Anger defines the boundary between a “yes” and an organic “no”.
This “no” does not arise in your head (intellectual thoughts).
It arises in your belly, for the most part.
Perhaps the heart participates in it, when the anger concerns injustice done to another.
(And if it is rage, it may even arise in your heels an raise up all the way from the Ground through the back of your legs to mobilise and cleanse the entire body.)
But at its core, anger is the boundary guardian.
This idea is taken from Karla McLaren’s The Language of Emotions, where she calls anger the sentry. After discovering this concept, I actually set my phone background to an ancient roman soldier guarding a gate, to ingrain that idea in my mind visually.)
Note the dominant qualities of this guardian of the gate:
If you are an HSP or empath or immersed in a spiritual discourse / subculture, or just consider yourself a decent and good person, you are probably cringing by now, if you are even still reading.
I am not advocating running amok and acting out impulsive rage that has lost its point, destructively. I am not advocating allowing ourselves to bitch at each and every thing as a matter of principle.
… although doing that in a comically exaggerated way, within four walls, or with a consensual “complaining partner” may actually be a brilliant way to vent. (Also from McLaren’s book, but heck, I actually had one even before I read it … we were from two different nations that each consider themselves world champions in complaining and were running competitions.)
… and although, yes, the bitching thing does happen. (Last time here.)
Because these are both not examples of pure anger, but of stuck, convoluted, paralysed, fermented anger, interlaced with a whole lot of other messes. Most notably, repression, suppression and obsession.
Pure anger actually is pure.
If you have been taught that anger is evil (“negative”; which may often just mean: inconvenient to your caregivers, surroundings, culture) and to be avoided at all costs, it is guaranteed that as soon as it appears, you are doing all you can to get its head back under the water. Of course there it’s squirming and sputtering.
After a lifetime of this, most of us don’t know what pure, calm anger feels like.
(Or can even imagine such a concept.)
It feels like definition. Solidity (for me). A boundary (for Karla McLaren and her clients apparently).
Like increased rootedness, like stronger legs; a more solid body and a sharper mind. Like a stronger, denser, more defined existence overall. There is nothing aggressive about it. In fact, a friend who had not seen me for a year said that I look more “distinguished” and “dense” somehow, in terms of the energy I radiate.
Restoring my anger has been one of the major things I have been working on during this year. I wonder if it’s that (my clairsentient friend is probably reading this, so hey, do you think it could be that?).
Calm, gravitational mass and focus; where before there was a buzzcloud. A buzzcloud destabilised by everything.
Also a buzzcloud that lashed out like crazy, while not being able to protect its host (i.e. myself) from … things that were just not ok. That was not able to draw boundaries that were justified and required for – heck, my own functioning and sanity.
But I didn’t get the signals.
I was overanalysing the situation endlessly, helplessly wavering back and forth, is this too much? Is this (action by person X) too bad? Am I just paranoid? Is everything really ok but I’m “oversensitive”? Should I just swallow this? F* you, get out and never come back again (explosive, impure anger without calm = further entanglement; cycles; endless inner restlessness).
How to respond to an organic no message from your gut?
The point is, what harms me and doesn’t, isn’t arbitrated by my (or your) intellect; it’s arbitrated, as a physical, organic matter of fact, by your feelingbody, actually. And it communicates simply and concisely, through anger (when its gates of integrity are invaded).
It’s often enough to notice this message, acknowledge it, realise that this is an organic, bodily no. Then decide what to do about it. Listen to it, or push it for some higher priority – the latter as a temporary, well-considered, conscious matter of choice (not as an automatic reflex that builds up more entanglement and mess).
Often it’s just enough to distance myself until safe. To let go a bit, of things that give me organic no’s. To get out of the situation. Or to keep doing my thing regardless because I know it has a point, even if injustice was encountered and is unavoidable.
Sometimes, nothing can be done. Feeling the pure anger in this case can still affect the situation positively, because feeling pure anger can act as an acknowledgment that “Yes, there is injustice; it in fact is. At the moment, nothing can practically be done. But in my heart I know that it is not right, and this at least keeps me an upright human with mental clarity.”
