Anger In the Season Of Joy

Why am I writing about anger in the season of JOY? I don’t know why this came forth now, but I stopped questioning “why” a long time ago and simply go with it now. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that I finally had enough of the pain to take action and do something about it.

That moment happened about two months ago when I walked into my manual osteopathic clinic, sleep deprived and in tears. Reaching for the coffee on the second shelf had become impossible, and to say I was tired, exhausted, finite, done, enough… is a bit of an understatement. Forty-five minutes later I was virtually pain free and had range of motion that extended above my head. I was super impressed with my osteopath’s approach to “dig deep” (literally) into the root cause rather than treat the symptom.

As it turns out, unprocessed anger and resentment can store energetically in our bodies. With time and neglect, much like the Inca city Machu Picchu whose famous ruins were once consumed by nature, myofascial tightness is a painful restriction of the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds our muscles, bone, nerves, and organs and what recently rendered an otherwise healthy Yvonne unable to exercise, sleep, or reach for her daily cup of java.  

This is a gross oversimplification and I won't go into the physical manifestation of emotions too much here, but it was an important interception for me to recognize that my inability to express anger in a healthy way was actually causing me physical pain. It was a message from my body to investigate my relationship with anger before it became debilitating.

How To Speak Anger

This season of joy can be a minefield of anger triggers, which we all too often stuff or drown with bottles of red and Crown Royal. Don’t believe me? Try to stay away from alcohol for this year’s family Christmas and observe! For some, anger is brought on by extreme stress and pressure “to finish the year strong”, make deadlines, hit targets, buy the perfect gift for that special someone, prepare a family approved turkey dinner, and have decorations match the latest issue of House and Home.

Others suffer through loneliness and loss as Hallmark counts down the days til’ Christmas with stories about idyllic communities, wholesome families, and peace on earth. Your uncle may cause your blood pressure to rise as he patronizes your efforts to start your own business and your mother-in-law might seize the opportunity to oh so [not] discreetly inquire about when you plan on having children. (I would love to hear your favorite trigger - comment below!)

Growing up I don’t recall anyone who could have shown me a “healthy” form of anger. Both of my grandmas suppressed whatever anger they undoubtedly held due to shame and an overarching tone of “we don’t talk about this stuff”. My parents both suffered, on more than one occasion, under the physical outlet of anger by my grandparents, and did everything to never “be like them”. My teachers taught me that anger was not a noble trait for anyone, but especially not for a girl, and so I learned that the only way to control anger is by staying ahead of it. I worked hard for my whole life to keep it together and never, ever show anger, as it’s a sign of weakness.

Well, that’s not working for me anymore. It’s too exhausting to suppress my feelings. It’s like telling a lie. Once you tell it, there are so many moving parts in play that it's hard to keep the story straight. Besides, anger is actually a clear feeling that informs us if something is not ok. When we don’t let ourselves feel anger, we forego the opportunity to understand what it’s really about. Instead we fall back into our ol’ patterns: defending, disputing, rage, control, power struggle, and throwing word grenades we can’t take back.

I’m learning to speak anger, and one of the first steps I took is to resist judging  it as good or bad. It’s just a feeling. And… feelings want to be felt. Thank you, Janine Roth. Something that has been super helpful is a process my coach calls writing “Anger Papers”. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write about everything you’re angry about, without letting up until the timer goes off. “I’m angry at…”, I’m angry about…”. It can be anything and everything. It’s important that you don’t re-read what you wrote or judge it in any way. To avoid pondering or lingering in old anger, go for a brisk walk right when you’re done and while you’re outside, burn that paper and let the ashes be the rise for peace within.

Learning to be safe in the world without being in control over every aspect of yourself is hard, I get it. For some of us, it means letting go of the outcome.  For others it’s trusting that others will do what they promise. The end result is the same– when we feel control slipping through our fingers, we go to our playbook where anger usually plays the lead role. I’m sure that whatever happened in your life that’s caused you to hold such tight grip on control was a really difficult time for you and control helped keep yourself safe.  We’ve all been there love, and but it’s time, we can let go of those stories now. Your pain is begging you to stop.

Taking care of your own needs is the only “thing” you can actually control. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all learn to take care of our anger in a more compassionate way? A way that allows the feeling to exist and then help us communicate what we really need/mean/want? Learning to navigate your feelings starts with acknowledging them and then making a request from that space.

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have some sort of anger management issue around this time of year. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that I’ve come face to face with mine over these last few weeks.  As for me, I’ve got no fight left in me and don’t want to bring this pain into the new year. This is why I’m committed to clearing this out in the final month of the year. What feeling have you been keeping hidden, collecting dust, cluttering up your space? Is it time to let it go?