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“Anger is a sign something needs to change.”
My therapist’s crystalline blue eyes shined as she smiled at me, gently challenging me.
Her words shocked me awake.
They were the perfect antidote to a pattern of being (quietly) terrified of my—or anyone else’s—anger. Ever since, I have shared her words with many others, while striving to decipher what my anger is asking of me.
When I was little, what felt to me like explosions of anger from my father had shaken me to the core. Once, I remember him overturning a watermelon stand in rural Louisiana while trying to return a bad melon he’d bought.
I saw my mother crumble in the face of his angry outbursts (she would later hide in the bathroom and cry, where no one could see her). It didn’t take long until I, too, learned how to disappear.
But the body doesn’t lie and, as my dear friend and love coach, Annie Lalla, says, intense emotions are signs that you are alive.
I’ve found that if you shut down any one of the emotions that come with being human, the volume inevitably goes down on every other emotion.
Find yourself suppressing anger? Joy also becomes more out of reach. Afraid to grieve? Love itself may elude you.
In an emotionally sanitized world, anger is forbidden (especially for women). But if we don’t have access to our anger, how are we ever going to make the changes we desperately need to save this planet and ourselves?
If it’s all “love and light,” humanity will never find its way out of the roiling darkness.
So it’s okay to feel angry—it’s what you do with that emotion that matters.
Do we dump our unmetabolized anger on others? (I have, and it’s no bueno.) Do we endlessly loop the same stories, never setting boundaries or making the hard but necessary changes that we know we need to thrive? Or do we numb our anger, only to watch our life force dissipate in a low-grade depression?
Of course, some people will retreat from the intensity of anger burning within us…but that’s no reason not to let its white-hot light show us what we truly love.
I’m furious that the fossil fuel industry has knowingly put profits over the destruction of our planet’s vital ecosystems for decades.
I love this miraculous planet, our only home.
I’m outraged that the United States spent two trillion dollars in a 20-year war in Afghanistan only to watch the Taliban take over, obliterating whatever small gains were made for women and human rights. As a marine who served there wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
“The school doors will close for girls, and the boys will return to their religious studies. For them, the arc of the moral universe will bend backward and break.”
I love humanity; I love peace.
I’m frustrated that every summer, my 80-year-old mother breathes hazardous, smoke-filled air and lives under the constant threat of evacuation from the beautiful home my stepdad built among the tall pines of Northern California.
I love my extended family.
I’m angry at the ways I sometimes play the same old game of checking out, or numbing out, instead of checking in and creating the life I want to live—day by day, breath by breath, moment by moment.
I love this fleeting, precious life.
We can only change what is actually in our power to change, so beware of telling angry stories about what you cannot change—it might be a sign that it’s all smoke with no fire ( i.e. disembodied).
Then let’s get f*cking angry so we can keep wrestling this world into the world we know in our hearts is possible.
For me, that means (to start): reducing my carbon footprint; voting for green candidates; only buying sustainable products; supporting women’s rights (which are, indeed, human rights); standing up and speaking out (and no more crying in bathrooms).
Now that I no longer have to live under others’ unchecked anger, I bow to the true power of anger, for I know it is calling us to change and to fiercely protect what we love.
This short clip about the three phases of anger from a former dominatrix, now women’s empowerment teacher in New York City, Kasia Urbaniak, helped inspire this piece.