This is 31 Conversations From the Front Porch Day 16…. you can find the whole series here
Day 16: You Have Anger For a Reason
One of the things that happened to me after that summer when I realized that my extended family was in fact dysfunctional – was sifting through all the emotions particularly anger that came with that understanding. For a while I felt duped – like they all knew they were a royal mess, but kept that truth from me. I felt duped that I had believed the best about others, giving them the benefit of the doubt, when in reality that same courtesy had never been extended to me or the ones I love. In all that mess of feeling duped… I had to navigate my anger.
I grew up in the Evangelical Church and in a family culture that leaned towards legalism, shame, and fear. In those settings I learned that my heart was “desperately wicked” and not to be trusted. But then I happened upon teachers who taught me that again – I had been duped – my heart was not as wicked as I had been taught. I was actually overflowing with life, goodness, and love as that Divine imprint had been given – I am an image of God-bearer. Those teachers showed me that instead of shying away from the messy emotions I needed to learn how to regain my heart, combat the voices that were trying to destroy my light, and learn to live wholeheartedly.
The church had taught me (under the table) that anger in myself and others was something that I needed to fear or hide from or avoid at all costs. I needed to play nice and keep my brothers and sisters in Christ… happy. Church discipled me to carry my shame, to hoard my fears, to shy away from my messy emotions – instead of learning how to deal with them. The church never taught me how to bear up under my anger, sorry, and joy.
I learned a whole bunch of DO NOTs in that setting, but not many healthy, wholehearted HOW TOs. And I desperately needed the HOW TOs.
My new teachers taught me that anger is there for a reason – just like all those other emotions: grief, sorrow, gladness, etc. – and instead of fearing its presence I needed to learn what my anger means. Instead of shifting away to avoid the anger of others – I had to learn how to allow them to be angry and NOT allow their anger to jump on me.
I had to learn how to allow myself and others to own their hurt. That someone’s hurt was not going to harm me.
Someone’s anger is not going to leap across the table and suffocate you. Unless they act on it in a violent way…
I have a right to be angry – you have a right to be angry. But we do not have the right to violate others in our anger.
The thing is that as I was trying to keep the peace to avoid the anger of others – I was allowing my own hurt and anger to be buried beneath a mountain of shame. I was not dealing with my own pain in a healthy, open, constructive manner. And I didn’t believe I had a good place to share. Honestly – I didn’t have a good place to share my anger and express the hurt because I was surrounded by churched grownups who did not know how to navigate their own hurt and anger. You can not teach and lead into places you have never been.
So I found teachers who knew how to do it well. Teachers who knew how to confidently face their own anger and who knew how to allow others to have their own anger too.
Ask the Questions
Anger is the one place where I know that I need to begin asking myself questions. Because if I am angry – there is some pocket of hidden fuel that has been ignited that I need to pay attention to. It is like little land mines in my internal life.
- If someone steps into my boundary spaces, places where they do not have my permission to speak or act, then I may experience anger.
- I need to pay attention to this.
- If a situation is unfair and someone is not listening – I may experience anger.
- If something reminds me of an unhealed place in me – I may experience anger as a response.
- If someone is being a jerk, or unkind to those I love – I experience anger.
There is not anything wrong with anger. It can be the fire that burns us clean – gutting out the broken places we needed to remember, pulling out the places where we have buried shame or hidden from our truth.
It can bring the hurtful places of our relationships right into our laps so that we have to face it.
Our anger helps us to understand that something deeper is going on and we need to sit down with ourselves and face it.
I am not accountable to others for my anger – I am accountable to myself to discover why I hurt, why anger is here and to move to repair the places that cause anger to ignite.
Anger is a tool. A tool we can learn to use wisely. When we allow it to flood us over we become violent and harmful. When we choose to ignore it we become bitter and resentful. If we use it wisely, it can inform, heal, and guide us moving forward.
Exercises For Your Own Front Porch Conversations
Thoughts: I love this quote from Maya Angelou, “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats up the host. But anger is like a fire. It burns it all clean.” Bitterness is where anger goes to fester. It is when we allow hurt and confusion, shame and unforgiveness to bury deep inside us. It takes root. It it is ugly. It bleeds into everything – how we see. how we interact, how we move forward or stay stuck. Anger however is like a fire. It is hot. It is fierce. It is frightening. It has a purpose. That purpose is to burn your life clean. If you understand that your anger is because someone is stepping into your boundaries – then you can ask yourself which boundary is being violated and how you can help that person not to step into your space without your permission again. Anger can burst up suddenly ignited by a current situation, but a reminder of something in the past we did not resolve. Perhaps at the time we did not have the tools to handle what had happened in a healthy way – this time around we can ask the questions and pursue resolution in a wholehearted manner.
Anger is a tool. A tool we have to learn to use wisely, to inform us, and to guide us forward.
- When do you experience anger?
- How do you react? Hide from it? Lash out irrationally? Allow it to simmer? Explode?
- When you experience anger – who triggers it? What triggers it?
- Push into that anger asking, “Why are you here?”
- What do you hear anger saying?
- Are you afraid of other people’s anger?
- How do you hide from their anger – playing nice? People pleasing?
- How can you look at their anger differently?
- When someone is angry using goto phrases in the moment will help you navigate NOT allowing their anger to jump on you….
- I see that you are angry how can I help you…
- I understand that you are hurting.what can I do to help you understand…
- What would you add… what works for you?