Anger. Why is it so hard to feel it?

December 5, 2021

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My 2-year-old is giving me an education on anger.

Navigating how to parent a fiery little human has me reflecting on how I meet with and ‘manage’ my anger, and what I want to teach and model for her.

As someone who works professionally in the realm of emotional embodiment, it’s been a deep contemplation because I see this challenge – to meet and express our anger – come up so much in coaching with women.

We fear our anger. We worry it will be destructive or damaging.

Or worse, we let it go unexpressed. Our anger morphs into a quiet, cold bitterness, resentment, or apathy that is chronic and distant. 

Women have been short-changed when it comes to expressing their anger (understatement).

My culture taught me anger is for men, and anger is undignified for women. I learn anger was dangerous and impolite. None of which serves me to help access the power & potential that anger holds.

We can’t perpetuate that legacy. So let’s craft another….

Today on the podcast I wanted to share some reflections around:

  • Why it’s so challenging for us to express our anger
  • What our culture is teaching us about anger
  • What the model of Feminine Embodiment has to say on the matter
  • Why anger can feel so destructive, unhealthy, and damaging
  • 3 steps I use to express my anger
  • What I’m teaching my daughter
  • The difference between hot & cold anger
  • What to do your anger has fermented into bitterness, resentment, or apathy

RESOURCES

Resources mentioned in this podcast:


TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the podcast. I’m Jenna Ward, and thanks for joining me for a conversation around, why is it so hard to express our anger? And, this podcast should probably have a bracket or a disclaimer. Why is it so hard to express our anger in healthy, empowering, societal enriching ways, which I believe is deeply possible?

                So, in today’s podcast, we’re diving into some recent antics from my two year old, that have prompted this deep contemplation, discussions around our culture and feminine embodiment, and how we can meet our hot and our cold anger. And I’m also sharing some suggestions around what I’ve been telling my child. Thanks for joining me.

                Welcome to the School Of Embodied Arts Podcast. I am your hostess, Jenna Ward, feminine embodiment coach, here for our weekly explorations of living, leading and coaching, as emotionally empowered, sensually alive and magnetic women.

                I have a delightful two and a bit year old, who is very sassy and expressive, and sometimes, a fiery. And, in raising her and supporting her to grow, I have met a lot of my own frustrations and angers, and increasingly, I am seeing my child confront her own anger. And it’s been really healthy, and challenging, for me to be exploring lately, when is it healthy to express our anger? When is it welcome? What do I want to model for my child? And, how do I want to support my child to express her anger in the world more fully? And this is a really complex exploration, one that I find a lot of embodied women go through, because our cultures have all taught us something unique about what anger is, what it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate. And I would invite you, as part of this podcast today, just to pause for a second and contemplate, what has your culture taught you about anger?

                I learned from my culture, from a very young age, it is okay for men to be angry, and it’s unflattering and undignified for women to be angry. I learned from my culture that women, on a whole, were there to absorb anger from their partners, from men, from the world. And I also, as a mother, have realized that I absorbed from my culture the idea, the belief, the misbelief, that women were there to absorb and to metabolize that anger, by silencing it, for the benefit of their children.

                Now, I’m not suggesting these beliefs that I’ve absorbed from my culture are true. And in fact, I would say they’re probably pretty harmful beliefs. I don’t necessarily think these are beliefs that individual people are trying to perpetuate, but in my culture, they were the silent narrative of what I saw played out around me. And so, that’s then what I’ve internalized and the frames or the internal scaffolding that shaped how I see the world.

                And that has meant that, for me, and, I would hazard a guess to say, for many women in my collective family and in my culture, we’re really under-skilled and under-resourced in knowing how to express our anger in healthy ways. And this is really damaging to us and to our life force energy and to our communities, because in the model of feminine embodiment coaching, when we have a sensation or an emotion or an impulse arise, such as anger, if that impulse is free to flow, to move through our body, to be embodied and expressed, then that impulse, and the life force energy that is fueling that impulse, it is free to flow. It moves out into the world, and our body, our vessel, remains in a state of greater fluidity.

                But if what we want to express, for example, anger, if it is not free to flow in the model of feminine embodiment, that life force energy associated with anger is instead frozen up. That life force energy, there’s a message that goes to it that says, “You’re not safe to express. I’ve learned from my culture, it’s unflattering and undignified for you to express that anger.” So instead of letting your life force energy flow, it’s more appropriate for you to bundle it up, silence it up, squash it down, put it away. Don’t look at it, don’t see it.

