Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.— Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Don’t Stow Away the Anger
Anger and chaos cannot live in a peaceful mind because they oppose one another. We believe anger is a toxic emotion because of the destruction it brings to people’s lives. To the emotionally intelligent, however, anger is just an emotion that does not dominate their mental landscape.
The problem is, many people stow their anger because it is considered to be an unhealthy emotion. Have you noticed how anger makes itself known when you least expect it? You could be in your car driving and suddenly you are cut off in traffic. Soon you are trading blows with another motorist over something insignificant such as failing to indicate when changing lanes.
My client Susan experienced anger recently while driving to work. An inconsiderate motorist cut her off in traffic and being socially conscious, she beeped her horn to advise him of her presence, to avoid an accident. The motorist took offence and gestured to her with a hand signal that was not the international sign of peace. This took place in the early morning while she was driving to work. By the time I saw her later that morning she was still ruminating on what transpired, only now the anger had manifested as lower back pain due to the stored emotion.
Emotions are energy in motion and if not expressed, they become stored in the body via organs, cells, muscles, and tissues. If the emotion is ignored or stowed away, its presence is known via pain or illness to get your attention. Candace Pert, an American neuroscientist and pharmacologist who discovered the opiate receptor, the cellular binding site for endorphins in the brain, wrote an article titled: Where Do You Store Your Emotions? She outlines how emotions get lodged in the mind-body until they are integrated.
She writes: “The emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain… The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.” Her work into opiate receptors showed how emotions like anger can lead to disease if we are not mindful of them.
Love Is the Only Way
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.— Mark Twain
Susan repressed her anger towards the motorist because he mistook her car horn as a sign of aggression. She ruminated on the incident, recalling the anger, so it expressed itself in her lower back, a weak spot for her given a car accident decades ago. After our discussion, I mentioned something that helped her reframe the experience. I pointed out how she has a
way of being righteous, especially as someone who is socially conscious. She let the motorist know he was in the wrong and felt victimized when he gestured to her inappropriately.
I asked her to reconsider the situation since other motorists can sometimes misjudge our intentions because we cannot communicate with them vocally. I then asked her to close her eyes and visualise the emotion of anger. Where was it stored in her body? What did it look like? I invited her to let it be there, lean into it and take deep breaths while directing her awareness to the area of the pain. The good news is, the pain cleared in two days following more contemplative work. The point is, anger like other emotions will find its way to the weakest point in your body. Sadly, for many, this means it gets stored away for years, if not decades until the person goes into therapy and experiences spontaneous healing. In fact, there’s nothing spontaneous about the healing other than the individual dealing with the emotion after all this time.
It was the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen who wrote in the song Anthem: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The purpose of anger is to draw your awareness to the light, or in this case the love within you. In most cases, love and peace of mind are the answer, not anger and chaos. How can I be sure you ask? Look to your body since it knows the truth. If you think this is just wishy-washy self-help advice, I urge you to hold onto anger and fear for as long as you can and see if it doesn’t manifest itself as pain or disease.
In contrast, the healing power of love overcomes fear, anger, anxiety and other lower emotional states. Love is a healing agent, but first, you must release the anger because the two cannot co-exist, as alluded to earlier. When you are consumed by anger and chaos, you have lost your way. However, what if the presence of anger was leading you back to love? What I’m proposing is, anger is a call for love, in most cases self-love. You are no more an angry person than a tree believes itself to be a bird.
Anger is an emotional state a person can become stuck in if they do not attend to their pain.
Love is the way. Moreover, love is the only way back to your core self. So, if you believe the narrative anger preaches, it is because you are consumed by the emotion and have lost your way. Allow love to open your heart again. Otherwise, your authentic self becomes muddied by the mirage of shameless emotions not symbolic of your true self.