In coaching, I meet a lot of people with “anger issues.” These “issues” come in many flavors. There’s fear of anger, excess anger, misplaced anger, inability to access or express anger… But mostly what I see can be described as dysfunctional relationships with anger. This largely stems from assessments around the idea of anger (ie ‘anger is bad’) as an emotion that affects the experience of anger itself (ie ‘I shouldn’t feel angry’).
As it turns out, I also tend to meet a lot of people with a dysfunctional relationship with peace. It’s often the same people and the same reason, just reverse. As anger is vilified as a “bad” emotion, peace is deified. In almost every case when I ask a person who is angry about being angry what he or she would rather be experiencing, the answer is peace. I find myself wondering what peace means to people.
Have you ever seen a manatee? Manatees are commonly referred to as the most peaceful animals on out planet. Despite what could be seen as a hideous appearance, their slow, tolerant, peaceful presence is astoundingly beautiful. The spirit of the manatee is so calming that just thinking of a group of them, buoyantly negotiating green blue waters can slow my breathing, lower my blood pressure, and invite a spirit of peace in me.
That level of peace feels, at first, so calming it’s hard to imagine being offended by it. But I am. You see, the manatee, as the ultimate pacifist, lacks the capacity for passionate anger, to become overwhelmed with rage. There are no territorial rages. An orphaned baby manatee will find another cow to nurse on. A mother seeing her child threatened will make no move to protect it. The manatee slogs on despite speedboats ripping into flesh, separating families. Manatee, in fact, are solitary creatures. When seen in a “herd” it’s more of a coincidence than a connection. This level of peace is passivity.
As humans, we enjoy a capacity for a broad range of emotions. The tendency to vilify a certain class of emotions and assess another as the target perpetual state denies us access to appreciate that glorious range that makes us so powerful. Sure, anger and rage can lead to violence and fear and hate (which leads to the dark side, blah blah blah). But anger is a deeply connecting force. It connects us to people, to passion and to a mission. Anger can mobilize into positive action. Anger directs our attention to the boarders of our values, highlighting boundaries, the line that must not be crossed. We get angry when someone violates those boundaries, whether it’s the perception of a global injustice (famine or civil rights violations), or a personal attack (cutting me off on the highway), we are wired to feel anger to mobilize the body to protect. The dysfunction isn’t in the experience of anger, it’s in the lack of appreciation for the message anger is telling us. If instead of judging ourselves as “out of control” because anger showed up, perhaps we take the opportunity to notice the anger and get curious about its message and through this we gain control of our actions and determine what steps need to be taken to right the wrong.
Take some time to reflect on the emotions you experience. Sit quietly and allow yourself to reflect upon your day, conversations you have had. Let it play like a movie. Notice what may have triggered you to experience joy and gratitude as well as anger or frustration. Take note of your emotional experience of the day without judging or assessing what they are, but just noticing that they have come to visit. What emotion is continuing to live in you? Where do you feel it in your body? Let it steep and listen to what messages it may be bringing to you. What learnings does it have to offer? Take some time to journal about the emotion, the lesson, and the actions (if any) you feel inspired to take.