Have you been trying to stuff your anger?
How’s that going? I’m guessing it’s not working very well.
That’s because the part of you holding anger deserves your attention. It has something important to tell you.
Anger is not your enemy.
It’s not a “bad” or “negative” emotion, although that’s probably what you’ve heard. Nerdy neuroscience alert! We have seven affective (emotional) circuits in our brain, and anger is one of them. We are hard-wired (a.k.a. created by God) to feel anger.
Anger gives us the energy to take action when something is not okay. And there’s a LOT that’s not okay in our world.
Anger gets our attention; it alerts us to injustices large and small.
If you live in a household with other people over the age of about 10 and you are the only one doing dishes, you will probably hear from part of you that’s angry! Maybe you’ve done everything you can think of to express your needs, but your partner is unresponsive. Do you feel the tension in your gut? The latest tragic news story (there are too many to name!) fills you with fire.
Is your anger starting to make more sense? It’s there for valid reasons. The part of you holding anger is doing you a big favor. And it deserves your attention.
What if you’re afraid of your anger?
Often, we will notice other parts of us who are afraid of anger. If you grew up in a household with a family member whose anger was explosive, anger (your own or others’) might feel unsafe. For some, Scripture was used (wrongly) to shame anger as ungodly or unloving. Maybe you were punished for angry outbursts.
Most of us have internalized negative messages about anger. There’s a tug of war between the part of us who’s angry and another who fears the anger. They both need attention. They have valuable information to share.
Remember, you are the leader of your inner family, this precious tribe of people who make you the wonderfully unique person you are. You have the resources they need because you are created in God’s image.
Start with the part of you who fears anger.
If a part of you is afraid of the anger, start there. Ask the angry one to wait its turn; reassure it you will pay attention to it.
Notice: How are you feeling toward the one who’s afraid?
This is the question we ask ourselves to see whether we have enough space between us, the leader, and the part we want to befriend. If there’s no space, it’s like trying to talk to someone who’s two inches away! Take a deep breath, and let the fearful one know you want to connect.
Take your time; it might require a few breaths to feel calm and confident enough to welcome the fearful part. Ask what it needs to allow you to connect with the anger. Maybe it doesn’t want to be nearby!
When you imagine connecting with your anger, and you feel curious about it, turn your attention toward it. You might see an image of it, or maybe you feel it in your body. Just notice how it shows up.
Now you’re ready to connect with the anger.
Let your curiosity be your guide. Ask some questions! Find out the specifics – why it’s using anger to get your attention. The most important thing you can offer is your attention. This is the beginning of a relationship.
Don’t ghost it. Anger isn’t usually subtle, so you will know it’s there, needing more attention. You will feel it in your body. Be intentional about making time to turn towards it. If you can’t do it immediately, let it know you will meet with it later.
Befriending the part of us holding anger is a spiritual practice.
We don’t pray once in our lives and stop. We don’t sing one worship song and check off the “I worshipped God” box. The same thing is true for this new spiritual practice. When we make friends with a part of us, a member of our inner family, it’s the beginning of a relationship. And relationships require attention.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
I get it. You have more to do than you can fit into your day. Trust me. The time you spend nurturing relationships with your inner family members will save you the time spent ruminating, arguing, and criticizing yourself.
Some days you will only have a few seconds. Put your hand on your body where you feel the tension. Breathe in more of the Spirit, opening space to welcome the part of you needing attention. Let it know it is not alone.
When you have more time, hang out. Have a conversation. There’s wisdom in your anger.
My book provides exercises and a complete outline of the new spiritual practice.