The story I’m telling today and the one I’d like to unravel before I head into my outrageous (my 2017 theme) New Year is: as a kid I wasn’t allowed to be angry, never learned to express it in a healthy way, and instead, grew up stuffing it down at all costs…the last cost being my self-esteem and worthiness.
I remember my dad and grandpa being allowed to be angry. Nobody ever asked them to be quiet, shut up, go to their room, have a time out or otherwise stop their temper tantrum and calm down before interacting with others. Nobody ever called them out on their behavior. Nobody in my house ever stood up for themselves or spoke their mind. And now I know that was out of fear.
My dad and grandpa were allowed to be upset and tell you, in whatever way they wanted, that you were being inappropriate. They were allowed to use both a tone and volume of voice of their choosing to express themselves. If they were angry the best choice of action was to get smaller, be quieter and better yet…get out of sight.
Healthy expression and unhealthy expression of anger…is there such a thing? Expression is how the emotion and its energy are moved in the form of words (usually). Physical violence isn’t healthy; that can be the deal-breaker. But what about just expressing your anger in words? Is there a right way? Wrong words? Does it matter who it is, what the circumstance is, or who did what?
I’ve watched my daughter grow up being called disrespectful for the things she expresses in anger. “Don’t talk back,” is something I hear in our house a lot. But when I hear the reaction to my daughter’s anger what I really hear is, “I can’t handle your anger,” “You don’t have a right to be angry,” “What I say goes, I’m right and you’re wrong,” “You have to follow my rules,” “You’re not allowed to express yourself unless it’s appropriate,” “You’re bad for the way you feel.”
There’s a need for control and an attempt to make her get smaller, be quieter and get out of sight. When she stands in her power and refuses to submit, I silently (sometimes not so) rejoice. Good for you, I think to myself…I could have never done that.
I wish I’d had a safe place to be angry as a kid. I wish I’d had a father and grandfather who were more comfortable with their emotions, were better communicators and chose love as their main weapon. Instead I remember the silence. I remember the hate. I remember how I needed to be small and quiet in their presence…as if anything I said could make them angry enough to lash out at any moment.
I remember not being allowed to be too loud or have too much fun. I remember how being quiet was my best bet most days. Being angry? Not safe. The closest I could get was sad. But even that had a limit.
If I’d had a safe place to be angry as a kid I wonder what miracles I could have created as a young woman.
I wonder what amount of worthiness and self-esteem would have brewed inside of me. I wonder how many times I would have said no to the men who made me feel enough only when I gave them what they wanted. I wonder who I’d be today, if I was allowed to say, “Fuck you, that’s not right, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
I’ve spent decades reclaiming my worth and finding the courage to express myself and create the boundaries that nourish my body, mind and soul. Self expression shouldn’t have to be taught. It’s natural. It should be encouraged, and celebrated. The processing and healthy expression of difficult emotions, like anger, should be modeled early on. The idea we matter, because we’re born should be drilled into us with a fierce amount of love.
We should be taught that protecting and defending ourselves against hate, anger and rage, even when that rage is spewing from someone who’s supposed to be loving us, is our right…actually more necessity. We could be taught how to do that as children, if parents would embrace the awareness it takes to do things differently. If they’d do their own healing work.
The ability to freely express and communicate with awareness and lack of judgement are born from worth and self-esteem. You’re born with worth and you’re taught quickly either how to keep it, or that you have to earn it. When those around you use anger to keep you under control, and you’re too afraid to express the hurt, fear, frustration or anger yourself, thinking it’s bad if you do or that you’ll be hurt if you do, you learn to cower. And you take that survival mechanism years into your life and future.
Until there comes a day when it hurts more to be afraid than it does to be brave.
If my daughter has a safe place to be angry she might grow up expressing herself and her gifts more freely. She might not stand for the crap people throw in her way, recognizing what they say has nothing to do with her worth – even when it’s someone that’s supposed to love her saying it. She might decide she can do anything in this world and that what she does matters. She might get to the business of being angry and doing something about it sooner. She may grow up a leader. She might change the world.
How would it be if you’d had a safe place to be angry?
Finding a safe place to be angry is important. During my journey I’ve been lucky to have several crop up along the way in the form of people and places. During my training as a physical therapist and specifically during the important work of somato-emotional (body-mind-emotion) release I found one safe haven. Being treated by a skilled John F. Barnes Myofascial Release practitioner gave me a safe space to do the healing work, even when it was about old, pent up or even current anger.
The ability to access the places in my body that hold traumatic energy, even years later, has been priceless (and very difficult but worth it) healing work. John Barnes and his tribe of skilled teachers and practitioners has created this safe space to heal. And thanks to him, I can hold that space for others and pay that gift forward now.
I found another safe place to be angry when I walked into Master Holloway’s Tae Kwon Do class over ten years ago. I didn’t know it at first, but he also held a space in that Dojo that allowed a processing of emotion. I learned quickly that all I needed to do was show up, no matter how I felt that day, and the movements, teachings and his calm, quiet and accepting presence would do the rest. I’ll be forever grateful for that gift.
And a few times over the years an individual has shown up in my life to help me know I’m enough, help me express the real me and help me stand up for what I believe. Who believed in me more than I did. These people are angels. I’ve been lucky enough to have several along my journey keeping me in check, giving me a safe place to be angry, and still loving me every bit as much as before despite that anger. There aren’t enough thank you’s, no words strong enough to express, just how much these people mean to me. You’re the air I breathe. Thank you.
Tell me…how would it feel to have a safe space to be angry? What we’re you taught about that? What would be a better way to think, believe and act now? What are you holding so deep inside it’s rotting a hole in your soul? Are you afraid to let go? Who taught you to be afraid? How is it different now?
What will help you be brave?
What will help you heal?
Sending you courage and warrior love,
Laura’s live workshop, When Your Soul Speaks; Writing as a Path to Healing starts this Tuesday 1/3/17. If you’re near Bethesda and looking for a safe space to do some brave healing…this is it. You can find the info for that, and for her online course at www.BraveHealer.com