Being angry and letting that anger fester is not good for your health. Find out why and how to deal with it.
No I’m not angry. But I have been, and I didn’t know it. Having all this time on my hands, and a bit of a scare means that I’ve been contemplating the role it’s played in my life. I believe that cancer is as much a spiritual condition as a physical condition. Just what I believe, although I’m not alone. I talked about Ian Gawler’s understanding of cancer here.
Anger is an energy. Energy never dies, it just transforms. Negative emotions that are trapped can result in increased cortisol production which in turn can suppress the immune system. And a suppressed immune system can lead to all types of illness.
So what happens to anger? Healthy people express it. The charge is taken out of it and the air is cleared. Apparently that’s what happens anyway. Historically, that’s not my experience.
Nor does it appear to have always been the experience of William Blake who described anger taking root, and bearing fruit, in A Poison Tree:
And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine –
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
I used to pride myself on the fact that I hardly ever got angry. I had seen too many frightening and traumatic effects of anger lashing out and thought that the answer was to remain calm no matter what. But the anger has to go somewhere and I now know exactly where it went.
Say someone did something to me, wronged me in some way. I wouldn’t say anything. Well, I wouldn’t say anything to them. I would be polite to their face and make it look like I was just being graceful and dignified. But boy would I tell everyone else. My anger turned into malicious and nasty gossip, about how unfair it was and how awful that other person was.
Or sometimes I would find myself crying. Rather than expressing anger loudly and through confronting someone, I would just burst into tears. I became very aware of this being a pattern of mine when I started crying at a mediation once. I was being very badly verballed by someone. They accused me of having said things that I hadn’t. I was furious, and then these tears started to flow. The most embarrassing part? I was there representing a corporate client. Talk about taking things personally!
It also turned into a whole lot of self talk. And none of it was pretty. I would play the event over and over in my head, confirming for myself just how awful it had been. I would seethe with resentment. Resentment comes from the French resentir, to re-feel, and that’s what I would do, feel the hurt and play the image on the video recorder in my mind over and over and over and over and over…There were particular scenes I would hit the pause button on and they would sit while I relished in the self pity.
But there was no real expression. The energy was stuck. The self talk would go something like this, “how dare they? I wonder if they were right? What did I do wrong? I must have done something wrong. Oh God, it’s me. They did it because I’m so [fill in the blanks but don’t use positive uplifting words]. I am so unworthy.” What I was doing was giving that person incredible power over me. I may as well have called them God. But of course, they didn’t know.
And occasionally I would persuade myself that I was so in the wrong that I would go and apologise. I can’t tell you how badly that would go. How small I would feel afterwards. Or how even angrier I would feel. Or I wouldn’t. I just wouldn’t do anything about it and would hold all this negativity inside.
As a teenager, that negative cycle became suicidal and incredibly self-destructive thoughts. Unfortunately those thoughts, that energy, then manifested into actions, none of which could be described as self loving or self care. As an adult, some of the anger that accumulated over my life, and in particular, the unexpressed anger of the childhood hurts, literally started to eat away at me. Rather controversially it has been said that cancer is a socially acceptable form of suicide. Well my anger had turned so inwards and consistently gave me those negative, self-loathing messages that this idea truly resonates with me. I saw an image yesterday of the tumours that had taken up residence in me. Something was definitely eating me up! Scary!
So get expressing that anger. I have. And it’s so freeing and is the first step on the path to truly deep healing. To tell someone that they’ve hurt you and it’s not okay is just so liberating and empowering. It should be part of any self-care regime. But first, I have to move the energy, release the charge or otherwise I’ll live up to my starsign and become a whirling bull in a china shop.
Here are some things that I have done with my anger:
- Written a letter to the person whose behaviour made me angry. I didn’t necessarily send it (probably best I didn’t) but just put pen to paper and let them have it.
- Expressed the anger energy. Let it out. I’ve used baseball bats on cushions, screaming and the shaking meditation (I wrote about that here). More joyously I can dance.
- If the anger is not too overwhelming, I use it as an object of support in meditation. This doesn’t mean bringing an image of the person to mind. It means focussing just on the emotion and observing it, rather than retelling the story or thinking about the other person. Eventually it will dissolve and I come to see it as just another emotion fuelled by the dramas my mind likes to tell me. If it’s too overwhelming to do this, I go shake it out and start again. Or try to contemplate a positive emotion like love until I’ve calmed down enough to look at the anger.
Once the charge is out of it, I can begin to look to see if I was to blame at all for what happened. If not, I can try to step into the other person’s shoes and see what might have been motivating them. And then, I can decide whether I need to speak up or not. Of course, if I choose not to speak up, that’s fine. But if I start to bitch and moan about them, then clearly the anger has not gone and I have to start again. I have to start again a lot in life. I lose my way quite often.
Of course, there is a lot more to healing old wounds than just expressing and discharging anger. But being aware of what is going on inside me is the beginning of the journey. And I might just be free of anger.
Be happy. Be well. Just be
And so be it.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you might also like Being Radical – Releasing Suppressed Emotions
If you are interested in the link between unexpressed emotions and cancer, check out this website.