                And there is a side effect to that freezing of that life force energy, which we may be doing consciously or unconsciously. I know I frequently unconsciously avoid my anger, because that’s the default system. That’s the culture I was raised in. But in doing so, that life force energy associated with my anger, it’s frozen, and it’s no longer a life force energy or a power that I have to access. So if I think of this body as a battery, which is an overtly mechanical simplification of this universe that is wrapped in skin, which is my body, but if I think of my body as a battery, and a battery that is like a rechargeable battery, so it’s circulating energy all the time, if I take that portion of life force energy from this battery and I freeze it, now, my overall system is not running on 100%. It’s running on, let’s say, 95%.

                And when I repeatedly freeze more and more and more and more of my life force energy, over the course of my life, which my culture has taught me to do, so that I can survive and fit into the societal model that we expect of women, by the time I’m getting to middle age, it’s like, where’s all my energy gone? And, it’s frozen. And there’s no shame or wrongness or brokenness or defect in having operated this way.

                But, we do have to consider, why have we, as a culture, held onto an idea that anger isn’t welcome, and that it’s not valid? In the model of feminine embodiment, we believe and we see that every impulse, every emotion, every flavor and texture of aliveness, is equal and is beautiful and is magnificent. If we think about happiness and anger, our society has a narrative around, which of the two is more valuable? But in the model of feminine embodiment, we see all of them as valuable.

                If we think about our bodies represented at the macro level through Mother Nature, we can think of maybe our anger as, and it’s interesting, the analogy that comes to mind is a volcano. So we can think of our anger as a volcano. And, we can think of our happiness, maybe, as a rainbow. Both of them can be deeply beautiful. Both of them can have exquisite glory. One of them is not valuable or more valuable than the other. Mother Nature is perfectly happy to embody, to personify these two different qualities.

                And I believe the same is true of our happiness and our anger. When my two year old is expressing their anger, I’m all for it. I am a yes to your anger. I am a yes to you being a fluid, feeling human, that lets your life force flow through you, so that it can be expressed into the world, and you can stay or remain as close to 100% fluidity as you can in this big mess of a world.

                But a lot of us have been taught to repress our anger, and I put myself in that class. And we have learned to repress our anger because, for many of us, we see anger as destruction. And it even came through in that analogy that I used. How destructive is a rainbow? Zero. How destructive can a volcano be? 100. So, many of us see anger as destruction. And so, we learned that, in expressing our anger, it’s unhealthy. It’s explosive. It’s damaging. It’s harmful. Check in with yourself. Do you feel that expressing your anger might be destructive or damaging or explosive?

                Many, many women that I work with deeply fear their anger, because we fear the destruction and the damage, that we worry or that we think or that we believe it will cause. And that’s a very, very valid fear. It’s a valid fear, because, for a lot of human history, including our current history, we see that, when somebody is expressing their anger, very often, what they’re actually doing is throwing off their anger. And this is nuanced, so let’s dive into this. When somebody is throwing off their anger, it is in that white, hot moment, when they don’t want to feel what is erupting inside them. They are not able or willing to be in sincere contact with that white, hot anger, maybe because it’s so intense, or because it’s so uncomfortable, or because they fear it, or because of the power of it. And so, instead of meeting and expressing that anger through their body, they take the intensity of that sensation, of that eruption, and they throw it out, and they throw it out of their body, and into somebody else’s body.

                And when you throw off your anger, and you take the full intensity of that anger, and you don’t metabolize it through you, through your expression, but instead you throw it at someone, then that can be really destructive. That can be really explosive. That can be really damaging. And we have seen, throughout the history of humanity, so much destruction and damage, caused by this throwing off of anger. And I’m not going to judge people who have thrown off their anger. I’m not going to say they’re good people or bad people. Maybe they had their reasons. I can imagine many, many situations that humans have subjected other humans to, which would lead to the throwing off of anger, perhaps with good justification.

                But in your life, I’m pretty sure you are not committing any crimes against humanity. And yet, this tendency, this fear of the destruction of our anger, it often arises, because what we’ve seen modeled in the expression of anger is actually the throwing off of our anger. And I would agree, that is something to fear, and that is something that can be damaging, not because anger is involved. It’s not anger’s fault. It’s because, throwing off what we’re feeling, instead of honestly feeling and inhabiting it ourselves, that is the danger.

