The power of conscious anger: from destructive to transformative
Taking our own feelings seriously is not only an act of self-respect, it is also political. Accepting them as part of us and learning to give them their rightful place back is a big part of becoming radically self-responsible. To give space to what arises in us allows us to potentialize its information and energy in order to invest it into creativity, inspiration and transformation.
Suppressing anger for survival
One thing that we human beings have in common is our anger. Whether we are disconnected from it or have “too much” of it, our incapacity to consciously and constructively handle with this life force seems to be a collective issue.
Each of us has a personal story around this. When I was a child, I remember being systematically sent to my room when I would express disagreement or anger. I would be allowed to come out when I’d decide to behave like a nice little girl again. I also remember being frightened by a latent passive agressive energy at home, and hiding away from the sudden explosion of rage of some adults around me. There was no space to express any kind of even moderate anger, which would at some point obviously end up in unexpected eruptions.
Basically, I learned that anger was bad, destructive, uncivilised and dangerous. In order to be accepted, loved and cared for, anger was something to be kept inside, something not to be felt.
As a child, being adaptive to my environment gave me the certainty of getting my most basic needs met. Hiding away from conflicts and suppressing my anger was a perfect survival strategy.
This started to change as I realized that cutting away this part of myself was letting me go through my adult life like a ghost. I was creating myself a fantasy world of safety and harmony by going along with everything and putting on a nice smile. I would “go with the flow”, being very strategically adaptive in order to make sure everybody would like me, avoiding confrontations, never really knowing what I wanted or being able to take a stand.
Me, angry?! Nooooooo…
Even worse, I was not even able to identify the feeling in me anymore. When asked, I would innocently answer that I was just surprised, curious, confused… It showed up in many destructive, subtle, passive-aggressive ways, until one day I would explode and hurt the ones I love. Alternatively, I would turn it against myself. The emotions would remain stuck in my body and show up as chronic pains.
It is really painful to realise how much you can hurt yourself and litteraly ruin a space when not acknowledging your own feelings. I remember living with my best friend and being so pissed by her lack of tidiness. I had to clean the dishes she left lying around pretty much every day. Instead of taking responsibility for my need of cleanliness and using my anger to communicate and set boundaries, I ended up bringing the dirty plates together and leaving them in front of her room. On the next very early morning, she started vacuuming the floor in front of my bedroom door as I was still sleeping. “What, you wanted me to clean the house, didn’t you ?”
Is suppressing your anger really worth the price of destroying your most precious friendships?
In theory, emotions have no gender. In most cultures, however, their expression and evaluation follow certain norms, such as what is between your legs, the gender you identify with or even your ethnicity.
Men and women receive different reactions depending on what they express. It is no secret that boys should not cry, and that to be socially accepted as a woman, you are expected to be gentle, receptive, feminine, docile… The conditioning seems to have worked quiet well, since we are seeing example of this everywhere around us. Most of us end up even reinforcing those boxes without asking ourselves if certain decisions about our appearance and attitude actually come from within or from outer influences. In the long run, imposing or diminishing certain feelings reduces a person’s ability to access who they really are, and therefore reduces their fundamental freedom.
A woman starting to cry when she actually feels angry is a widespread phenomenon. Sadness is indeed culturally more accepted, more “feminine”. Angry women are socially often perceived as reactive, too emotional, dangerous, and the reason for their anger may go unnoticed and not be taken seriously. On the other hand, when a woman is sad and therefore perceived as vulnerable, she is more likely to be heard, recognised and comforted. When anger turns into desperation or discouragement, the message that was supposed to be transported is lost.
As for men, they’d better be loud, potent, strong, and not show any “weak emotions”. They are not supposed to be touched by anything in order to stay productive, efficient paws in a capitalist machinery that places them in powerful positions. Since a very young age, they are pointed at if they show any kind of vulnerability or have certain hobbies that are not “manly” enough. Consequently, anger can become an aggressive defense mechanism, the only weapon at their disposal when feeling powerless. Alternatively, having witnessed its destructive consequences as children, they suppress it too and become completely numb, disconnected from themselves and their environment — socially not allowed to feel anything.
We are culturally led to think that emotionality and rationality cannot coexist. It is generally accepted that to have decent and productive discussions, we must free ourselves from fear, sadness and anger. Yet anger is an appropriate response to omnipresent injustices, a natural consequence when one becomes aware of the sexism, racism, and other oppressions that characterise this same culture.
