Got Emotional Indigestion?

I've spent too much of my life feeling guilty for feeling angry. And I've spent too much time feeling needless anger. Too afraid to confront perceived injustices, I morphed into self-pity mode instead--which effectively increased my anger...and suffering. For "good measure" and to "atone," I added guilt to my toxicity. Thankfully, divine intervention led me to the field of Communication Studies. I learned how to analyze the emotion of anger as well as its root causes. And I slowly peeled off the label "unChristlike" for feeling this God-given emotion. While permitting myself to feel other emotions (love, sadness, happiness, guilt), feeling anger was taboo. Yet, anger can be a constructive emotion: it helps us perceive (and thus, prevent) abuse, injustice, and incivility--whether to our own selves or others. But here's the rub: most of our anger is rooted in our perception. Therefore, if our perception is distorted, our anger will be too. Julia Wood, in her book, Interpersonal Communication and Everyday Encounters defines perception as "an active process of creating meaning by selecting, organizing, and interpreting people, objects, events, situation, and activities. We consciously select the infinite number of stimuli around us" (p. 71). There's that word "conscious" again.

In my previous posts, I quoted Victor Frankl and Eckhart Tolle and their notions of "conscious suffering." Truly, we invest a lot of energy constructing meanings out of our perceptions. It's not a passive act. Additionally, our self-concept (or perception of our own selves) acts as a filter in terms of which stimuli we choose to select and interpret. Indeed, when we become conscious of our perceptions and thus our choices, we empower ourselves by choosing whether or not to suffer.

Artist: Daniel Gerhartz

My first step to empowerment was learning to recognize my anger as anger. Anne Lamont, in her article, "Where Do I Start," talks about finding and becoming our authentic selves through reframing our perception linked to our anger:

You are going to have to deal with whatever fugitive anger that still needs to be examined--it may not look like anger; it may look like compulsive dieting or bingeing or exercising or shopping. But you must find a path and a person to help you deal with that anger. It will not be a Hallmark card.  It is not the yellow brick road, with lovely trees on both sides, constant sunshine, birdsong, friends. It is going to be unbelievably hard some days--like the rawness of birth, all that blood and those fluids and shouting horrible terrible things--but then there will be that wonderful child right in the middle. And that wonderful child is you, with your exact mind and butt and thighs and goofy greatness. Dealing with your rage and grief will give you life. That is both the good news and the bad news: The solution is at hand. Whatever the great dilemma exists is where the great growth is, too. It would be very nice for nervous types like me if things were black-and-white, and you could tell where one thing ended and the next thing began, but as Einstein taught us, everything in the future and the past is right here now. There's always something ending and something beginning. Yet in the very center is the truth of your spiritual identity: is YOU. Fabulous, hilarious, darling, screwed-up you. Beloved of God and of your truest deepest self, the self that is revealed when tears wash off the makeup and grime. The self that is revealed when dealing with your anger blows through all the calcification in your soul's pipes. The self that is revealed in divine feminine energy.... [You] are divine. I absolutely promise" (Oprah Magazine, Vol. 10,p. 182, 234).

Are you tired of negative energy? I refer again to scriptural wisdom: A bitter root produces bitter fruit. LDS Social Services offers additional suggestions in identifying bitter roots:

Artist : Sandro Bottocelli

Look beneath our anger. 

What are the underlying feelings beneath our anger?

Anger is often expressed in place of feelings: 

  1. Hurt

  2. Fear

  3. Embarrassment

  4. Rejection

  5. Vulnerability

  6. Any attack on our sense of self-worth or well-being ("Strengthening Marriage" manual).

In other words, anger management adheres to this basic life law: Once we determine a problem, we can find and work toward a solution. Here's my list of solutions based on my own experience:

  • When we share our underlying feelings, often it is easier to resolve conflict within ourselves and with others.

  • Try talking about what we're really feeling without using the word "anger."

  • Pull back and analyze the true source of our anger. Chances are, the immediate situation or person acts as an anger trigger, but not necessarily the source.

  • Identify the unfulfilled need. Anger and rage signal unfilled needs that need to be addressed. Whatever the case, we need to know our needs in order to fulfill them.

  • Identify a constructive alternative action. Before fully embracing our anger, ask ourselves: What can I do to feel good about myself rather than guilty and ashamed for unresolved and unproductive anger?

  • Take specific action. Find the courage and resolve to empower ourselves by working through and transcending our anger.

  • Rid ourselves of "all-or-nothing" and "either/or" thinking. We are never either "good" or "bad," or completely "wrong" or "right." This type of perception is unproductive and negative.

I feel free when I diagnose my anger without it "diagnosing" or defining me. And I no longer chastise myself for feeling angry at times---but I quickly give it the boot! Too easily and too quickly, my anger can turn toxic. Kristin Armstrong, ex-wife of cyclist Lance Armstrong, wrote about her struggle with pain and anger following their divorce:

If we carry our emotional pain too long or too far, we risk being stunted. Like the roots of a plant in desperate need of repotting, we can become so tightly tangled that we remain bound in the shape of our former container, even after we transplant our lives (Oprah Magazine, Feb. 2007, p. 168).

I don't want a bitter root to contaminate my life or the lives of my loved ones. I love the profound observation of writer Malachy McCourt: "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

What are you ingesting? Let's rid ourselves of indigestion!