                And here, we come back to embodiment. I mean, shocking. I’m a feminine embodiment coach. But here we come back to embodiment. So, if I have an intense sensation that is arising within my body, and if I’m not skilled or able to be with the intensity of that sensation, I have really one of two options. The first option that we spoke about before is to freeze that energy, to freeze it, bind it up in my body, to go numb, to become apathetic and to ignore it. Many women do this. This freezing response is, perhaps, even structurally more common in women. There’s a whole polyvagal theory around why that may be. But the tendency, whether it’s physiological, or whether it’s more societal conditioning wise, is for women to freeze that anger energy, whereas generally speaking, and I want to acknowledge that there’s more than just the binary genders of male and female. There are many different identities around the gender identities that we hold. But generally speaking, there is an increased propensity for men to tend to throw off their anger, which again, just reinforces that social narrative that we were speaking about before.

                But anyway, I’m taking a long road round to say, we really have two options, if we are avoiding feeling our anger. Option A, numb it. Freeze it. Don’t feel it. Women tend to do this more. Option B, throw it off. So, express it, but express it in destructive and damaging ways that still help you to avoid feeling it. And so, we can see why many of us are worried about expressing our anger, because so much of what is modeled is actually throwing off our anger.

                And this creates a social narrative, where we’re all dreaming this collective dream that says, “Your anger is dangerous. Your anger is a rupture. Your anger is uncivilized and damaging, and your anger is not welcome.” And that’s the soup we’re swimming in. And I think that’s really, really, really difficult for all of us, because anger is a natural, healthy human emotion.

                So, when I reflect on why I’ve been taught to repress my anger, or why I may have internalized it’s not healthy, I can see all these different threads playing out. And that means it’s taken practice to re-skill myself in meeting my anger. And, I’m still developing that skill. It’s also taken me a lot of investigation to figure out what I want to tell and model my child around expressing their anger in healthy ways. And I want to be clear, I’m not a childhood or raising child expert. I’m an expert in feminine embodiment coaching, and I happen to have a child, so I definitely explore and research the overlap of those two. But I am not a childcare professional, so this is not advice on what you should do for your child. I’m just sharing what’s been working for me.

                The first thing that I think is so important for myself, and then that overflows to my child, is that I see expressing anger as a skill. And I see it as a skill that most of us are under-skilled in. I also see that, if I want to model something healthy for my child, I have to be confident and fluid in doing it in my body first. If I don’t resolve these narratives around throwing off anger and anger being, ah, let’s say undignified, if I don’t correct that narrative, then that is the dominant narrative that I will unintentionally train my child in. So if I don’t work to change that narrative, I will perpetuate it. And those are the only two options, perpetuation or altering the narrative. And I want to alter the narrative for sure, so it has to start in my body first. My body is the body that holds the resonance of the truths that I believe in. And my body is modeling culture for my child and for those around me.

                So the first thing in terms of how I meet my anger. When I was reflecting for this podcast, I kind of had to sit down for a moment and really think, well, what do I do? Because now, it happens so automatically in my body. And I have to tell you, the first thing I do is, in the moment, that something hot or fiery or intense or indignant arises, in that moment, I take a moment. Because anger is something that is acute. It is a fire that can spark quickly. And sure, it can smolder for a long time. But I have found that it’s easiest to work with, and embody the energy of anger, when it is acute in that moment. So I take a moment, in the moment, and that sounds easy. That sounds really easy.

                But sometimes, it’s also socially awkward. If I need to extricate myself from a situation, if I’m in the middle of conversation, if it would be a bit weird and impolite to leave the room, if I’m in the middle of teaching, for example, it can be a bit weird, to sometimes take a moment in the moment. But I do it, because I value my emotional health, more than I value the agreements of polite society. I’m not going to be rude to anyone, but I’m going to prioritize my emotional well-being. So I take a moment, in the moment.

                The next thing that I do is I really own it. So I own it, because that anger, that intensity, that sensation and aliveness, it’s happening inside my body. To be clear, I can be angry, at something or at someone, but what I feel is mine. What is arising inside me is mine. I can tell you very transparently, I’m very angry at the Australian government right now, who are absolutely backwards when it comes to progressive climate policy. I am just so, when I think about how they are mismanaging this critical time for our humanity, I am just flabbergasted, and my body gets hot and I feel a heat rising, and I want to rage at how poorly they are managing the climate crisis.

