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You know the feeling.
Your face becomes hot, your heartbeat gets faster, you don’t know whether to scream, or cry, or tell someone (anyone!) off. You feel ANGRY, and since most of us are taught that anger is a bad thing, you’re not sure what to do about it.
In my first job following graduate school, my beloved and supportive supervisor of almost two years resigned and was replaced by an ice-cold and ruthless bully. Before I knew it, interactions with this person were occupying my thoughts day and night.
I played out situations in my head involving what I really wanted to say to her. I spent less time thinking about constructive next steps with my clients and more time fuming over my impossible superior. I even fantasized about walking off the job, restrained only by the knowledge that it would hurt not just me but my clients.
Then one day, I realized something. I was angry. And the more I tried to ignore the anger, the more noise it made. Anger was calling for my attention, trying to tell me something important.
The first step is to cope.
I had put a lot of effort into taking care of myself and being well up to that point. Now it was time to test-drive those tools, to the best of my ability. And where I felt something lacking, I searched for classes, books, and experts to learn from.
Anger was teaching me to put to use so many of the tools I’ve developed through study of yoga, psychotherapy, and Pranayama (breathing), outside the yoga studio or comfortable therapy office, and in the face of a challenging circumstance.
The next step is to listen.
In her seminal book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron refers to anger as, “Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend.”
My anger directed me to seek out trusted loved ones to talk over my feelings, and to enlist career professionals who could help me explore next steps in my work. Through these consultations, I explored ways to extricate myself from the toxic situation fueling my anger with minimal damage.
The last step is to act.
I have anger to thank for showing me I was in a no-win situation and it was time to get out before it took a serious toll on my health.
B.K.S. Iyengar writes in Light on Life that “there is a place for righteous anger--not self-righteous anger-- that we use skillfully in a way that helps rather than hurts."
Put another way, anger is to be respected and heard. It shows us where our boundaries are, and when they have been crossed. It acts as a guide, letting us know when we’ve taken a wrong turn in life, or need to try a different path. Anger is a compass, pointing us in the next right direction.
So the next time you feel anger, rather than taking it out on yourself through suppression, or on others through aggression, ask yourself what is the purpose of this generally unwelcome emotion? What is it trying to show you?
Only you will have the answers, and they may surprise you.