On Anger

Thursday, February 8th, 2019

After postponing our discussion due to weather, we finally gathered to share our thoughts and feelings about anger. The questions were as follows:

  • How does anger arise? What makes us angry and why? What does it feel like?
  • How do we change while angry?
  • How do we combat, express, or release anger?
  • Is anger unhealthy to hold on to?
  • How do we speak about anger? _____

One participant noted that we are ashamed of our anger. His argument, as best as I understood it, was the sense of dismay that we encounter when we find that we are unable to control the torrent of emotions within ourselves. Others expressed a variant of this argument, that anger most frequently arose as a result of a self-failing.

Anger necessitates an object, something to point at. We usually speak about anger in terms of what causes it or what we do about it, rather than the sensation of anger itself. I asked each member to share, not what makes them angry, but what it feels like when they are angry. The prickly sensations, the blacking-out of rational systems of thought - apparently, the source of anger is within the limbic system, a segment of the brain which we share with reptiles - the specific way it forces us to maintain concentration on the object of what first angered us. Once our concentration fails, our attachment (aversion or desire) dissolves, the sensation of anger naturally recedes. A number of participants shared comments on their feelings of anger: victimized, injustice, personalized, going against how they define themselves, musunderstanding, dissatisfaction with one’s self, loss of control, need to be heard, disconnect between thinking and feeling, opressed, inferior, brain on fire. I found it interesting that many participants emphasized the need to be heard and the feeling of being misunderstood. That for anger to be let go or resolved, the offender needed to feel how the person felt victimized. Participants wanted closure through recognition by the other person who made them angry, to be seen as a person.

We talked about unresolved versus resolved anger and the difference. A participant mentioned that they usually practice sublimation, or when anger is transformed into something else more meaningful. This makes it difficult for me to locate where the defining line between resolving or letting one’s anger go and sublimation. My usual reaction to anger is to return to the breath, to focus on the physical components of the emotion with a furious attention. Yet am I resolving my anger or merely letting it subside for the present?

We spoke quite a lot about how differences in sex, gender, and race can affect how being angry is perceived. The ‘angry woman’ trope, the ‘angry black woman’, the ‘angry white boys,’ segments of the population implicitly looked down on - in this, it seems that the accusers suspect that these populations don’t have a reason to be angry. Individuals, even when they have a ‘right to be angry’ are expected to adhere to the dominant social communication of calm logical justifications. Yet men, often, seem to have permission to be angry more often, given free rein in the expression of traditionally ‘manly’ emotions.

Written on February 8, 2019