Unacknowledged Anger as an Obstacle to Joy
The Union Path Podcast
"Unacknowledged Anger as an Obstacle to Joy"
John Coleman 0:00:20
One thing I've noticed, one thing I've definitely lived through is how unacknowledged, unreconciled, unprocessed, undet with anger can really be an obstacle to joy. We all live lives we all live lives where certain things happen to us. And it's natural that some of those things make us angry. Some of us are more expressive than others. Some of us our knee jerk reaction is to immediately vent and express that anger outward to whoever and whatever is around us. Some of us are a bit more internal. Or a default response is to stuff that anger down, is to hold it inside and let it accumulate, let it concentrate, until perhaps it comes out eventually in some much larger explosion that we're building up this unseen, unknown magma chamber which, when the pressure gets too high, ends up erupting violently later on. But however we naturally process anger anger can be really tricky. Anger can be really difficult because there's a lot of parts of our society a lot of parts of our culture that find anger extremely distasteful, extremely unappreciated, extremely unattractive, extremely off putting, sometimes extremely repugnant and extremely reprehensible. But anger in and of itself isn't bad. Anger in and of itself isn't ugly. Anger is anger. We're the ones who apply these labels to it. We're the ones who are deciding how unpalatable, how unacceptable anger is. When we're applying these labels aren't we actually talking about the expression of anger?
John Coleman 0:02:25
Aren't we actually talking about how anger is brought out and brought forth and injected into the world? That anger is a feeling is a completely different thing. Now, anger as a feeling can be very uncomfortable. Anger as a feeling can be very difficult to have and to sit with. Or for some of us, anger as a feeling can be really attractive. We can like that energy. We can like that juice. We can enjoy getting fired up. We may even take joy in getting a rise out of other people and being the prickly one that likes to stoke a little bit of anger wherever we go because it's exciting, because it's fun. But regardless, odds are if we've lived a life for a fair amount of time we have some amount of anger that's never really been addressed, some amount of anger that's never really been acknowledged some amount of anger that we've just put deep down into cold storage. We've warehoused it away from our day to day experience. We've separated it as much as we can from our awareness to either pretend it isn't there or pretend that it doesn't really matter that we don't actually have to deal with it or that any part of us dealing with it would be unhealthy. That there is no positive expression for the anger that we feel. So we never express it. And because we never express it, we never acknowledge it because it feels pointless.
John Coleman 0:04:09
It feels futile. It feels like there's nothing we can do with this nothing we can do with these sort of radioactive feelings that we have on the inside. So to keep from damaging or poisoning anyone around us, we just keep it in. Or perhaps we've decided that whatever we're angry about, if there's nothing we can do about it, then there's no point feeling that anger. There's no point acknowledging that anger. And with practice, we can actually get pretty good at this with practice, we can get good at ignoring this. With practice, we can get good at living in experience, living in existence. We've obscured this so well from ourselves that we actually forget it's there. We forget it's there until it's triggered. And those triggers could be strong and violent, and those triggers could be very minor, very subtle. But when we're talking about living a full life, when we're talking about living a life of joy, if it's really joy we're after, we have to give consideration, we have to give attention to what exists on the other side of that spectrum, what sorts of things exist on the other side of that spectrum. And one of those things is anger. That if we're not at least acknowledging our anger, if we're not at the very least aware of our anger, then that actually limits our opportunity to experience joy. That it's kind of a funny thing that if we're carrying around all of this compressed anger within us, that really does stunt our enjoyment, that really does sabotage our joy in life, really does diminish our experience in life. Because even though we think we've hidden this anger from ourselves, it's still there, it's still having its effect on us.
John Coleman 0:06:15
And these effects can be very subtle. These effects can be not so subtle too. We can be a complete rage monster snapping and flying off the handle at even the slightest provocation. Or that can be much more subtle, where all of that compressed anger actually plays out and manifests itself as depression, as anedonia, as a feeling of just being kind of numb, kind of dead inside. We can't really experience joy, but we don't really know why. We've lost our spark, we've lost our sparkle, we've lost our enjoyment of life. And sometimes this can be from unacknowledged anger. Sometimes this can be from feelings that we have strong feelings that we've hidden from ourselves, that we've induced a state of unconsciousness around how we actually feel about things. It's been my experience that one of the easiest places to do this are in areas that have a sense of duty, have a sense of responsibility, that we're sucking things up, we're pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We're doing the right and responsible thing and kind of ignoring how we feel about it. And oftentimes this is the right thing to do, because life isn't all about the service of our feelings. The feelings are a critical part of ourselves, a critical part of our experience, but they're not the whole picture when it comes to doing what matters to us, when it comes to fulfilling the responsibilities that matter to us. When it comes to fulfilling the duties that actually matter to us. Sometimes it involves doing things we don't want to do. Sometimes it involves doing things that actually make us angry.
