The Anger Detox
Anger is one of the most human and base responses, and we often respond to it with a deeply-held aversion as being too primal to be meaningful. According to therapist Aimee Falchuk, that response is wrong: Anger is a vital force that often expresses the truth of our feelings, and stifling it is harmful and deceitful to ourselves. Falchuk comes from the school of Core Energetics, a practice rooted in a Reichian theory of body-centered psychotherapy. In short, it revolves around freeing or moving stuck emotional energy in order to liberate the consciousness. Below, she explains why refusing to honor our anger is dishonest to the spirit—and how to express and channel it in a way that serves.
Anger: The Restorative Path
Anger is energy. It can be loud and messy and alive. Anger is the energy of a protesting child expressing his natural frustration with his environment. It is the energy of the passionate advocate who needs anger’s assertive quality to instigate change. And anger is the energy that when in distortion can be destructive. Anger serves a purpose. It serves our higher self when we stand up for our truth and when we use it to fuel our passion to create. But when acted out, it serves to keep us out of connection with others.
Some call for mindfulness, objectivity, and inner calm as a way of dealing with anger but what if doing so creates a bypass to experiencing and understanding it in its different forms, which in turn diminishes the role it can play in our healing? And what if in the process of demonizing anger, we shut down the potent energy source contained in anger, energy needed to manifest the things we want so deeply in our lives?
“What if in the process of demonizing anger, we shut down the potent energy source contained in anger, energy needed to manifest the things we want so deeply in our lives?”
In my practice I welcome anger. I often insist upon its expression. Why? Expression implies movement. Movement implies the opening of closed or blocked spaces. The opening of space brings us into consciousness. Consciousness allows us to act more in line with who we are. When we act in alignment with who we are we can bring all we are to all we do. In essence we no longer need to act out. We can now be in a place where we can choose what’s right and express what’s wrong. We call that self-regulation, the marriage of truth and goodness, authenticity.
So if anger is just energy and consciously allowing it can lead to a deeper and more authentic experience of life, why do we shy away from its expression?
I offer the following possibilities.
Socialization and Disconnect From Our Natural Impulses
Anger is predominantly driven by the limbic system. Unlike the cerebral cortex which makes up our thinking, evaluative more rational part of the brain, the limbic system is emotional and reactive. Despite a greater acceptance of the felt experience, we still live in a culture that places great value on our cerebral cortex. We are far more willing to tolerate the rational mind than what we deem as the ‘irrational’ instincts of our emotional one.
“We are far more willing to tolerate the rational mind than what we deem as the ‘irrational’ instincts of our emotional one.”
Thus to allow ourselves to feel our anger we must be willing to disrobe from our armor, our defensive shield that keeps us contained by reason and will. We need to allow ourselves access to our emotions and innate impulses. Most of us have disconnected from certain emotions and impulses over time, as a way of protecting ourselves—it was often their expression that ‘got us into trouble.’ We have as a response habituated ourselves to reason and containment at the expense of emotion and impulse. We have to come back to these impulses and be willing to sit in the messiness, chaos, and uncertainty.
The Right to Protest
Children protest against the denial of their basic needs. This protest is a natural response to environmental frustrations and often in protest of boundaries being violated. And yet we often struggle with such an outburst of energy. We can’t tolerate the protest, which then begs the question of our tolerability towards our own protest, our own natural response to environmental frustrations, our own boundary violations. In my practice, I often hear ambivalence or even an outright rejection of one’s right to be angry. And I have seen a correlation between this ambivalence/rejection and feelings of self-worth. After all, we can only allow ourselves to be angry, or set boundaries if we feel we are worth our needs being met and that we have the right to say yes or no.
Images of Anger
Images are conclusions and generalizations we’ve come to as a result of our experiences, often those in childhood. For example, the child who receives his father’s affection every time he brings home a good grade may form an image that to have his father’s love he must achieve. The child whose mother scolds her for her curiosity and self-expression may form an image that she is too much and may make herself small so others won’t abandon her.
We form images around anger, too. One might hold an image that rising above it all, being the ‘bigger person,’ being disaffected, wins them greatest favor. Or there may be an image that anger is a sign of weakness or that implicit in its expression is that one has needs and that these needs can never be met.
“One might hold an image that rising above it all, being the ‘bigger person,’ being disaffected, wins them greatest favor.”
Our images are limiting and often erroneous. Images form to protect us. They help us make ‘sense’ of why things are what they are. But they are for the most part false. Images, by design, take us out of our sensory experience and put us into our minds where we can come up with logical explanations for what otherwise feels unexplainable. Our images about anger may therefore inhibit its expression.
Anger and the Restorative Path
In examining some of the possibilities as to why we deny ourselves our anger, one can see how going towards it, is so essential to our healing. If the suppression of anger is in part the result of an erroneous belief, or a lack of self- worth, or fear of our natural impulses, imagine what life could be like if we came closer to the truth about an experience, felt worthy of our needs, and allowed our innate, free flowing energetic self-expression? How might things be different for us?
If we are willing to see anger as part of our path towards a fuller, deeper, truer experience of life then so begins our task of exploration. We can begin to parcel out different aspects of anger so that we can better understand them in ourselves.
