as a guide or teacher pointing us to that which has been unaddressed, unseen, or unheard that is in need of attention, kindness, and care.
Audre Lorde beautifully explores the virtue of working through our fear or aversion of anger to learn from it in the essay The Uses of Anger.
My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also…
I want to speak about anger, my anger and what I have learned from my travels through its dominions.
–Audre Lorde’s The Uses of Anger
A Guided Inquiry Practice for Checking in and Learning from Anger:
For this practice, if you wish to work with anger and it is not present, perhaps bring to mind an incident that brings up a mild to moderate sense of irritability. Feel into what feels like enough; encouraging you not to be with anything that feels like too much to avoid the feeling of overwhelm which could then potentially trigger a trauma response.
Once you have your incident or are able to make contact with anger, I invite you to notice what arises. How do you know when a form of anger is present? Noticing with curiosity and gentle attention. Taking in the sensations that are present. Noticing any images, thoughts, any urges or responses to what is present, anything else that comes up, maybe a sense of numbness, temperature, buzzing, tingling, vibrating, maybe some types of movement from this energy, perhaps it feels of a certain size, perhaps very expansive or very contained just noticing. Also taking note of if it feels pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant or unpleasant to be with this.
How is it to be with anger? Noticing if there’s anything else present besides just anger. Is there a sense of hurt or woundedness? Is there anything in need of care that the anger is offering protection to? Feeling free to offer care however that looks and feels.
Also inviting you to notice how familiar this current state is. How familiar this anger or the underlying emotions and sensations are? Noticing if this feels old or new and how much space this is taking up. Do you have a sense of if this anger is all yours? Is it all from this experience that you called to mind? Could this be from a collective experience of anger that you’ve taken in or an intergenerational experience of anger? Maybe it’s anger that comes from unaddressed wounds that come from earlier in life? This can be important to notice because we can realize that there’s a cumulative quality to this and we especially don’t have to tend to this alone. We can call in supports to help us to be with this and we can set down what feels like too much. Really encouraging you to feel into this and notice if this anger has anything to say, to share, to teach you.
What would this anger, hurt, grief, or whatever is present say if it had a safe space to speak and express itself? Is there anything it needs? Is there anything it’s been holding onto — any stories or false beliefs — that can be set down and released? Or are they just looking for some loving care to be able to lessen and soften a little bit? Is there anything to acknowledge, to offer healing to and transformation?
Being with these inquiries as is supportive and noticing how it is to be with anger in a way that’s not a burden or scary. Knowing that anger is energy that perhaps has become stuck or dislodged in an explosive way that is just in need of something and when that something is offered it’s quite wondrous what can come next.
I’ll leave you with this for now and if it’s supportive to work with soothing and releasing anger, please work with this additional practice below as well.
A Guided Practice for Soothing and Releasing Anger:
-Finding a position that feels comfortable enough. Arriving and settling here. Noticing the body breathing held and supported by the earth, ground, cushion. Seeing if there’s space to receive this care.
Comforting and releasing anger through each cycle of breath, knowing that although you may feel anger, hurt, grief, whatever it is, that you am not anger, hurt, or grief. Breathing in with awareness of the breath flowing and following its journey through the body, feeling its life and energy. Noticing if you can feel your breath encounter this emotion, this sensation as you breathe in. Shining light and care into the anger with each breath. Touching anger with each in breath and releasing it with each out breath. Staying with this if this feel supportive.
– If you’d like to add self-soothing by resting a hand on the chest, the belly, or wherever it feels supportive. Perhaps with that contact there can be a message or affirmation you offer, letting it be known, I am here, I am grounded, I am safe. Anger will not overtake me or overwhelm me.
Feeling the hands making contact with the body, perhaps feeling a sense of warmth radiating through along with your message, I am here, I am grounded, I am safe. Anger will not overtake or overwhelm me. Noticing how it is to be with this. Staying with this if this is of support.
-If you’d like to add on, here’s one additional option. With one hand on the chest and one on the belly, take a deep breath in and sigh out invoking a SSSHHH sound to support release of anger from the liver and body. Make this sound for a few cycles of breath imagining anger falling to the earth leaving the body and being… Deep breath in, SSSHHH on out breath for a few cycles of breath…
Then for a few cycles of breath imagine that you are receiving loving care for the body, the being, the liver (this organ that processes anger). Allowing this care to be known and received. Perhaps even smiling at the liver. Breathing in this care and releasing the anger on a SSSHHH sound. Noticing how it is to be with this cycle of receiving and releasing.
Perhaps taking some time to gently massage the right side of the abdomen, offering the message “I see you. I’m here. It’s okay. It’s okay.” All the compassion and kindness, perhaps even forgiveness that’s needed being received. Continuing in a way that supports you and when you’re all set perhaps taking a moment to receive gratitude and appreciation for taking care of yourself in this way.
Additional Strategies for Tending to Anger
Inner Child Care. One way we can offer care for our anger is by offering kind attention and care to our beloved inner child who we can often find hurting underneath all of the protective anger.
–A Taoist Emotional Cleansing Practice: Screaming, Crying, and Smiling.
-Therapy. Acupuncture. Physical activity. Yoga. Qigong. Hiking. Time in nature. Time with community.
– Journaling. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Singing. Humming. Being creative and allowing for expression and release.
I hope these practices are supportive for your journey in processing and caring for anger and all of its companions.
With love and kindness,
P.S. Feel free to join me for meditation and movement classes where I emphasize processing and caring for trauma, anger, and other challenging emotions if you would like to learn more about this.
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