Mindfully Angry!? ~ On Our Longing for Authenticity

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By Leni

It took me a while before I understood the importance of anger. That being angry is not a sin. That you are not doing anything wrong when you feel angry. That it doesn’t mean you are not mindful enough. Perhaps it’s quite the opposite: the more mindful you are, the more space you have to allow anger to come up. The less it is suppressed, the more it can flow. I think this is what mindfulness is about: truly acknowledging what is happening and giving it space. Not exaggerating it, not minimalizing it, but just allowing it to be. Well, “just.” I have to admit that it took me years to learn this, especially with anger, and it is still a process of trial and error.

Angry, Angrier, Angriest!
I remember a Zen teacher already tried to explain to me six years ago that anger is not something negative. That it has something to say to us, like every emotion does. When we dare to really feel our anger, we can gain more understanding of what it is we need. It shows us where our pain is, and which need is asking for our attention. This is a basic idea in Nonviolent Communication as well: To find out about your deeper needs by looking at your thoughts and feelings. Then you can formulate a request to fulfill your need. It sounds simple, but it does require a lot of insight and self-knowledge in order to do this skillfully, and not fall back into blaming and accusations. It takes time to see all the obstacles and communicate them in an open and honest way.

Anyways, back to anger. The past few months, anger was very predominant in my inner world. Pretty weird, as most people tend to see me as a sweet and gentle person. Personally, I also have an image of myself as a friendly woman, even accommodating and compliant—someone who rarely or never gets angry. It was strangely unfamiliar to suddenly feel so much anger coming up, as if a part of me were trying to compensate for all those previous years. As if, once the lid was lifted, a lot of old and unprocessed anger was ready to come to the surface. It felt like a great relief. I learned that anger can also give us energy and strength. It allows me to better respect my boundaries, to dare to speak up and to disagree, to be more assertive. So my teacher was right: Anger is not necessarily something negative. It can be the fuel for right and wholesome actions.

Agreeable or Authentic?
In some Eastern traditions, certain gods or archetypes actually embody this anger. I find that very powerful. The Hindu goddess Kali, for instance, is a ferocious goddess whose fierce energy enables her to combat evil in the world. At least as far as my knowledge goes. In the Buddhist tradition, the bodhisattva Manjusri’s attribute is nothing less than a sword, with which he cuts through all illusions. To me, he symbolizes the kind of anger that brings about clarity and insight. “Cut the crap,” so to speak. A fierce energy that cuts deeply and that therefore is healing. Sometimes this kind of compassion is necessary: Someone who is radically honest and dares to confront. I really enjoy it when I see people modeling that, even though it can be uncomfortable. Gosh, how I’d like to dare to embody this more and more myself…

As far as I know, we do not have a “fierce goddess” equivalent in the Christian tradition, but it could be that my knowledge of the tradition just falls short. In any case, my sense is that young girls in the West are mainly raised with the belief that they should be good and well-behaved. Agreeable. Not to stand out, not to be a troublemaker. They should conform. Do their best. Smile. Therefore, reading Thomas D’Ansembourg’s book Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real was a real revelation to me. He encourages us first and foremost to be authentic, and to only be nice if that is really how we feel. Taking off the mask. Being truly ourselves, including all our feelings and moods: happy, sad, frantic, dispirited, angry, enthusiastic, playful. Of course, this does not only apply to girls or women, but for all of us who have a tendency to please and to adapt to what the other is (presumably) expecting.

From Irritation to Connection
What has all this anger taught me so far? On one hand, it has revealed some patterns that I was not aware of before. I now realize that I often ignore my own needs and tend to consider other people’s needs more important. I also know better what I need, and sometimes I even dare to ask for it. There seems to be a strong need for space, appreciation and recognition in me. Because these needs have been neglected for a long time, a lot of pain seems to be stored underneath. It will require attention, time, love, and patience to heal the past suffering and grief of these unmet needs.

On the other hand, my anger has also led to some frictions and discussions. Because I don’t know yet how to skillfully express anger and to formulate my needs in a clear way, there have been some conflicts with my close friends. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very kind people who want to support me in this journey towards more openness and authenticity. It is not easy, but it is a path that is well worth traveling.

