I preach the importance of feeling the “full rainbow” of emotions.
But for the longest time I’ve been a partial-hypocrite because I secretly treated anger differently than all other emotions.
I saw it as completely useless and I rarely allowed myself to consciously feel it…
For as long as I can remember…
I’d never feel anger — except for accidental slip-ups in the form of snippiness, sarcasm, or really sharp, mean words.I found anger to be pointless.
I found it to be harmful.
I saw it as an emotion that caused nothing but trouble, conflict, arguments, problems, and pain.
I mean, when I was a child, if I got angry at my father, I’d just get punished more severely.
I’d get another week (or month) added to my punishment.
There’d be another meal I wouldn’t be allowed to eat.
Something I cared about would be taken away from me.
In fact, in one of my most prominent childhood memories, snapping back at my dad in anger resulted in me not getting to go to Europe with the rest of my class–and this was a trip that had already been paid for + planned out in full.
I was banned from going when I got angry at my dad and snapped at him for not wanting to play with me after work.
No wonder I came to the conclusion when I was a child that it’s pointless (if not downright harmful) to feel anger.
I’ve carried that way of thinking with me into my adulthood.
If anger ever bubbled up into my awareness as an adult, I’d push it down, hard, and think something along the lines of
“NO, be MATURE, calm down, Erin.”
And this week I FINALLY got why I’ve been hurting myself and others for so many years by choosing to do this instead of acknowledging and feeling anger whenever it arose.
It hit me on a mountain bike ride in Breckenridge, actually.
My friend Tricia and I were out on a ride on a super fun trail under bluebird Colorado skies when suddenly a fellow comes up to us and says, “Tricia!! Haven’t seen you in FOREVER!!”
This fellow then proceeds to talk.
And talk. And talk. And talk…
So I stand on the side of the trail, waiting for the catch-up to be over. I check my email. Instagram. Facebook. Whatsapp.
He’s still talking. I check my email again. Respond to 4 or 5 emails. He’s still talking. We’re past 10 minutes.
And this is about when I notice I feel a little bit frustrated.
BUT THIS TIME I CATCH MYSELF!
I hear an inner voice say: “Just be mature. Just be patient. DON’T be angry, just keep waiting.”
I was about to push the anger down and ignore it completely, for the sake of not wanting to create any upset and so that I could present as a mature adult.
But this time, instead of pushing it down and suppressing the anger or pretending I didn’t feel it…
I just felt it.
It was subtle.
It wasn’t overwhelming.
It was just a nudge.
And this time, instead of ignoring it, I acknowledged it, honored it, and acted on it.
“Hey Tricia, I’m gonna keep riding, you can meet me on X trail when you’re ready.”
The anger disappeared.
It had served its purpose.
Tricia met up with me later and all was well.
Now, had I pushed the anger down, it wouldn’t have ACTUALLY gone away.
It would have festered.
It would have popped back out as resentment or a snippy comment later in the ride perhaps, or frustration voiced directly at Tricia as I held the ride-delay against her without my conscious awareness.
I would have been pushing an inflated beach ball (of anger) under water, trying to pretend it didn’t exist.
And it would have shot back out when I least expected it later on when my guard was down.
Because unexpressed emotions don’t just disappear.
They come back–with more power than before–because inflated beach balls can’t stay underwater forever.
Emotions are nudges.
They are manageable.
They’re friendly little messengers.
When you IGNORE them or push them down…
… the become inflated beach balls you have to hold underwater.
They get suppressed and leak out later on in sometimes-uncontrollable, usually-overwhelming explosions of suppressed emotion.
Anger explodes out as snippiness, deep frustration, or rage.
Sadness explodes out as agony, misery, or depression.
Fear explodes out as anxiety or panic.
Then, when we experience these explosions we point to them and say, “SEE! Emotions are too painful to experience!!!”
But it’s not the EMOTIONS we don’t want to experience. It’s the LEAKING OUT (or EXPLOSIONS) of suppressed emotions we don’t want.
THOSE are what feel unbearable.
THOSE are what create conflict and hurt others.
THOSE are what we can’t manage.
Just like when I was a child and I’d feel sad…
…and was told I shouldn’t feel sad
because I had everything I could possibly need!
I had a safe place to live food to eat clothes on my back a family to support me.
Soooo… I shouldn’t feel sad!
I was taken to doctors and put on pills because “I shouldn’t feel sadness.” (I was told.)
Thing is the unfelt, pushed-down sadness came back in full force as depression.
It wasn’t okay to feel sad so I felt guilty when I did feel it and would try to not feel it.
Not feeling it didn’t work.
It just came back with more energy as depression.
Suppressed sadness that was Depression…for 30 years.
So many of us walk around feeling like emotions are pointless or scary or unsafe.
But really, what if it’s the expressions of unfelt, UNEXPERIENCED emotions that hurt us, hurt our bodies, hurt our relationships, and hurt our lives?
When I felt that whisper of anger on the bike ride with Tricia, I acted on it and it went away.
All was well.
The messenger that was anger was simply there to tell me something wasn’t working for me.
It alerted me to take a smart action.
I did, and the day went great.
THANK YOU, anger.
What if your true emotions are nudges you GET to listen to?
What if they’re simply clues and messages letting you know if things are working for you, or not?
What if you fully acknowledged and felt them?
What if what you THOUGHT were scary or useless emotions all these years were actually just leaks and outbursts of unfelt emotions that had you feeling out of control?
Can you listen to the messages being communicated to you?
My entire life is shifting as I do this with anger.
Thank you anger.
I invite you to give it a shot and see what transpires.
When you're tired of getting in your own way, and you know you're capable of SO much more, it's time to talk to us.