Do you ever find yourself stuck in a rut of anger, wishing you understood a bit more about anger management?
Recently I worked with a client who stated she had a lot of unresolved anger. When I asked her what she meant, she said she often blew up at people, even when she knew expressing anger was not the best response. She quickly named several scenarios when this had recently happened. She talked about situations at work, with her husband, and with her children. In the process of telling me about her anger I could see that she was getting rather upset.
As I almost always do, I asked her at some point to slow down, take several deep breaths, and notice the physical sensations taking place in her body, as well as noticing me sitting in front of her, and the totality of the surroundings in my office. At first she seemed uncomfortable slowing down, and then after just a minute or two I felt that I noticed her emotional state change.
Looking at her softly and matching my breathing to hers, I asked her what she was feeling "at this very moment." She said she was sad that she was not able to make better relationships with those she really cared about.
"So" I suggested, "Please correct me if you do not fully agree, but are you noticing now as you slow down, that in this instance your anger has changed to sadness?" As I spoke these words I also gave her an agreed upon hand signal to signify that she take a deep breath prior to talking. She took a breath, paused, and said "I often feel very separate from those I want to feel close to, and this makes me feel sad, and it also makes me feel very lonely and isolated."
"So" I once again suggested, "Are you feeling your sense of sadness leads you to feel lonely and isolated?" She looked at me as her eyes began to moisten and said "Yes, I feel like people don't really understand my feelings. I feel misunderstood and even that I am unimportant to others."
I took a moment or two to breathe with her as I slowly nodded my head, and I gently said, "At times your anger leads you to feel your sadness, and your sadness leads you to feel your loneliness and isolation, which leads you to feel misunderstood and unimportant to others."
She wept some and said, "Yes, I can now really feel my loneliness and that others do not really care about me."
"Are you still feeling angry?" I asked.
"No." she said, "I am only feeling sadness and loneliness."
We sat there for a couple of minutes as we breathed together and both of us felt our full range of feelings.
At some point she looked at me and said, "It's strange, but somehow slowing down and feeling my sadness and loneliness, somehow feels comforting. I think that normally, these are feelings that I try and stop myself from feeling."
"Yes." I said, "When we stop ourselves from experiencing a certain range of feelings, what usually happens is we get trapped in a seemingly opposite emotional state that is counterproductive."
"It is not so much that your anger is the opposite of your sadness, it is more so that your sadness is connected to your anger."
"As you allow yourself to feel your sadness, your anger dissolves, and you can feel the full range of your emotions, without feeling trapped or isolated."
"When we don't isolate or ignore any of our feelings, we don't feel isolated from or ignored by others."
In Seishindo there are two models we often use to understand emotions.
In our first model we believe that any one emotion often exists as part of a larger cycle/circle of emotions.
Think of an old-fashioned vinyl record made up of four separate but related pieces of music. One piece segues into the next, and it is only in listening to the full recording that you can truly appreciate the work of the composer. If say at the end of the first piece of music there is a deep scratch in the record and the needle jumps back to the beginning. it would not take you long to become tired ofl istening, and you might even become annoyed at the repetition.This would tend to be especially so if the scratch existed just prior to the first piece of music being complete.
This is very much like what happens when we become stuck in compulsively expressing one segment of our full emotional range, at the expense of making good relationships and maintaining our overall sense of emotional well-being. At such times, instead of feeling the full cycle of our emotions, we keep on bumping ourselves back to the beginning of a single emotion. We thus lose the benefit of fully feeling and expressing our complete range of emotions. This is very often the case with people who tend to get angry easily. If we were more aware of our emotional state we would recognize that our anger does not exist by itself. We fuel and maintain our anger by bumping ourselves back to only a limited range of our memories and emotions.The more we feel only anger the angrier we become. On the other hand, when we can sense our anger is accompanied and organized in coordination with other emotions, we can feel all of what is driving our behavior, and it is this full range of expression that assists us in feeling complete and relieved in the process.
In our second model for understanding emotions, we believe the emotion that presents itself most strongly, is often covering up one or several other emotions.
How might you react as an adult, if you were taught as a child that anger was a totally unacceptable emotion to feel? Perhaps you would learn to smile and become sugary sweet, no matter how upset you felt underneath.
What might happen if you began to have a crush on a playmate at the tender age of twelve and your father gave you a harsh lecture about the dangers of intimacy, and how sex was only meant for the purpose of procreation? Perhaps you would feel that it was unsafe to ever express your love and physical desire to another, and thus every time you were beginning to feel love, you would harshly criticize yourself and the person you were attracted to.
Can you imagine how confusing your life might be if you were somehow always afraid to express what you felt, and thus attempted to cover up what you were feeling?
In our work in Seishindo, we often encourage our clients to ask themselves the following questions:
"What other emotions might exist to support or round out the one I am expressing now?"
"What emotions do I believe might be getting covered over or neglected by the emotion I am expressing now?"
"What is the one emotion I am the most likely to not feel, when I am feeling like I am now?"
"What might I be feeling if I was not feeling like I am now?"
Whenever you find yourself getting stuck in any one emotional state, we suggest that you breathe deeply and ask yourself the questions above.
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