I’m a firm believer that there is no really negative emotion – even the little venal desires can be channeled to positive outcomes. Anger, however, is an emotion that can be destructive and can get out of hand so quickly. It’s no wonder that we liken anger to fire – hot and blazing. Even the Buddha did so:
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the only one who gets burned.
The point of this is to address anger as part of a yoga practice. We as yogis and yoginis practice an art that is designed to give us control of ourselves. Very little, though, is addressed to the volative explosive power of anger. Its like a rogue wave in the ocean – destructive and dangerous. No matter how it is expressed – aggressive, passive, or passive-agressive, anger is something that needs addressing, yet rarely is in yogic circles.
This segment deals with passive anger – this insidious anger that is deflected inwards instead of outwards as in aggressive anger. Inwardly directed anger is dangerous for the angry person, since anger turned inward is both fueled by you and consumes you. As your anger is suppressed, it eats away at your emotional landscape, leaving you vulnerable to a host of dangerous behaviors that can become compulsive as you try to soothe the damage your anger did to you.
Passive anger has many symptoms:
- Clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
- Some form of self-harm; biting nails and picking on the cuticles, hitting something with bare fist, banging your head, etc.
- Increased and rapid heart rate
- Beginning to cry for no reason
- Compulsive eating, spending, cleaning or sex
- Feeling stupid
- Believing you are bad
- Sad or depressed
The danger in passive anger is that you have two problems – the root causes of your anger, and the need to soothe the pain that the anger wreaks inside of you. Imagine if you will that the burning coal you are holding in your hand is swallowed – that is what passive anger is doing, scorching you on the inside.
This can lead to all sorts of problems – soothing the pain with drugs, both illegal and prescription, health issues like ulcers and high blood pressure, and dangerous behavior like eating your pain, or (pardon the vulgarity) screwing the pain away. None of these actually fixes it – the satiation of being full can overwhelm the burn of the anger, or the wash of orgasm can overrider the burning pain. In the end, after the meal and sex, the pain is still there. Self-harm only makes the inner pain manifest outwardly on your skin.
This anger is yours, and the pain. For passive anger, its ok to bare your teeth and say “I am angry.” To voice the anger is to take that deflected anger and instead of turning outward, brings it to examination. What made you mad? Why are you turning it inward? What kind of behaviors are stemming from needing to soothe that anger? By bringing your anger forward and voicing it, you also acknowledge the fact that anger is a valid emotion, not one to hide and repress.
Digging through to these roots are part of the skills you have in your yogic practices – did you think all this stretching, breathing, and focus was to stare at your navel and figure out the atomic structure of your navel lint?
By bringing it out into the light of day, you can see just how dangerous and insidious this anger can be. This kind of anger can feed into many self-destructive behaviors simply because if they didn’t feel good, we wouldn’t do them. Smokers didn’t smoke to feel bad and hack up lungs, they start because the nicotine makes them feel good. It soothed whatever was going on inside. After a while, though, it quits feeling good and it’s done to keep from feeling bad.
People take drugs because it made them feel good at first, but they end up so dependent on them that to stop hurts, so they continue it because it hurts less than stopping.
It hurts to own your anger, though, because you have to say that it is there and you have to admit that you are angry. But, I promise you, it hurts less than not owning it and letting it eat you from the inside. If you own it and witness its actions, you can start to figure out what the roots of that anger is, and instead of letting it burn you from the inside out, you can move with love and care to stop that rooted anger from hurting you, instead of letting it eat you alive.
Expressing anger in a healthy way is not venting, or negative, or weak. Expressing anger in a rational, calm way is owning it – the first step to finding out where it stems from, and how to remove that particular stimulus from your emotional makeup. This is much better, emotionally and physically, then letting it burn you up inside and then trying to blunt the emotional and physical pain.