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Lions Roar : March 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2010 23 IN MANy WAyS, human anger is a treasure. The Greeks called it the “moral emotion” because they noted that animals did not possess it; animals, the Greeks ob- served, got aggressive and showed fight or flight reactiv- ity. They did not get angry. Humans, on the other hand, could experience and express anger with its inherent re- flective component: “I can see/know/feel that someone or something has wronged me.” As a response to being wronged, anger is a boundary-setter that says, “Stop! I can’t tolerate this,” or, “This isn’t working for me.” It is not blaming the other or shaming the self. Often experienced first as a contraction in the throat, chest, stomach, or abdomen and a clenching of the fist, anger may be associated with the words “I can’t go on like this” seared into the mind. Anger—sparked by injustice—is at the root of all protest movements, all major processes of change. In our most intimate relationships, when we or our loved ones experience or express anger, it is an opportunity to get to know one another better, to get closer and clearer, and to work with ourselves in a new way. It is an opportunity to ask ourselves, “Why am I feeling this?” “What needs to change here?” and “What do I need to do about it?” Because anger is expressed at a moment of need, the person ex- pressing it is vulnerable. If, when our partner is angry, we inquire into his need to be seen, treated, known, or held more wholly, dearly, or fairly, we have a chance of accepting our beloved more fully. In our closest relationships, our fate is bound up with the fate of the other. In Buddhist terms, our karma is interwoven and we cannot easily escape feeling the consequences of the beloved’s actions. It is a natural desire for us to want to keep our partner safe or happy, for both selfish and unselfish reasons. But, as a result, we have a tendency to want to control our beloved—and that often creates a sense of being unfairly treated. Our closest relationships are the most challenging in our lives when it comes to practicing fairness, equality, and kindness. That is because in these intimate relationships, we always begin to get to know the other person (even if that person is an infant) through a process of psychological projection: seeing/feeling/ex- periencing the other through already familiar views, desires, and ideals. This is especially true in romantic love, where we “fall” in love through an idealizing projection and assume that the other is ideal for us and meets our needs in some particular or general way. When the other person does not do or become what we want, which is always the case, we can easily turn against him with hatred, rejection, or pain. Working with anger skillfully can actually be very helpful in our not doing this. Anger has unfortunately been confused or conflated with aggression, hatred, or rage—some of its more destructive siblings. Many people make the mistake of pushing away anger, being afraid that it will be destructive if expressed. Some may hyper- value silence as though it were its own virtue. Others may express aggression, blame, anxiety, or rage instead of anger. But if you have the skill to feel your feelings with a gentle acceptance of them, you are less likely to dissociate from your feelings or distance yourself from another in times of anger. you won’t have to hide your anger from yourself and you can learn about speaking it honestly and kindly—and about inquiring into your beloved’s anger at you. Knowing what anger really is, we can appreciate how it allows us to avoid destructive behavior, such as fighting or diminishing others and ourselves. The next time our partner does something we don’t like or the next time she approaches us saying, “I feel overlooked or unfairly treated,” we can begin a process of inquiry that leads to the possibility of accepting differences or changing our actions without blaming the other or having a sense of being blamed. PAINTINGByTONyMATTHEWS The Hidden Treasure of Anger Your throat is contracting, your fists are clenching—but don’t deny your anger, says Polly young-EisEndrath. Instead, learn to mine it for new ways to work with yourself and the people you love. Polly young-EisEndrath is a Jungian psychoanalyst and clini- cal associate professor of psychiatry at the university of Vermont. a long- time practitioner of Zen and Vipassana meditation, she is the author of The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.