On Wednesday some friends and I were talking about the role anger plays in being a balanced man, but how hard it is to express it nowadays. It is taboo to get angry. We take it personally, even when the anger is used only to express and not to attack. The angry person is considered to be unreasonable, aggressive. Anger has associations of violence and brute force.
The book Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton changed my mind about anger. We all experience anger when our boundaries are crossed or our expectations are not met. It is a normal human emotion that, like any other, can be expressed positively or negatively. It can be used to destroy or to create. The problem arises when we don't express the anger we feel in the moment. It builds up inside of us and poisons us. If we are angry at a friend or loved one and we don't express it, it can ruin the relationship. If we don't express our anger, it makes it impossible to move on and continue enjoying the moment. We're yanked out of our bodies and into our heads, disconnected from the flow of what is constantly unfolding.
For example, a month or so ago I was at a Flogging Molly concert in OKC. I was in the third row up in the front and all of us had been waiting for two hours- including the opening band- to see Flogging Molly perform. Up to that point I was completely in the moment, enjoying myself, chatting with the people around me. Right as Flogging Molly came on stage, a group of four or so guys came crashing through the ranks and jumped right in front of me. I was completely taken off guard. I looked at the one closest to me and said something along the lines of, "what the fuck, man?" He shrugged and looked away.
I was angry but I didn't say anything further. And I regretted it the whole night. Not even because of some innate sense of justice, but because my unexpressed anger took me out of my enjoyment of the present moment and right into my head, where I was fuming. At them and at myself for not saying anything. It took thirty or forty five minutes before I was able to enjoy myself again.
For whatever the reasons may be, expressing my anger does not come easily to me. Growing up, I could never do it. Recently I've been able to work on it and the more I do the more I am convinced that we all need to learn how to express our anger. Eventually it will come seeping out anyway- in the form of passive aggressiveness, road rage, low energy, taking it out on someone else, or a disproportionately huge explosion of rage and fury.
When I replay the scenes where I felt like my boundaries had been crossed and I didn't express it, I imagine myself taking drastic action. Cursing, being aggressive, threatening. Am perhaps I may need to get a bit of that out of my system and get the shit kicked out of me. But I can also see that expressing anger in this way only creates conflict and destruction. Expressing anger can be as simple as saying to someone, "I didn't like what you just did. It makes me angry. Do not do that again." It is letting someone know that they crossed boundaries that you have set and that you will not put up with it again. If they are not willing to respect that, you can take further action. Often that is as simple as leaving the relationship. In the case of the guys at the concert, perhaps they would have been willing to leave. I don't know. But in expressing my anger I would have discharged my duty, as it were. I would have released what became stultifying, pent up emotion.
Whereas before I would have seen anger as a reason to leave a relationship or situation- disconnect from a person, or group, or experience- now I can see that anger, when expressed as a natural emotion, need not be a reason for disconnection at all. It can be a tool for saying, I do not like where this is going. It becomes a means for us to co-create a better experience. If my standards are still not being met, that is fine too. But I would have tried. So I can see that this is going to be a massive growth challenge for me: using that anger to connect rather than disconnect, to co-create a better experience for everyone rather than an excuse for disconnection.
In my relationships- with friends, lovers, parents- the relationship was only ever made stronger by the expression of anger. The connection weakened when one of us held that anger back. Perhaps because once we repress how we are truly feeling in the moment, the spark of authentic communication and connection starts to die out. We are no longer showing up and being present in the relationship. Whereas when we've invested the time and effort into exploring our anger with those we love, we are able to maintain that authenticity. We also feel like we've been heard out. And both parties can see that there was no catastrophic fallout from the expression of anger. It may have been directed at the other person or their actions, yes, but once it is gone the connection still remains, strengthened the way a blade is in the fires of a forge. It proves to both parties that they can survive the downs and not just the ups.
Or there may be irreconcilable differences, I suppose. In that case, it is better to find it out sooner rather than later. And to let go with grace and gratitude.
What about people I don't know? For example, the jerks at the concert. I wasn't likely to improve a nonexistant friendship with them. But through expressing my anger, I could have let them know that their rude and selfish behaviors had a negative impact on those around them, impeding their ability to enjoy the concert. If that makes them more aware of their choices and the effects it has on those around them, that would be a pro-connection win. Perhaps they wouldn't have budged, and I would have gotten even angrier, perhaps yelled and cussed at them. Maybe I would have let it go at that point. But they may very well have left once they were called out on it, resulting in a better concert experience for those who had been waiting for it. I'll never know- and that is the frustrating part about not expressing our emotions in the moment and taking action on them. Not acting on our intuition, our gut feeling. It is the lingering, queasy "What if? What if I had had the courage to speak up?"
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
...sees much and knows much