Taking back our anger
Good news! We are not condemned to be victims of gender stereotypes or of sociocultural unwritten rules and there are many experiments and tools to get back in touch with our real voices.
The more I become aware of the infinite ways we human beings are conditioned to think and behave limited ways, the more I’m interested in deconstructing them to discover the possibilities of our own unique, authentic expression. I am convinced each one of us, in our endless diversity, carries a gift to be shared with the world. But how can we tap into this potential if we still go through life driven by our childhood survival strategies?
Being an adult responsible for your own life is not dependent on how many candles you have on your birthday cake. Some people go through their whole lives without realising they are still driven by the same fears, beliefs and motivations they were conditioned to develop as children.
When I started reconnecting to my anger through regular rage work, my life started shifting dramatically. I found out about Rage Club, a safe space to practice connecting back to my life force energy and give a voice to various parts of me, which I thought would have to stay silenced forever. Surrounded by a team of people committed to each other’s growth, I could show facets of myself that I had been hiding to fit in, and have the experience of being unconditionally accepted and supported.
Today, as unexpected resources and new facets of my personality keep emerging, it feels like shedding myself from an old identity and, in a certain way, getting to know myself for the first time. I discovered a fire within me, a trustworthy source of clarity that I can intentionally use to burn away old limiting beliefs and dispel the fog in which I have been hiding. I am learning to tune in with a well-grounded compass in my lower belly, a faithful source of information telling me what must stop, what I really care for, what I want to take a stand for.
Instead of being adaptive, I am discovering the joy of saying yes from an authentic place and saying no without justifying myself. When connected to my own inner power, I become less dependent on pleasing others or seeking their approval to feel safe, which allows me to shape and discover more truthful, beyond power dynamics relationships. This new way of relating to my inner world is bringing me back to a sense of authority that allows me to see beyond the filter of being the victim of everything that displeases me. I become an active co-creator of my environment.
The shadow side of suppressed anger
I am witnessing a lot of women increasingly becoming aware and raising their voices against the injustices and inequalities resulting from patriarchy, a social system by which we are all affected (women AND men) and in which males hold primary power in roles of political leadership, moral authority and more. I believe this anger is justified, and it is high time it finds its expression. Nevertheless, in many feminist initiatives, I think it is still used in damaging ways, not yet potentiated in the transformative force it could be.
I see a lot of fury projected onto “the man” in a very simplistic and destructive way. I see women coming together against a common enemy, instead of coming together for a new paradigm. The result of this is a reproducing, if not worsening of the division and war between genders.
In my experience, before I started reclaiming and accepting my anger, I was not aware of the many ways this repressed energy, mixed up with a toxic form of mainstream feminism, was keeping me in an inner prison. Since I had never learned a way to fully express what was revolting me, I was also not able to change anything about it. I was walking around stuck in a victim story and my suppressed anger was leaking out in destructive ways. I started grasping a latent hate of men for what they had “done to us”, an (un)conscious wish to take revenge on them. Or, alternatively, I’d put men on a pedestal and enter co-dependent relationships with them to feel validated by the male gaze. I even met many men who themselves were partaking in the projection of unconscious anger onto men, and had started hating their own “masculinity”.
To understand these limiting dynamics on the intellectual level was devastating enough, but the shift really started to happen when I became able to actually feel their impact and consequences on our lives. By that, I mean consciously giving myself time and space to cry, shout, actually grief and feel the pain of what we human beings are doing to ourselves and each other. Only when this pain started landing in my emotional body could I start to actively stand up to make a change.
Ultimately, until we learn to feel and direct our feelings consciously, we are endlessly reproducing a destructive dynamic of victim versus perpetrator. One of my deepest concerns is to find ways to evolve from this dualistic view and join our forces to bring forth an inclusive culture of sustainable collaboration among all beings.
Through the practice of regular conscious anger work, there is a huge potential for women to transcend powerlessness and destructive shadow structures and to tap into the transformative force of their indignation. The potential for men is to find ways to express themselves with clarity and to protect, care for and actually go for what they believe in. I am joyfully witnessing many men around me re-apprehend their relationship to anger and using it as a doorway to unfold their more “vulnerable” feelings, making them able to create more fulfilling intimate bonds. This is the power of anger!
If you resonate with anything I am writing today, contact me to learn more about Rage Club and let’s join forces!
“Anger expressed and implemented in the direction of our visions and our future is an act of liberating clarification.” Audre Lorde