True power lies in our willingness to question the beliefs we swallowed along with allowing ourselves to feel the rage ... while staying present and not acting on the desire for revenge. It's possible to feel the full range of our feelings, even hatred; we can see where they are lodged in our chests or throats or faces and we can allow them to get so big that we are towering with them and breathing fire. If then we keep sensing, feeling, allowing the effects of the past to unfold in us now, we can take ourselves back.
~from This Messy Magnificent Life by Geneen Roth
It might seem like I'm beating the same drum lately with all my focus on releasing anger, receiving the shattering and getting ourselves unstuck. But clearly I have something to learn about this because every time I open my computer, or stumble onto a book, or have a conversation with a friend, the theme is the same: Unfelt anger is a boulder that holds us in place. We might feel magnanimous for our ability to hold in our rage but it becomes toxic to us. Only by recognizing it and allowing ourselves to feel it are we liberated.
If we feel rather than repress or act out our rage or hatred, says Roth, the feelings dissolve like a night-monster when you turn on the light. The self-righteous – and righteously felt – fury fuels us toward action. Healthy, positive action that comes from a place of worthiness rather than fear. Action that comes from a place of self-respect and a determination to minimize the damage done to ourselves rather than a desire to inflict damage on others.
I often reminded my children, when they were younger, of Barbara Coloroso's explanation of the difference between "telling" and "tattling". Telling, she says, is about keeping someone out of trouble (though you might get them into trouble in order to do so. An example is a friend who has begun to use drugs, for instance). Tattling, on the other hand, is about trying to get someone in trouble.
I'm reminded of that as I struggle to outline the difference between anger expressed to keep ourselves safe and anger expressed to make someone else unsafe. It can be hard to care if we jeopardize someone else when that someone has been party to so much pain inflicted on us. And yet... If our sole motivation is to inflict harm on someone else, then our anger becomes a weapon rather than a spark igniting our own power. Weapons can be used against us.
And that has been my experience with anger. What starts out directed at others ended up consuming me. I would find myself having constant arguments in my head with my imagined foes, I would wake up furious in the middle of the night, I felt brittle.
Freeing myself from that creates so much space in my head, in my heart, in my life. Letting go was like removing a millstone from around my neck.
It's not like I don't get angry now (just ask my children!). But I am far better at directing my anger at the specific situation responsible and expressing it calmly. Anger, I've learned, is usually my first clue that I'm betraying myself by not enforcing my boundaries. That I'm not keeping myself emotionally safe. It's an important emotion that carries with it valuable information. But it becomes toxic when we simmer in it rather than processing it.
Geneen Roth advises us to pay attention to where the rage shows up in our body. By noticing it, feeling it and then sorting through what to do with it, it makes its way through us, rather than creates a poisonous home in us.
And that's how we take ourselves back.