I had never seen red before. I only heard the expression in movies and from macho, pumped-up men, but I’d never thought of it as a literal state of mind.
But then the moment came when my ex-husband and I got into a huge argument and I could feel my vision deepening into scarlet red. An almost superhuman strength filled my body as I faced him, and from the horrified look in his eyes, I knew that he could feel it.
My anger. My power.
Frankly, I was terrified of myself.
Historically, I’ve reacted to my deepest fears of abandonment by getting pissed off. Even now, my go-to emotion—in times when I feel helpless, betrayed, backed into a corner—is anger.
When my anger came that close to the surface before I had the opportunity to judge it, it made me feel righteous, powerful, and in control—especially in times when I felt scared, disempowered, and out of control.
But then I would catch myself, and the intensity of my reaction made me feel embarrassed and even ashamed. It felt like such a taboo. I was a “nice,” “spiritually conscious” woman. Meaning I wasn’t supposed to feel this way! (Yeah right!)
Like many women, I’d been taught that expressing anger was “bad,” “unfeminine,” and “dangerous.” I grew up seeing it as the identifying badge of every out-of-control rageaholic I’d ever met. I wanted to be better than that.
But despite the stories I’d told myself, the anger I felt (which sometimes came as mild frustration or irritation, and other times as deep rage) never really subsided. It lay just below the surface, like a prowling jungle animal: ready to pounce at the slightest offense.
Going from seeing red to becoming more conscious of how my actions and reactions affected me and others didn’t require getting rid of anger. It meant honoring it and becoming aware of its presence. It meant staying with the emotion with engaged curiosity rather than trying to immediately seek out some other, more manageable emotion, that perhaps lay beneath it. Trying to move “past it” isn’t the point. It’s about getting comfortable with its presence, comfortable enough to just be with it.
Because, trust me, anger has plenty to teach all of us.
Sure, when you’re playing with fire, you have to be careful. I know that my tendency is to “fight,” especially when I feel threatened, judged, let down, or confronted. I also know that I have to be careful not to let anger run the show or spew out in ways that harm me and the people I love. At the same time, I don’t deny when I am pissed. And, looking at the state of our country and our world, it is clear that many of us are pissed. So it’s about time we all collectively and individually stop denying it.
What if pissed-offness doesn’t have to be destructive? What if it can be motivation for claiming our true value? It can help us set meaningful boundaries that allow us to feel greater self-respect and love. I mean, think about it: No great movement has gotten off the ground without some healthy anger, which is fuel and motivation for changing our circumstances and taking back our power.
Here are some ways about how we can let our rage work for us rather than against us.
1. Get clear on why you get pissed and how you express it.
We can’t befriend our anger until we actually become aware of how anger surfaces for us, individually. Think about it. There are a million different ways to express anger—and a million different reasons why it comes up.
Here are a few that I can think of: We disagree with someone else. We feel hurt by someone else’s, or our own, actions. We feel betrayed. We feel disappointed by something that happened. We are upset that we don’t have control over a certain situation. We feel invisible or unheard. We feel disrespected, or that our boundaries have been violated. We feel helpless. We are angry on behalf of people who have been exploited and can’t stand up for themselves.
Get a grasp of the situations in which you typically get angry. Now, think of how you express that anger. Most of the time, we either suppress it (perhaps because we are afraid doing otherwise will bring on negative repercussions) or we make it loud and clear (maybe because we don’t want to seem weak, or we think that expressing anger is a way of honoring ourselves).
Now, instead of doing either of those things, just pause and do nothing. This is not about holding back or judging yourself; it’s about creating space and gaining insight into what makes you tick, as well as how you go about dealing with it.
Be very compassionate with yourself here. Most of us didn’t choose our relationship with anger; we picked it up as a defense mechanism early in life. However, we can absolutely choose how we’re going to deal with our anger right here and now—and we start with awareness.
2. Feel your anger—seriously.
I’ve noticed that kids who are taught that it’s actually okay to be angry become functional human beings. Only when we are punished for feeling our feelings do we end up repressing or over-expressing our anger.
What if we weren’t always rushing past the uncomfortable experience of anger by getting into our heads or going into denial? What if we could just stop and breathe deeply into it? And, at least for now, what if we didn’t even need to know where it’s coming from? Hell, we’re all walking, talking sponges—it’s likely that we picked it up from someone or something else in our environment.
Try it now; let yourself feel anger in your body—the way it swirls around in the pit of your stomach, rushes through your veins, and fires up your heart. Don’t think, just feel. Because, when we get in our heads and try to justify or shut down our anger, we lose the feeling altogether.
Trust me, I know that we all want reasons for why we are feeling the way we are feeling, but sometimes this takes us out of the valuable experience just being with our anger. It has us shoving our feelings onto external circumstances and people rather than sitting in the muck and showing up for ourselves, no matter what.
When we stay in the gap between feeling anger and acting on it, we begin to get to the root, the truth, of what is going on—even when all we are seeing is red.
3. Get curious about what your anger is trying to tell you.
Something magical happens when we give our anger space to just be. We are able to release the powerful hold it has on us, which means we no longer allow it to deplete us. We use it as fuel, instead. And we begin to respect it as vital information—not the kind that comes from crunching data or letting our minds play tricks on us so that we end up blowing everything out of proportion, but the kind that comes purely from our bodies.
By asking what your anger is trying to tell you, you will instinctively realize, “I don’t like the way that person is treating me,” or, “I know my boundaries are being violated right now.” In allowing ourselves the distance that curiosity can allow for, we take ourselves out of the cycle of repressing or over-expressing our anger. Instead, we figure out what we want to do with our newfound information; we move our clarity into conscious action.
It may sound too good to be true, but try it for yourself. Have a conversation with your anger. Ask it what it’s trying to tell you. How is it prompting you to make a change that is fundamentally self-honoring?
4. Claim your anger—for real!
I don’t know a single woman who has been taught that it’s okay to feel angry. In our culture, we have tons of examples of angry men, and we even romanticize that quality as characterizing someone who is “tough, masculine, capable of getting the job done.” But as soon as a woman expresses anger, she is viewed as a “crazy, hysterical bitch.”
I don’t know about you, but I say: Screw that double standard. I believe that all women will experience an important turning point when we learn to fully claim our anger.
You may have been conditioned to fear your anger. But when you really get to know it, you’ll see that it’s not a big bad monster that is going to hurt you. Or anyone else, for that matter! I still see too many of us absorbing this idea that our anger means that we are “bad” or that it is wrong to admit to our pain in such a raw way.
The truth is, when we learn to embrace our anger, we benefit everyone. We create space for other people to honor their own truth. We model unconditional self-acceptance and self-responsibility, which makes for a more honest and authentic world overall.
Ultimately, the way you engage with anger is your choice. In fact, choice is absolutely the key. It’s the thing that makes the difference between being run by anger and allowing it to be a powerful ally.
So make that choice right now. Make anger your friend. Acknowledge it as the seedbed of your power. And know that it cannot be catalyzed if you continue to fear it, run away from it, or let yourself be talked out of it.
Let anger be the force that guides you forward into a deeper sense of understanding and a full acceptance of your true self. Because when anger is in your corner, working for you, it will transform your world. Let it be your BFF!