That doesn’t save the world, or your situation, but it may sometimes save your sanity. (For me, as someone who is more irritable than placid and carries a lot of anger baggage from the past, this can save both plates, glasses and relationships.)
How to tell apart the angers
The impure forms are like mercury vapour.
They don’t stand with their legs on the ground.
They are floating, mobile, and scared of actually touching the ground (the truth of what you are feeling in this moment; there may be additional elements at play apart from anger, such as hurt or humiliation). It is afraid of just being.
It needs to move, float, act, do, and it is never satisfied with this doing; its belly is always empty.
Don’t go after that; it’s just exhausting. And destructive.
I’m training myself to find my legs. Find the solidity of my body, and face the situation. Yes, this is really happening. Injustice or hurt are really happening, as emotional realities (regardless of what anyone “should” feel – the reality is the reality). I am angry. I can either do something to amend – terminate the situation by removing myself, protecting myself or someone else – or I can’t; but at the very least, I can be here in dignity, acknowledging what is happened and what wasn’t right without going down a spiral (of swallowing or acting out) or committing the additional self-violation of trying to convince myself that black is white.
(The latter being typical of people who have been gaslighted – brilliantly helpful post by Sonia Connolly here. This group includes a lot of women, HSPs, empaths, autistics who don’t realise they are autistic, and anyone really whose intrinsic perception of reality significantly differs from the “norm”, but who is not in a position of power to impose that vision on others.)
This process is very fine, it’s not thoughts but a physical/imaginal practice (described below).
But: is every anger justified?
Of course we can be wrong in our gut reactions and realise that later, after we learn more. Or they may themselves evolve.
However, a good heuristic is that the angers of HSPs, spiritual sensitives, etc. who have been suppressing their angers for decades typically have a point. That point may be in the past. Once it’s clear what these past points are and the anger is honoured (as adequate and useful, then), fresh angers will be much more manageable and proportional to the situation.
When we later judge that a situation that we felt organically was unjust actually wasn’t, we have still preserved our sanity and prevented greater damage by having acknowledged the feeling in the moment (“To the best of my data, injustice alert. Take note and channel into grounding and solidifying my body.”) rather than used either suppression or acting out.
How to channel anger
Karla McLaren has a process – a mix of visualising and feeling – she calls channeling anger. What is done is 1. establish a felt connection with the Earth. E.g. feel your feet on the ground, feel as you stand in your legs. Or imagine a chord connecting you to the core of the Earth, etc. 2. sense where the typically fiery energy of anger is in your body, and direct it outwards: to solidifying your outer skin, your definition, your weight, your calm. She actually uses a process that involves visualising how the anger sets aflame a felt/visualised boundary that surrounds your body in all directions at arm’s length (your personal space or for the spiritual, aura).
For me the boundary-creation works less well than generating a sense of “solidifying into the body”. That may have many reasons that don’t fit this post.
Why this is especially relevant for HSPs and various neurodiverse people and minority groups
To reiterate, while the expression of anger is discouraged in everyone (least perhaps in boys and men), there are groups of people who have additionally systematically been taught that their angers are not only wrong but don’t make sense. They are about nothing. (E.g. about sexism, racism, ableism, other forms of discrimination that don’t affect and hence are invisible to the people saying it’s nothing. Or about things that other people simply don’t see because they aren’t as perceptive, simply put.)
My experience is that if we, especially as sensitives from these groups, believe that, we install a module in our minds that’s constantly telling us that black is white and vice versa – a constant internal disruption and generator of chaos within and without (self-gaslighting).
Learning the uncommon alchemy of pure anger is far better.
It takes insight, courage and persistence to shift towards that, but even minuscule progress (which I believe is my level) can solve a lot of emotional problems.
Do you get stuck in anger loops? Does this pattern – automatic suppression => replay – apply to you? Have you ever experienced anger as a firm, defined, yet non-aggressive and boundary-preserving energy?
Karla McLaren The Language of Emotions
Sonia Connolly Trust yourself despite everyday gaslighting
The phrase “stand in your legs” is from Judith Blackstone.
And Caroline van Kimmenade taught me why the heck I’m stuck in a loop for years.