My hope is that this development of daring to allow and express anger will lead to more open, honest and fulfilling relationships. While I used to be very afraid of conflicts and I consistently tried to avoid them, I have learned how they can bring insight, mutual understanding, and a deeper connection. And that definitely benefits the relationship. So long live anger! Or long live safe relationships in which we dare to experiment with anger, and solid friendships that will survive all these storms. It is my deep wish to all of us to have radically honest relationships in which we can be truly ourselves, and discuss and discover our needs in a mutually loving way.

This article was originally published in Dutch on Leni’s blog Living Loving Learning.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Leni,
    Thank you for sharing this in such clear and powerful words, for me it feels like we do not talk enough about the power of anger within our tradition, or to put it in words expressing my need: I’d like to talk more about it and to hear others share about their anger.
    For me it helped when first openly expressing anger, to also express that my love for that person does not change because of it, sometimes literally while yelling. It really helped me when a person I was angry at welcomed my emotions, that way I learned to stay in touch while being angry and got to see that anger and love really can co-exist. So I always try to encourage my friends and family to express their anger whenever they feel it and I feel genuinely thankful when they do, though it can still kinda get me off guard and be hurtful; which is fine, hurt teaches us about love and happiness.
    So again, thank you Leni, for addressing this subject.

    • Thanks for your beautiful reply, Bouke!
      I appreciate that you’re encouraging people around you to express their anger. I really think that more authenticity and honesty will create more loving and harmonious relationships in the long run. So I’m totally with you!
      And yes, I can relate to the recognition that expressing anger does not mean that you don’t love the other person. So true! If you ask me, expressing anger is even an expression of love. Whereas holding back our emotions, and not sharing how we feel, could undermine the relationship and create distance and disconnection. Wishing you good luck on your journey towards more authenticity and openness!

  2. Dear Leni,
    thank you for addressing this topic.
    Three years ago I was totally into non-violent communication. But I noticed that when it came to anger it was somehow making me suppress the energy of the anger, because it fuelled the old ‘wanting to be nice’ pattern and also the ‘wanting to be perfect in something’. When you haven’t expressed anger for years and years (and for ages, if you happen to be sensitive for the collective female subconscious pain), it’s simply too a big step to want to express it in a non-violent way. At least, that was my experience. I felt a bit guilty about it but I really felt I needed to learn it the jackal way first…and I had great fun once having made this choice.
    A good friend of mine has no difficulty in expressing anger at all. She just does it naturally and does not feel bad about it. She invited me to express my anger on her voicemail whenever I felt like it. She would listen to it, and tell me on which points I was still playing nice or expressing myself in too subtle ways, and helped me to exaggerate it and get the energy out completely, without holding back.
    I can’t tell you what a relief this kind of practice brought to me, and what a joy, to be able to have fun with anger!! She gives me a safe space to be honest with myself, with the energy of the emotion. That it’s not about the words and the judgments in the end… but this I can only feel after having thrown it out without holding any of the energy back. You can’t be kind to others if you aren’t kind to yourself first.

    Good luck to anyone having the courage to investigate this topic.

    • Oh, wow, Judith, your sharing really resonates with me. Being afraid of anger, suppressing it, thinking it is not the ‘non-violent way’. Thanks for bringing this into the conversation!
      I have lately also started to experiment with allowing all jackal thoughts to be expressed, and allowing the full energy of anger to be felt. It is truly liberating and, as you say, even fun! I do not believe this is against NVC, quite on the contrary, I think it is an important step towards more truthful and loving communication. And as you say, an act of kindness and compassion towards yourself for allowing the whole experience to be there and to be expressed. Beautiful!
      I could write so much more on this, thinking of examples in my own life, but I’ll stop here for now 🙂
      I’m happy that you can practice this with your friend and receive her feedback. Sounds wonderful!

  3. Dear Leni,
    Thank you for your inspiring article. I felt great relief reading it.
    My girlfriend broke up with me a couple of weeks ago and I’m currently on a path exploring myself. First step was recognizing that the strong fear of loosing her was driving all my actions in our relationship. I’m now able to get in touch with what is below. I see that I tried to be nice my whole life in order to be loved by people around me, especially my girlfriend. I was avoiding conflicts in private and professional situations and suppressing my anger deeply.
    The last days I was able to feel anger in me after a long time. It was an overwhelming feeling and I’m looking forward to go on my way of being ‘not always nice’ but true.
    Thanks again, Martin

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