We all get angry at times, some more often than others. What is anger, is it a negative emotion, is it harmful or can it be helpful for our growth? These are some of the questions many may have about anger. This year Dr. Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger has reached the milestone of 3 million copies sold. Below I’ll share with you some excerpts from her interview with the Forbes magazine.
“Anger is a tricky emotion. It signals that something is wrong but it doesn’t tell us what is wrong or how to approach the problem in a growth-fostering way that leads to lasting change. I wrote The Dance of Anger to help readers identify the true sources of their anger, and then to take new steps in relationships stuck in too much distance, intensity and pain. …
Anger is neither positive nor negative. Anger simply is. It’s an important emotion that deserves our attention and respect. But most of us have little experience using our anger as a vehicle for positive change. Instead we silence our anger, or vent it in a way that leaves us feeling helpless and powerless.”
“Women have long been denied the expression of healthy anger and protest. Instead, society encourages women to cultivate guilt like a little flower garden. If we’re guilty and self-doubting we stay in place. We don’t take action against our own selves. Many women I see in therapy still feel guilty if they are anything less than an emotional service station to others.
In contrast, our anger can be a vehicle for change. It can help us to clarify the limits of how much we can give or do in a relationship, and the limits of our tolerance. It can inspire us to take a new position on our own behalf so that an old dance can’t continue in the same way.”
“Men get stuck in the same patterns of distance and blame that women do. I’m pleased that male readers just about equal my female readers these days. Interestingly, men lose their voice in marriage even more than women do. They may distance and stonewall, telling themselves, ‘It’s not worth the fight.’ They may remove themselves emotionally from the relationship, and then feel devastated when a partner leaves them ‘out of the blue.’ “
“If you’re an authentic , open-hearted person you won’t be immune to the feelings of shame, inadequacy, depression, anxiety and anger that rejection can evoke. Rejection is a fast route back to childhood shame. It’s not just that you went to a party and no one made an effort to talk to you. It’s that you feel you’re essentially boring and undesirable, and so it is and so it will always be. It takes a huge amount of maturity, and self-worth to not take rejection quite so personally, and understand that rejection often says more about the person who does the rejecting, than it does about you. I have yet to meet a person who enjoys being rejected. Of course, I have not met everybody.
When we acknowledge that rejection isn’t an indictment of our being, but an experience we must all face again and again if we put ourselves out there, rejection becomes easier to bear. You can also succeed by failing, meaning go out there and accumulate rejections—whether it’s asking someone for a date, making sales calls, trying to get an article published or approaching new people at a party. The only way to avoid rejection is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks.”
The Third Way, use your anger for growth
“If you’re in a relationship now, you can use that relationship as a laboratory to experiment with new behaviors. It takes two to tango. It takes only one to make things a whole lot better.”
Next time you get angry; at home, at work, while driving or anywhere else; try to find a third way. You know the two typical reactions to anger are either to suppress it or to vent it out, sometimes loudly and wildly. Neither of these two reactions are healthy. The third approach would be to respond to your anger by allowing it without acting it out. This way you can use the enormous energy of your anger not only to better understand its deeper roots, but also to open up some space in your soul for new insights to arise.
You can go to a quiet place like your own room or an unused office at work. Stay with your anger, breath consciously, try to sense your arms and legs, grind your teeth if you need to, shout in silence, feel the hatred energy in your fingers wanting to tear something or someone apart, without actually doing so of course. In short, do not rationalise or try to explain away your anger (suppression), do not go wild and mindless (acting out) either. Instead stay aware and mindful of your anger exactly the way it is, just try to feel your anger as deeply as possible without hurting yourself or anyone else.
When the anger subsides by itself, stay open and try to tap into your three centers of intelligence (head, heart, belly) and reflect on where you are in that moment. It would be useful if you could write down your experience, or even talk about it to someone you trust or just to yourself; without any judgments.