This month’s Synchroblog is centered on Anger. Here’s the description: “Anger sometimes has a bad reputation. Some of us have been taught that anger is a negative emotion, something that should be squeezed out, prayed through, avoided. Others of us have been raised in families and churches that never allowed for expression of anger so we have no concept of what “healthy anger” even means. What do we think God thinks of our anger? What do we think of it? What are you learning about it? What’s hard about it? Where does God fit in to it? What do you want to say about it that needs to be said?
I’ve written about it here and there over time, sharing that it’s not a sin and part of healthy grief and important to recognize in nonviolent communication. Mostly, though, it’s just been weaved through all kinds of blog posts and in Faith Shift in different ways related to strong feelings about the church and systems and injustices and real-life.
I used to be so afraid of anger.
As a good Christian woman, anger was definitely considered a sin and something to be avoided at all costs. And because I couldn’t talk about it freely or express it in a safe place, I did end up sinning. When my kids were little I remember being filled with rage at them when they acted up in public or disobeyed me in a way that felt humiliating and it came out in horrid angry bursts that would always end with me feeling ashamed, certain I would never let myself sink that low again. What I discovered, though, is that other friends were struggling with some of those same feelings, too, but were afraid to talk about it. But when we said it out loud, some of the ugliness dissipated.
What I kept learning is that even though anger was the thing on the surface, the forces driving it were feelings of fear and shame.
When I started my free-fall out of traditional church and a painful faith shift, I couldn’t keep the anger I felt about church and leadership stuff contained any longer. One of the best things I ever did was let myself stay with my anger–really stay with it. Eventually, like a wave, it rolled over me and subsided. It took a longggg time, and oh, it was so hard for me to do. I felt guilty for being mad. Stupid. Immature.
Really, I was finally just being honest–with myself, with others, with God–about a lot of things brewing underneath.
It was–and still is–so hard for me to be that vulnerable.
But I keep learning that anger is a very healing and propelling emotion.
Less than 2 years ago, a dear friend brought the tool and practice of nonviolent communication to The Refuge. I am so grateful for (and completely annoyed by) the power of nonviolent communication. One of the things I love about it is that it takes us beyond feelings to what is going on underneath–our needs.
Needs are beautiful.
They are what we value. What fuels us. What drive us. What helps us thrive.
And in the same way I was taught in a lot of my family and church experiences not to have negative feelings, I was also taught not to have needs.
“Wasn’t Jesus all we really needed?” “It’s not about me, it’s about Him.” “It’s not about what I want, it’s about what He wants…or they want.” “If I were stronger, more faithful, more ______, I wouldn’t expect or need that.” Oh, goodness gracious, these messages are a whole other conversation, but this kind of jacked up theology can really mess with our ability to become healthy & free human beings.
Underneath the feelings of anger is usually an unmet need.
One of the best skills I learned in nonviolent communication is recognizing jackal words. These are words that describe how we are feeling (and help me better articulate what’s leading to anger) but in interpersonal communication probably won’t be that helpful because they point the finger. For example, “abandoned” is a jackal word. I used to use it all the time and it is an honest word to help me articulate what I’m feeling (sometimes I write long rambly diatribes or vent to a safe person using tons of jackal words to help get them out). But when I tell my friend, “I feel abandoned,” it is a set up for, “You abandoned me” instead of owning what might be going on underneath, like feeling terrified, sad, frightened, or lonely.
Those are far more vulnerable feelings.
And far less threatening in relationship.
But what’s most important isn’t just the feeling.
It’s the need underneath these feelings.
Underneath those feelings of terrified, sad, frightened, and lonely is the need for nurturing, connection, belonging, support, and caring.
Usually, my anger is an indication that some of what I value and need and thrive on has been compromised.
When it comes to issues of injustice, there’s a need or value underneath (and it’s beautiful).
When it comes to personal relationships or our struggle with ourselves, there’s a need or value underneath (and it’s beautiful).
Here’s a whole chart of jackal words and a chart of feelings and needs.
We each probably connect with some more than others.
Overall, they have helped me begin to expand my anger repertoire and allow myself to actually get to the real juice that’s fueling it.
Oh, so that’s what might be going on underneath it all…
So much transformation can come when we get in touch with what’s going on underneath anger and own these needs instead of resist them.
It’s not an easy task. It definitely does not come naturally for me, and I know I have only scratched the surface of so much. But I also know a piece of my ongoing work as a person, a wife, a mother, a friend, a pastor, an advocate, is to practice allowing myself to be angry–and then look deeper to see what’s really going on underneath.
What are you learning about anger?
Here’s a link list of other bloggers writing about anger this month; check them out:
- Mark Votava – Becoming Dreamers Again
- Carol Kuniholm – God’s Economy: Managing Anger Assets
- Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – The Easiest Way to Control and Manage Anger
- K.W. Leslie – Anger
- Glenn Hager – The Many Faces of Anger
- Paul Meier – The Value of Anger
- Pastor Fedex – Chain Reaction
- Jeremy Myers – You Sound Angry, Bitter, and Critical
- Michael Boden – Anger is Not a Godly Emotion
- Danielle Thorp – in which we get angry and nobody dies