John Coleman 0:08:16
Either angry that we have to do what we're doing or just anger at doing what we're doing. Either the principle of what we have to do or the act of what we have to do or the principle of what we feel like we can't do in the inaction of what we actually want. And again, this is a tricky thing. This is a highly nuanced thing. Anger, especially repressed anger, can be a very volatile thing to interact with. If there's a lot of it there, if there's a lot of pain there, it can be a difficult thing to crack open, it can be a difficult thing to bring up because we don't want to have it unleashed. Perhaps we've had experience with that anger or that pain being uncorked and exploding out of us in really unfortunate ways. And we've made a deal with ourselves, we've made an agreement. We'll do whatever we can to keep that from happening again. But the fact of the matter is, if the anger is in there, it can never really fully be gotten around, it can never really fully go away, it can never really fully not have an effect and an impact on our life as long as it's still there. So the skill, the practice, the nuance comes in learning how to identify and acknowledge your own anger in a healthy way. And one of the ways I feel I've been able to do this admittedly not 100% successful all the time, but to just start with awareness, start with attention, start with noticing that there's anger there because oftentimes this is enough to get that anger to move a little bit. This is enough to get this anger to respond a little bit, to help me actually understand it a little bit better, understand what it is, understand where it came from, that it puts me in a place to be. Able to listen because it's been my experience anyway, that anger or any repressed feeling really has a message as something it's trying to communicate. Has something it's trying to convey.
John Coleman 0:10:42
And by me holding it down and burying it under layers upon layers of barriers, I've missed that message. I've shortchanged myself the opportunity to be able to hear and learn from and grow from what my anger was trying to tell me. More than that, I was unable to acknowledge the effects, sometimes very quiet effects that this repressed anger was having. That even though I felt that I had compartmentalized it, even though I felt I had packed it away, it was still having an effect, it was still having an impact. And one of the areas where I could see that impact most clearly was in my experience around joy, was in my ability to be truly happy. One of the ways I've been able to identify anger is actually through the things that I want or through the things that I want to see change, the things that I want to be different or at least be made different somehow. Because underneath these desires, underneath these wants was actually a want to reconcile some piece of anger, something I was actually mad about to undo, something that had done some sort of harm, something that had either made me angry at one point or was continuing to make me angry and I was just ignoring it. But whatever the reason, my ignoring my ignorance of my own anger wasn't solving any problems, wasn't actually making it go away, wasn't allowing me to grow and move beyond it in a lot of ways, was keeping me stuck. In a lot of ways, was building a subtle, persistent resistance to where I actually wanted to go, to what I actually wanted to experience, to the joyful, happy life I actually wanted. Because the thing about acknowledging the unacknowledged when it comes to our feelings, when they're negative feelings, it can feel like the only option is to explode. The only option is to express them and get them out of us as quickly as possible because they're uncomfortable, because we don't like them, we just want to be rid of them as quickly as possible. But it is possible to sit with them, it is possible to feel them and not have to immediately do anything about them. These are just feelings after all. They can't actually hurt us. Even if these feelings ultimately were from pain, that pain is still approachable, that pain is still accessible.
John Coleman 0:13:44
We don't have to drown ourselves in it, we don't have to avoid it either. We can confront it, we can notice it and have our awareness be enough. We don't have to immediately jump to doing something about it. It's enough to know that it's there, it's enough to notice it. It's enough to know it. Because when I've had unresolved anger, sort of unresolved resentment, unresolved negative feelings, the first step in dealing with them, the first step of moving past them is acknowledging them, is noticing them, knowing that they're there and actually feeling those feelings. Yes. It's kind of like when we're trying to create something positive. Oftentimes the best thing for us to do is just know what we're trying to create is to be aware of it and know that whatever action is required, whatever needs to happen in the chain of manifestation of whatever we're trying to create that will emerge over time. Or if we're struggling with a difficult problem for racking our brain and ruminating trying to find a solution. A lot of times the best thing we can do, especially if that solution is not coming in easily, is to just let it go a little bit, just lightly hold on to the problem and put our focus elsewhere, go for a walk, do something else. And the often after time, sometimes after a short amount of time, a solution will arise spontaneously. The same thing can often happen with things we want, things we're focused on doing or achieving or having. Sometimes we identify what we want and then we kind of forget about it or at the very least lightly hold it and focus on other things. Then all of a sudden the circumstances or the action will present itself spontaneously.