Anger and the Lower Self
Simply put, the lower self is made up of destructive energy. It is distorted energy we are often not conscious of until we bring it to light. It is the part of us that says no to life. It creates separation. It’s the part of us that says “I won’t be vulnerable. I won’t trust life. I won’t tell the truth.” And it doesn’t care about others. It just wants what it wants. The lower self is at work when we act out, when we are spiteful and manipulative. The lower self wants to humiliate and punish. The lower self is a pseudo-solution to managing the pain that lies beneath. We can best witness the lower self by reading the newspaper. It shows up in our political dialogue where we lack empathy or a willingness to understand an opposing side. It manifests on our city streets and on the world stage in the form of gang violence, terrorism, corruption, and human rights violations.
But let’s take a more basic example to explore this lower self energy. Imagine you are meeting a friend for dinner and she is late. She is perpetually late and every time it happens you feel disrespected. You are angry but you tell yourself she is a busy person and it’s not her fault. Your friend arrives and apologizes. You tell her it’s no problem yet you still feel a rumbling of discontent inside. You know you’re angry at her but you hold an image that if you express that anger it might lead to a confrontation and confrontation only leads to abandonment and you fear abandonment more than anything else.
“The lower self is at work when we act out, when we are spiteful and manipulative. The lower self wants to humiliate and punish.”
So instead of expressing your true feelings you decide to withhold from her during dinner. Your friend engages in conversation but you offer little in return. You see her trying to reach you but you stand firm in your withholding. Another friend arrives at the restaurant and comes over to say hello. Unlike your friend at the table you give this other person all your attention. Perhaps you notice the impact this is having on your friend. And in that moment perhaps you sense some pleasure because now she knows how you feel.
The lower self feels pleasure not because we are awful people. The pleasure comes from the feeling that we have taken our ‘power’ back. We’ve done onto others what we feel was done onto us. There is a sense of justice in that.
And yet this is a false sense of power and justice. For in this scenario, you didn’t actually stand up for yourself and your hurt feelings. You didn’t give your friend the opportunity to see and learn from the impact of her chronic lateness. As a result she can’t make it right with you and distance is created in the relationship.
We must get to know and claim the destructive quality of the lower self and not just for ourselves.
Anger as a Defense Against Other Feelings
Anger can be a tool we use to avoid other more painful feelings. Anger can be used to justify holding on to a person or situation. So long as we are angry we don’t have to move on. Anger can keep us stuck in place. Maybe it’s important therefore to think about the ways we use it as a defense against feeling or movement. Anger is powerful energy and when we otherwise feel powerless it can often feel like the most logical energy to grab onto. But we must not use it to protect us from the feelings underneath, be it pain, or grief, or disappointment, or the essential need to accept the limits of the human experience. We need courageous faith here. The willingness to have faith that we can let go of our anger and go into and through those feelings we fear we won’t survive.
Anger and the Higher Self
Our higher self knows when we have been wronged. Our higher self will let ourselves feel the pain of being made to feel unimportant. In our higher self we can set healthy boundaries and tell others how they make us feel. In our higher self we know we are worthy of standing up for ourselves and that doing so serves others in their own evolution as well as the evolution of our relationships. In our higher self we can be afraid of what ‘confrontation’ may bring, but there is a certain knowingness in this place that we have no other choice but to speak up and show our heart. In our higher self we have challenged the image that expressing our anger results in abandonment and instead recognize the truth that not expressing our anger is really a way of abandoning ourselves.
Our higher self also knows anger revs the engines of change. There is passion in anger. It is a vibrational energy that runs through our body and awakens our mind to possibility. When we see suffering in the world or an unmet need we can tap into the higher self quality of anger to take action.
“In our higher self we can be afraid of what ‘confrontation’ may bring, but there is a certain knowingness in this place that we have no other choice but to speak up and show our heart.”
It is up to us to explore these different aspects of anger in ourselves. We need to get to know the images we hold about anger through self-observation and confrontation. We need to reveal the parts of us that punish, withhold, humiliate, or lack compassion. In safe places we need to let ourselves be the protesting child with all our impulses and irrationality. We need to move our bodies, and let the held energy move through us. We may need to scream and kick. We need to trust that we can survive and tolerate the movement of our own energy and the expression of our feelings.
If we do this work to acknowledge our anger, understand its source, and let it move through us appropriately, we can then come into our higher self. From this place we are in our true power and can use it to stand up not only for ourselves but for the world we want to help heal.
This is the restorative path.
Angelenos, take note: Aimee is doing two workshops in LA this month. On the 23rd, she’s tackling body image as understood by Core Energetics with Lubna Khalid at the Center of Aliveness on Cole Ave. The next day, she’s teamed up with Toronto-based David Sutcliffe to take on the timely issue of political consciousness—they’ll discuss how our past affects our political consciousness and how to create more evolved political dialogue (we just wish she’d do the same workshop with the candidates). Email Aimee to claim a space.
Aimee Falchuk, MPH, M.Ed, CCEP is the co-founder of Core Boston where she has a private practice. Aimee is also an emergency services clinician.