                And perhaps, being Australian that lives overseas, I see the international news and, really, the joke that Australia is, in our lack of policy around climate change. We currently have absolutely no policy around it. And so, yeah, I’m very clear that I’m angry at someone. I’m very clear who I’m angry at, but also that anger is mine. And, I don’t want to throw that anger off. I want to honor that it’s mine, it’s in my body, because that anger is my life force energy. It is my power, and I’m not giving it to anyone else. It’s mine for me to own, for me to utilize, for me to mobilize. And I really see all energies and emotions that this intensity, that I choose to label as anger.

                Because all of us will experience our anger differently. You might feel your anger in your hands or your head or your back, or inside you or around you. For me, my anger feels white. For some, it might feel red. We’re all going to experience a constellation of sensations that we describe as anger, and it will be very unique to our body. But I see that at the heart of that anger, is power. At the heart of that anger is power, and I want to own that power. So I will own the intensity of what is arising.

                The third thing I do is I let what is arising move through me. Now, I’m not saying that I immediately go and write a letter to the prime minister and start calling my local member for parliament, although that could be a valid action down the track. What I mean by letting it move through me is, before I move into action or conversation, or using that power to create change out in the world, the third thing that I do, which is an internal thing in my body, because I’m owning this, is that I let that anger move through my body, in nonlinear ways first.

                Earlier, we spoke about this idea that, if a life force energy is not frozen, then it flows. So, if my sensations that are constellation of heat and anger, if I was to let that flow through my body, how might I breathe? How might I sound? How might I move my body? What kinds of postures or shapes or movements or expressions might my body need? And I can tell you, for my body, it looks pretty stereotypical. I often want to yell or shout like, “Ah!” And I often have sharp movements with my hands. Not always, but there’s this intensity that I just want to move through sharp and angular movements in my body.

                I was putting my child into her car seat, after the longest, most tormenting morning of just the breakfast-getting dressed ritual. And I really had somewhere to be, and my child was going really slow, and everything was not coming together. And then, I hit my shin really hard, really hard, on the door of the car. And, I was in a parking garage. There was not a lot of other people around. So I checked my child was safe. I turned away from my child. And I just screamed into the parking garage, as loudly as you want. I’m pretty sure no one else was there. But even if they were, I think a parking garage is an appropriate place to be able to scream.

                So I let that intensity move through me, in that moment. And this is a short, acute little anger. I hit my shin. But it was also just the release and the flow of all of the small little angers and frustrations that had been building up that morning. And in honoring that tiny little moment of anger, I was able to turn back to my daughter, who at this time had pretty wide eyes. She’s two, so she said something to me like, “Mommy, sad?” And I said, “Oh, honey,” and this was a lovely moment. I said, “Mommy hit her foot. Mommy is angry. But now, Mommy says, ‘Ah, I’m angry,’ and Mommy is okay.” And I just sat with her for a moment or two, gave her a little kiss. Is she good? Yep. Okay. Let’s get in the car and sing the rainbow song that we love to sing in the car.

                So, circling back to how I meet my anger, this third aspect is, I let it move through my body. So I don’t go and have a conversation. I don’t throw my anger off. I embody my anger. I let my body be alive, to be in movement, to be in sound. And, this is an unconventional societal thing to do, so you’re probably going to want to do it in private. But maybe you’re in parking garage, and it’s a semi-public space that you could do it safely there as well.

                What this means is that, the anger in my body is more free to flow. I’m not saying I’ve resolved it completely. I’m not saying my body’s at 100% perfection. I don’t think we can think in such linear terms, in something as complex and nebulous and wondrous and magical as the body. But I’ve created more flow with my anger. I’ve taken the intensity of it. And that means now, as I move into action, that metabolized anger is now fuel for me to contact, to be in action.

                And so that means now is the time for a conversation, or a discussion, or moving forward in the world. And in this way, expressing my anger, which I have met the intensity of, and I have metabolized, likely the majority of, especially for something as simple as kicking my shin, I’ve metabolized the edge of it. So when I now actually go to express, my anger won’t be unhealthy. It won’t be explosive. It won’t be damaging. And if I notice that while I’m expressing out in the world, maybe I need to have a conversation that’s difficult with someone or my partner. Our partners often bear the brunt of our anger, because they’re a safe space for us to express it. And there’s not a lot of safe places in this world to express our anger. Maybe we should normalize that with our friends and girlfriends a little more, so that we have more safe spaces to be able to express our anger.

