I had a conversation about dealing with anger yesterday and found that my views on the topic have developed, or at least, I seem to be better at explaining them. Interestingly, though I still haven’t read the book Nonviolent Communication, I’ve been told that my philosophy seems to match its ideas closely. I’d like to read it, but I like the idea of writing down my ideas first, so that they are not influenced by what I read.
The basis for all my personal development and life philosophy is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I believe that this book contains the basic truth of what causes psychological dysfunction and how we can deal with it. Eckhart Tolle talks about the ego, which in my writing I prefer to call the False Self. The False Self is a construct made of our own energy which we generally mistake for who we are. It feeds itself through conflict with other False Selves, and fears its own annihilation. Much of what we do in life is directly motivated by the False Self’s need to avoid this outcome. The False Self is excellent at doing this, but sadly it requires a huge amount of our energy (in the form of destructive emotions and excessive, compulsive thinking) to do so.
Dissolving the False Self is primarily achieved through awareness. In meditation, we observe our thoughts and our emotions as they come up. The observation itself transforms them; when we become aware of these things, a space is created, and we understand that the thoughts and feelings are not who we are. When we are not aware of thoughts and feelings, we become as if asleep, and act them out mindlessly. They control us. When we have that space, we can choose whether to do what the emotions are telling us to do, or whether to choose something else. Simply choosing to observe and remain nonreactive removes power from the excessive thoughts and destructive emotions; in other words, from the False Self.
Anger is one emotion that is clearly attributable to the False Self. It is a perversion of an attack instinct, useful when backed into a corner by a predator. Nowadays, clearly, this instinct is almost never needed.
I don’t believe anger is really ever a useful emotion in today’s world. Perhaps it has a place in war, or as an improvement over fear or apathy when one’s state is extremely negative and access to a Zen state is not possible. However, these are only cases of the lesser of two evils, and never truly a healthy thing.
Much self help literature suggests that we need to learn to “express” our anger. In some way I agree, in the sense that we must not repress it. But anger is an instinct to violence, and the expression of anger, therefore, is violence. Even when you don’t get physical, raising your voice or speaking in a sharp tone is an attack – and it hurts.
In practice, expressing anger almost always inspires someone to be angry back at you. This leads to arguments, escalation of violence (sometimes even into the physical), and at the very least, the other person becoming closed to hearing what you have to say. If you observe what happens when you get angry at people, you’ll notice that it essentially never improves your situation.
It’s true that some people find it hard express anger and find that they have a store of repressed anger inside themselves that comes out in inappropriate ways. These people often find themselves victimised by others and might think that if they learnt to express their anger, they could avoid those situations. As I understand it, repression of anger is indeed not good, but the answer is not expression of anger.
Instead, you need to express the need behind the anger. For example, you might find that what someone did was hurtful to you. If that person doesn’t care about hurting you, or is too immature to ever change a thing they do, all you can do is attempt to remove yourself from their presence, or, failing that, meditate and seek to feel acceptance for the situation you have no power over. If they do care about the fact that they are hurting you, however – and hopefully, the majority of the people you surround yourself with will – then they should be open to hearing about what they are doing.
You must find a Zen state within yourself. It helps to observe the breath (this is what I do when anger threatens to possess me). Observe the anger in you – find it as a presence or energy in your body if you can – and by observing it, become seperate from it. Act or speak from a place of nonreactivity. If you cannot, avoid acting or speaking at all, and withdraw yourself from the source of your anger, until you are able to do so.
This is absolutely a skill you can learn. I recommend reading the Power of Now and practising meditation. The more you meditate, the more you are able to find a nonreactive state when you need it.
If you need to withdraw from someone, you can tell them, “I’m feeling negative right now and need some space to process”. You can say that you are feeling anger, but you need to be very alert and very self honest to be sure that you are not using that “expression” as a way of lashing out. Violence can be conveyed in a subtle choice of words or tone of the voice, so be careful.
If you find that you repress anger, it is absolutely necessary that you process the anger and don’t let it fester inside you. Processing can take the form of talking about it, particularly about the unfilfilled needs that the anger represents. (Talking about it with the source of your anger, however, most often ends up becoming an attack. Talk about it with [other] friends or a therapist). You can also journal, or meditate and allow the feelings to rise up in you and then dissipate. I personally like to use psychoactive cacao in a trance state.
Repression of anger is actually a form of violence in itself. It’s sort of your False Self coming from another angle, reinforcing itself by creating two opposing forces. As I mentioned, the False Self feeds itself from conflict, and that conflict can be inside your own psyche. Just as you heal anger through awareness and non-reactivity, you can heal the repressive force inside you. First, just as with anger, you must become aware of the repressive force if you haven’t already, or else become more deeply aware of it as a presence inside of you that is not actually you. Allow the force to come up and then dissipate. This is how you heal repressed anger, and it does not require you to “express” anger.
When you no longer repress anger, you may learn to become more assertive. This would mean being clear in communicating your needs. Sometimes you can communicate the intensity of your needs through emphasis in your words without being violent (but as always, practice intense self honesty here). More often, however, you will find that you just don’t get into situations where you feel victimised, or those situations go on for a much shorter length of time and don’t escalate as you either communicate your needs or remove yourself from them as soon as they come up.
By going deep with this practice, you’ll heal ancient anger that sits in your emotional body, causing you to see attacks where there are none or respond excessively to a mild attack. I did this over the course of many years, and I can say that it was one of the most valuable things I have ever done. When you are poisoned by anger, you feel like the world is against you. Releasing that burden allows you to finally enjoy life, as well as, of course, becoming much more functional in your interactions.