Sunday, July 29, 2018

What's the problem with anger, part 2

There’s a lot of shame surrounding the emotion of anger. You are shamed for having it, feeling it and whatever you do, don’t dare express it. This is especially true for women. Is it any wonder anger gets stuck when many of us don’t have a clue what to do with it?

We are told it’s not a real emotion because it’s acting as a cover for other emotions like sadness which is a much more respectable emotion to have, at least in some circles. If I had a cent for every time I’ve seen a meme or quote deriding anger, I’d be a millionaire.

As Karla McLaren reminds us in The Language of Emotions, emotions can arise in clusters. When we allow anger to do its job of protecting us, emotions like sadness may well come up but not because we’ve gotten rid of anger because it’s “bad” and a smokescreen for other, more acceptable emotions; but because we’ve allowed ourself to feel it and its accompanying sensations in the body. There are very few experiences in life that call for just one emotion.

I think another reason anger is so disparaged is because it’s a reminder that we’re animals, we are instinctual and we have a wild side. Anger can feel fierce, scary, out of control and too powerful but that’s only because we haven’t learned how to properly use and feel it. The concept that we have the potential to be wild, instinctual animals doesn’t conform to many people’s idea of what constitutes a “civilised” society. But we’re not doing so great as a civilised society, are we? We’ve a myriad of chronic health problems caused by unresolved trauma, not to mention the violence that we see against people and nature. Unlike what many seem to think, these issues aren’t caused by anger, they are caused by unfelt anger and other emotions. As psychiatrist Ivor Browne says; trauma is unexperienced experience.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What's the problem with anger?

I think anger must be the most misunderstood, maligned and disowned emotion, though fear is a close second.

How many times have you heard someone being described as an “angry person”? The ironic thing is, this label is usually given by somebody who disowns their anger, is afraid of anger and is supposedly never angry which I don’t buy for one minute.

People who pretend, unsuccessfully, that they are never angry because anger is a “bad”, “low vibration” and “negative” emotion, usually act it out in passive aggressive ways, while smugly thinking that it’s not anger.

One of the most important things that I’ve ever heard about anger is from Karla McLaren who says that if we don’t honour our anger and let it do its job (reinstate healthy boundaries, and say a healthy No), fear will have to step in. That’s when things get really messy and complicated. Here is an excerpt from her book, The Language of Emotions:
If you can imagine your healthy anger surrounding you— protecting you, defining you, and constantly monitoring your behaviour—you can easily see that trouble with your anger will degrade your psychological boundaries, your relationships, your personal space, and your self-respect. If your anger is not channelled properly and honourably, you’ll exhibit poor psychological hygiene. In this case, your fear will need to move forward in your psyche, not to increase your intuition and focus, nor to simply help you respond to change or novel stimuli, but just to help you make it from one moment to the next.
Without your boundary, you’ll be unable to monitor your behaviour or identify proper behaviour in others (which means your relationships will consistently unsettle you), you’ll dishonour people or let them dishonour you for no good reason, and you’ll be vulnerable most of the time. When you’re in this sort of turmoil, your relationship with your fear will decay almost immediately. You’ll have no privacy and no sacred space in which to regulate your emotions, and though your fear will move forward to protect you, its intensity may actually destabilise you when your boundary is weak. Fear asks you to focus yourself, but that’s nearly impossible when you don’t know where you begin or end; therefore, your increased focus will most likely turn into anxiety or paranoia.

Do you know what happens when we disown anger? It gets stuck in our bodies because we refuse to acknowledge it, never mind feel it. Paradoxically, we become the very people we don’t want to be, which is an “angry person”. And because we’re so angry but are in denial about being angry, many things become the trigger for our unacknowledged, unfelt anger. We are literally like pressure cookers waiting to explode which lowers our immune systems and creates all sorts of health problems.

Try tapping on the following and repeat whatever feels right on all the points, or just tune in to how you feel and tap without words:

Even though I’ve grown up thinking that anger was bad and I am bad for feeling it, I love and accept myself anyway

Even though my culture tells me that angry people are … and I don’t want to be one of those,I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t know how to feel anger, that’s ok, I can learn

Even though anger feels … in my body and that makes me feel … I completely accept my feelings

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Your inherent ability to grow

Crabs shed their shell so they can grow, but before they can grow a new and bigger shell, they are soft and vulnerable.  And, as Gabor Maté says, there is no growth without vulnerability. The risk of being vulnerable feels terrifying to someone who has been hurt by the people entrusted with protecting them. They have suffered early and betrayal trauma which impacts their development enormously.

Your shell protects you but it also keeps you small. It is safe but it is also constricting. It is comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. It is your house but it is not your true home.

To grow we need to move and that means change, and change can feel very frightening when our foundations are shaky. We hold on for dear life, even if we’re miserable. Notwithstanding all of that, we have an inherent ability and desire to grow, otherwise it wouldn’t feel so painful being confined in our shells.

When our development is stunted, at any age, we suffer. Life is all about moving, growing, changing, developing and evolving. It is against our nature to become stagnant, things will out eventually. The dam that we’ve built to protect us from a river of unwanted emotions and sensations won’t last forever. Some of us wait until the dam bursts and then we’re forced to face our pain but we can choose to feel it before that happens.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Gabor Maté

I went to see Gabor Maté last weekend in Cork for a workshop. It was really excellent. He is so down to earth, he’s just himself with no pretences.

Most of the information I already knew as I’ve followed his work for a long time, but I also learned a lot of new things because he has a way of using language that makes you look at something you knew in a completely new light which is a real gift. He’s a poet at heart. He also recommended EFT as a modality for healing trauma which was great to hear.

Some of the gems that I took with me from his workshop were:
  • Growth happens when we are able to be soft and vulnerable. Gabor used the analogy of a crab having to shed their shell in order to be able to grow. Of course the price of this is that he’s soft and vulnerable while growing and could be hurt as he’s more defenceless. But there’s no other way to grow.
  • What I understand from this is that trauma is like a too tight and constricting shell that we can’t seem to shed, however hard we try. It keeps us small and safe but at a huge price. But trying and struggling too hard to shed the shell just doesn’t work. We need to be gentle with that shell that has protected us when we needed it, and when the time is right, and we feel safe enough to be soft and vulnerable again (or for the first time), the shell will come off.
  • Peer attachment and orientation does our children no favours. Children are supposed to attach to (hopefully) wise adults who can provide them with unconditional love and a safe place to grow, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without being shamed and ridiculed.
  • The coping mechanisms that we learned in early childhood to survive become our personality. But they are not who we truly are. I really believe that healing trauma is the journey back to our true self. As Gabor said, it’s why we call it recovery, we are recovering our true self when we heal trauma.
  • When we fail to fully individuate from our parents/caregivers (an extremely common phenomenon), we feel more pressure from our peers. This is because we’re not sure of who we are, we don’t love and accept ourself, maybe we even feel we are bad people. This is not to say we’ll never feel pressure from our peers, but if we’re true to our real self and feel fundamentally ok about that self, it won’t incapacitate us as it can so often do.
  • We often have to choose between attachment and authenticity, especially as children. Attachment is a biological imperative, we need it and sometimes we have to give up who we truly are to get love, even though what we get can be very far from real love. As adults, we can make another choice and choose our authentic selves.