John Coleman 0:15:48
That middle part, that figuring out what to do. We didn't actually have to do all that effort in trying to figure out a plan of action. We could actually almost skip that part and know that when there's something to do, we'll know it. Know that when it's time to act, it will be obvious. Know that when it's time to say yes, we'll know. And that if it's not obvious, well then that time really hasn't come yet. This isn't really it yet. We can either let it go or just hold it as lightly as we can with dealing with negative feelings, dealing with anger, dealing with repressed negative emotions. It's been my experience that it can largely be the same way. That it's enough for these emotions to be noticed and felt and then know that it's enough to bring our awareness to these feelings. And that if there's something we need to do about it that can very well arise spontaneously. We can trust that the course of action and what we need to do will come. We don't have to force, we don't have to jump. We can just sit with these feelings sit with these emotions, even if they're uncomfortable, even if they're difficult, and allow the the space to be allow the opportunity to reconcile and deal with these emotions to come up spontaneously. To come up on its own, to not try to force these feelings out of ourselves.
John Coleman 0:17:31
Because forcing them out is just as bad as forcing them down. We want to try to remove our own artificial limitations on our own feelings. We want to let them flow, we want to let them go. And the first step is to stop pushing, stop forcing, stop trying to make ourselves feel a certain way at any time. Because oftentimes the things that we want, things that extend beyond material or superficial experiences or pleasures or sensory experiences really have a lot to do with relief. Really have a lot to do with feeling better. And a lot of times this relief and this feeling better would actually be a reconciling and a moving past these negative feelings of doing something that makes us feel better. Because we can let some of our anger go, we can let some of our resentment go, we can let some of our umbrage go. We can let some of our pain go we don't have to carry it around anymore because now things are better. Something that has happened that's made us feel better. And of course this isn't a panacea, this isn't a cure all. This is one aspect of life. And everybody will have a different struggle, a different magnitude with things like repressed and suppressed anger. But if this is something that we have, if this is something that we find we not only have but seems to be affecting us, it seems to be affecting us in our overall experience with joy, our overall experience of happiness. And of course it's worthwhile to look at it's worthwhile to listen to it's worthwhile to notice, it's worthwhile to let go, to free that anger within us.
John Coleman 0:19:37
And again, not free it, to just bite and burn and scratch and claw everyone around us. Find a healthy way to move through it, find a healthy way to move beyond it. Put ourselves in the position to be able to experience joy again because we've actually dealt with the negative feelings that we have on the inside, that we're not walking around with these highly compressed negative emotions that are never really allowed to go anywhere, yet are subtly yet persistently affecting us, having an effect, leaving an imprint on our life, on our experience, on our expression that sometimes we can make ourselves feel a lot better just by acknowledging that we have negative feelings. Just by acknowledging and knowing that we're angry. Sometimes that's enough. Because at the very least, at least we're facing the truth. At least we're dealing with the truth. At least we're living the truth. Because if we actually acknowledge the negative feelings that we have, if we acknowledge the pain that we have, acknowledge the anger that we have, then that in and of itself will actually cause us to make different choices. Because part of our issue with anger can very well be that we keep making choices that make us angry. There could be a frustration to it. There can be a part of us that's just fed up with being angry. But if we don't allow ourselves to be angry, we can't really perceive that either. But if we just acknowledge how we actually feel, if we can acknowledge how things make us feel, if we can knowledge how relationships make us feel, if we can acknowledge how circumstances make us feel, if we can acknowledge how all the various parts of our existence actually make us feel then we can make better choices. We can make more informed choices.
John Coleman 0:21:46
It doesn't mean we have to adopt some sort of scorched earth policy where we now have to destroy everyone and everything that made us angry. Well, of course not. Again, we're looking for healthy ways to deal with these feelings. But it doesn't have to be an all or nothing. It doesn't have to be zero or 100. We can find ways to lightly hold these feelings. We can find ways to bring our awareness to these feelings without feeling like we have to immediately do anything about them. It's enough to notice them. The clarity will come, the behavior change will come. The plan of action, the things to do will come. Right now, the awareness is enough, the knowing is enough. Because if it's joy we're after, if it's happiness that we're after, we have to look at ourselves and look at what exists on the opposite side of the spectrum for that what exists that's actually canceling that out. It's like anything else we can't push and pull at the same time. If we're striving after something, if trying to create something, yet we're also trying to hold on to its opposite, then we're canceling out our desire. We're undermining our own effort.
John Coleman 0:23:09
The opposite of what we want is acting as an obstacle in the attainment of what we want. And we can clear those obstacles when they exist within us. We can clear the way for joy by dealing with our anger. We can move ourselves to the other side of a spectrum by first dealing with what exists on this side. We can experience more of the positive. By first dealing with the negative that already exists within us. We can make room for that happiness. We can create the space for that joy by clearing out the negative that is currently occupying that space. So if we want more joy in our life, we want more happiness in our life. Sometimes the first step is to first identify and acknowledge the opposite that already exists within us. And by identifying and acknowledging it, we can not only deal with it and move through it, but we can create the space. We can create the opportunity for what we actually want to experience.
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