                But now, I’m more skilled in expressing that anger through my body, through the metabolizing the embodiment of my anger, that when I am in a future conversation, if I notice the intensity building again, if I notice that something is becoming unhealthy or explosive or damaging, I have the skills to go back and take a moment, own it, and let it move through my body first. And I feel like that is a healthy expression of anger. As it relates to what I’ve been telling my child, well, as you heard in the last story, I let my child see my anger. There are not many safe spaces, and I am one space that she is always so welcome to express their anger.

                Two other things that have been interesting for us to explore is using facial expressions. So when I’m angry, and she sees me, maybe, in my anger, afterwards, we might play or explore making angry facial expressions. Like, oh, what would it look like if we scrunched up our face like this, or stretched it like that? Just getting her familiar with what that looks like in the world, but also how she can use her body, without destructive, explosive or damaging expressions of anger. We also sometimes express it through movement, like shaking our bodies or shaking our hands, or even the movement of throwing something soft. So if my child is throwing something in frustration or anger, and she’s throwing something that’s damaging or that’s inappropriate, I’m still happy for her to throw something. We just need to find an appropriate, like a soft toy, something that’s not going to shatter a window. So, even that, is a form of movement.

                And, the work of Peter Levine is really wonderful in this realm. Peter Levine is the creator of somatic experiencing, and speaks a lot about the completion of our body’s natural reflexes. So when we have a natural reflex towards anger, the embodiment or the movement, for example, throwing a soft toy, the actual movement helps the body to, he uses the framework of discharging that energy, so that the body can return to homeostasis, or so that the body can return to balance. Through the feminine embodiment model, it’s a similar idea. We discharge that energy, and we let the feeling flow, so that it doesn’t have to be frozen.

                This does leave us with one final question or reflection, which is, what do we do with the ancient, cold anger, the anger that we may have been pushing away for lifetimes or years, or decades or generations? That’s the type of anger that is so cold and is so ancient, that we don’t feel it as heat or fire. We more feel it as bitterness, resentment, apathy, or numbness. And this is what happens when we repeatedly freeze the life force energy associated with anger. That unit or that life force energy of anger, it learns, through the repetition of freezing it, the repetition of not letting it flow, the repetition of not expressing it. It learns not to go away. It doesn’t go away. That life force, that impulse is still there, but it learns that it’s not safe for me to express this.

                And, it may not have been safe for you to express that anger. There may be many good reasons why it was not safe, or perceived safe, for you to express that anger. And so I think that having this old, cold anger, again, doesn’t make you a broken person. Many of us, all of us, have some forms of this in different quantities. But, that anger, after repetitive, repetitive, repetitive freezing, it has learned, our body has learned, it is not safe for me to contact my anger. And now, our body really believes it. And all that anger that we have, that’s showing up as bitterness and resentment and apathy and numbness, at the heart of it, is still a hot fiery anger and a heart that breaks, a heart that is tender for having to experience this. Anger is a vulnerable emotion, often because we’re angry, because our heart is hurting.

                And so, how to contact this old, angry, cold anger? Well, I think, I believe, I have seen, that the skills we mentioned before, the three steps, taking a moment in the moment, owning it and letting it move through your body, these still remain true, because your body needs to be re-convinced that it is safe to contact anger. And we won’t be able to do the deeper work of liberating that cold anger, we won’t be able to complete that and return that into flow, until our body begins to believe it is safe to contact our anger. So the next time some fire arises in you, I encourage you, not to throw it off, not to believe that it’s unsafe or unwelcome, not to absorb it from somebody else, but instead, to take a moment to own it, and to let it move through your body.

                I so hope that something that we’ve discussed and explored today can be useful. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast, let me know. You can leave me a message on the socials, or better yet, drop over to wherever you listen to your podcasts, and leave us a review. It helps other people to find the podcast. And thank you so much for joining us today. If you’re interested in learning more about developing your body sensitivity, feminine embodiment movement practices or feminine embodiment coaching, one of my great loves, then you can head to jennaward.co, where you can learn more and dive deeper into the realm of the School of Embodied Arts and feminine embodiment coaching. May we all go forward to be angry, at least one good time this week. Many blessings.

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