Boundaries or barricades?
A feature of a lot of the work that I do with clients is their feeling that anger is a bad thing and must never be seen. How often do you hear parents speaking to young children who are literally 'throwing their toys out of the pram', assuring them that they are 'just tired'. Culturally, we are given the message that anger is destructive, unnecessary and frightening - 'Don't Look Back in Anger' (play and song), 'Anger Management' (film), 'Anger is one letter short of danger' (Eleanor Roosevelt). Throughout our developmental years, anger is slowly eroded, hidden from sight as we learn to 'manage' our outbursts and fit into a socially acceptable pattern of behaviour often expressed as 'frustration' or 'annoyance'.
Yet, anger is there for a reason. It is a natural response to any situation where a person feels attacked, insulted or deceived in some way. It lets people know, in no uncertain terms, that a line or a boundary has been crossed and that you feel hurt. There is an opportunity for connection available at that moment; to explore the boundary, to talk about what is hurting you and to try and forge a relationship that promotes understanding. This is a boundary.
For many, the physical sensations of anger are what make it frightening. Your adrenalin levels rise, your breathing intensifies, your muscles contract and your blood pressure is elevated. Anger triggers an instinctive 'fight or flight' response that seems to be beyond our control. Words spoken in anger are often entangled with the intention to hurt or 'get revenge', rather than express the core feeling of being hurt by someone else's words or actions. Consequently, society's response has been to squash anger down to a more acceptable form or in some cases, to ignore it altogether.
We all know the classic toddler tantrum (the 'terrible' twos note), the very public wailing and gnashing of teeth. We know it because inside, that is how a great many of us still feel and the more we feel it, the more we feel the shame associated with all of those messages we have been given about anger. What do we do with that anger? Keep it in? Dismiss it? Shut down? This is a barricade.
Barricades are set up to protect us but also to hide our shame. They do not allow other people to understand us better. As Buddha said:
'You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.'
Seeking help to express your anger is a great step forward and one that defies the most damaging aspect of anger: shame. Being able to talk about assertiveness and appreciating yourself for who you are, 'warts and all', can help you to truly deal with the things that make you angry and help you achieve a happier, more fulfilled existence.
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