When I was a little kid, I used to think that words said in anger were a true reflection of the thoughts and feelings of the monster doing the screaming. The insults stuck with me. It wasn’t until adulthood that I changed that narrative. I learned that sometimes human beings reach a boiling point, and toxic hot lava comes shooting out of their mouth without them having any control over the content of their poisonous rant. Worse still, often they have no memory of their verbal diarrhea.
With therapy, my meditation, self-compassion practice and time, I was eventually able to forgive my mom for all the horrendous things she said to me when she had one of her episodes. I know she loved me to pieces and respected me. I still can’t erase the one doozey though – “if you were still a practicing attorney, I could respect you!” shouted at me as I gathered up my infant son and got the hell away from her. Luckily she had 25 years after that fateful day to illustrate to me that that statement wasn’t true. I was also fortunate to be married to a man that wouldn’t let me become estranged from my parents. I have a scar there, but it’s more like a faded memory.
We carry these scars into our marriages and our parenting. I bent over backwards (still do) to never let anger out in an uncontrolled way at my kids. The problem with stuffing anger deeper though, is that it becomes bigger and darker. What we resist persists. What we can feel we can heal. It was much healthier for my mom to pop off and let out her rage, then keeping it in. It was unfortunate for her target, but she got the poison out of her body. In my case, since I am so uncomfortable with anger from being traumatized by anger as a child, unexpressed anger can cause depression if I am not vigilant in my self-compassion practice.
I faithfully practice R.A.I.N., a wonderful practice popularized by Tara Brach. I recognize I’m having anger, labeling the emotion and locating it in my body. The mere act of labeling the emotion, helps me to take a step back from it. I then allow the feeling to be there while investigating its nature with a gentle curiosity. Then I nourish myself with soothing touch; my hands on my heart, and positive self-talk; like calling myself sweetheart and acknowledging that what happened was hard.
If I notice a constriction I might try the soften-soothe-allow meditation from the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum, or I might just imagine softening around the space and relaxing into the space. I might send healing energy or light into the space. When my mind is occupied sending healing thoughts to my body, it cannot be in a recursive loop of negative thoughts. My brain can’t be spinning out a story line of anger and hurt and at the same time giving myself love. And when I start to feel a positive mental state, like the love is working, I let it fill me up for a breath or two so that I take advantage of positive neuroplasticity and re-wire my brain for more happiness and resilience.
With practice, you get to a point where you flip into these methods without thinking. One day you will realize you are less reactive because you are automatically using your practice. It’s funny that I always say I have mad skills! I never thought about the fact that they are MAD skills, as in skills to manage anger!
Life is a wild ride. May you develop mad skills to help you hang on!