Anger is the least socially acceptable emotion in our culture. There isn’t even a close second.
For the longest time, I was completely cut off from my anger. It was buried, silently underneath the surface. And not expressing it caused me to be cut off from my strength and power.
Anger is repressed in all of us, and as men, we suffer from this in ways most of us are barely aware of.
What is the cost of being cut off from the source of our anger? From fully being allowed to express our anger in healthy ways?
It can make us depressed. It can make us retreat into a false security of passivity. Being cut off from our anger, our ability to express our power, we can feel lost as men.
When I feel anger or frustration it’s a signal that something is not okay, and that action needs to be taken to shift something.
Of course, anger has its dark and light forms. When our anger is blind and disconnected from our heart we are merely aggressive and violent. We can hurt those around us. You can see this in the form of domestic violence and rape. Our anger and fear causes us to want to control and dominate women, nature and the world.
But when our anger is connected to freedom, service and love, it is a powerful gift. Anger can spur us to take action in the service of ourselves and those we deeply care about. When our anger fuels action in the direction of where we really want to go, and how we want to fulfill our purpose, we can use it in a positive, constructive way.
Of course, there will be a time to let go of anger. We don’t need to hold on to it, but we need to learn how to tap into it when the time calls for it.
Think about Jesus getting angry at the merchants in the temple. Or Martin Luther King Jr. and his fiery, eloquent prose, inciting and calling for change in the world.
If these men repressed their anger, what good would that have done?
Traditionally, men have had cultural and tribal containers for the expression of anger and aggression. Martial arts is a perfect example of this. Chopping wood can also be a way to healthily express your anger.
But what do you do if you have anger repressed in your body? What do you do if you don’t even know how to begin expressing your anger, or if you’re not even sure that pent up anger is a problem you need to address?
Depression, confusion and fear can often be masks for unexpressed anger lingering underneath the surface. If you’re feeling disconnected from your power as a man, you might have anger that needs to be released in order for you to strongly make a stand in the world.
Again, this isn’t about becoming someone that’s angry all the time, or that walks around pissed off at everything.
It’s about knowing when to use your anger to fuel change. It’s about knowing how to work with it to harness it, to transform it into action or transformation.
Simply asking yourself, “what ways am I holding back in life?” can be a good starting point. Allow yourself to feel the anger in that holding back.
The challenge though is often letting out the anger that might be latent in your body. Once you know it’s there, you can’t exactly go around screaming your head off to release it. Our culture simply does not tolerate this kind of behavior, which means you’ll probably have the cops called on you, or be shamed for your anger until you “calm down.”
Another common mistake is the tendency to want to bypass the anger and go straight to forgiveness, love, or acceptance. Accepting and loving the anger is great, but it doesn’t do much to experience and release it.
Consciously creating a space where you can cathartically express your anger is something I think we all need more of.
Here’s a simple practice you can do to express your anger without scaring others:
Finding a time where you’re alone at home, in a room with the doors and windows shut, turning on some loud music, think about the times where you’ve been shut down. Think about times where others have hurt you, made you feel small, or cut you off from your ability to lead your own life.
When you feel the anger, you might be scared to go into it. Breathe. Feel it. Allow the anger to come up. Scream into a pillow. Say “fuck you” to your mom, dad, teachers, religious leaders or whoever kept you small or shut you down. Let them know that was not okay. Take a stand. Throw a pillow or stomp your feet. Write out “fuck you” or “I hate you” as many times as you need to and burn the pages. Imagine yourself doing something to resolve the anger so it can find its completion.
Let the anger be there, let it be expressed, so you can finally take your power back.
Remember, your conscious anger is a gift.
– Guest post from my friend Jonathan Mead over at paidtoexist.com