There’s no such thing as a ‘negative’ emotion, only negative behaviors or consequences of our choices. All emotions are important and give us information we need to know. They are each like a little flag waving to get our attention so we can understand who we are and what is important to us. But anger is one emotion that most people, especially women, struggle with the most. I’ll discuss the difference between anger and rage and what to do about each too.
Most people are taught very young that their anger is not welcome or valid. Instead of having a trusted caretaker who understands the importance of feeling, validating and then managing our emotions in an environment of acceptance, most of us when angry as children are met with even more, and scarier anger from a bigger person with a lot more power. So not only is our own anger shamed or invalidated, another person’s anger can be very scary or hurtful. So we learn not to acknowledge how we feel, to be ashamed of it, or to fear it. This is like holding a beach ball under the water. Have you ever tried to do this? It’s exhausting and often ends up popping up and hitting you or someone near you in the face. Yep, that’s what anger does when it is not allowed. And then it can turn to rage over time.
Imagine a pool full of people all trying to hold down beach balls. Those beach balls come flying out in all directions in all kinds of inappropriate or unwarranted moments hitting other people in the face who have nothing to do with your beach ball and not ready to catch it because they are busy holding down their own beach ball. What a mess!
Imagine this: When you were very young and you were angry at something very small—someone took your toy or you didn’t get your way and whether you cried in your anger or hit or otherwise lashed out, a bigger, loving person said, “Oh, that just made you so angry, and disappointed, and sad! I understand why you would feel that way. Come and let me hold you, and when you feel like it, you can tell me all about it or you can just go play when you are all done” and they did. Even better would be if they played with you and let you act out all those emotions through your play. What if this happened over and over until you learned that your anger and the feelings under it were valid and yet you could soothe them? How would your life be different?
Under anger is almost always a boundary violation, a disappointment, a frustration, a sadness, or a loss, all of which are valid from that person’s shoes. Anger is just a bigger signal to pay attention to these other emotions or other information. It’s often protective. We need to have energy to respond to a serious boundary violation and sometimes anger gives us that because we must assert our boundary. If you don’t, you are holding down yet another beach ball. Some of us have way too many beach balls to hold down and they start flying out everywhere.
Holding down a beach ball can make you sick too. Holding down a lot of them can cause rage and that can make you REALLY sick. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote that hating someone (or something) is like taking poison and hoping the other will die.
The difference between anger and rage is that rage is old. It comes from when you were much younger and has been held down far too long. Regular emotions dissipate, often on their own within a day if you give them some space—name it, claim and aim it—see a former article about that. Rage or other stuck emotions do not easily dissipate. That’s how you know. It’s like the beach ball hitting you in the face. It’s strong and sometimes shocking and does not feel good or proportional to the situation at hand.
I often find it useful to ask my clients, after we identify and validate the feeling or thought they are expressing, how old they feel in that moment. Almost all clients are able to identify a younger age. Their inner wisdom knows it’s old and unresolved. When I ask them the first time they remember feeling this same way, often a specific memory or age reveals itself. That’s where to start popping the beach balls. Many clients can also quantify how much of the present situation is part of their anger or rage and how much of it is from the past. They are so smart and wise when we get the story out of the way and let their inner wisdom lead!
Women, or girls, in particular are taught that expressing anger is unwelcome, unladylike and you will get called the ‘B’ word very early on for doing something boys or men can do without the same censure. So girls learn even earlier to not listen to their inner guidance or push back against a boundary violation. This leads girls and women to more easily be targets for violence when they learn not to trust their intuition early on. And the flip side of anger is depression and anxiety and more women come to therapy with those complaints, as well as physical ones. Once we scratch the surface of that in coaching or therapy, there are a whole lotta beach balls under there!
Rage must be dealt with even more on the unconscious level than anger. With the right help, it doesn’t have to take a long time to pop those beach balls but it’s often too much to do on your own. If you suspect you are dealing with a lot of beach balls or a really big one, reach out and get some professional help. Often friends or family have their own beach balls and are not able to respond well to yours since they are often exhausted or fearful of their own beach balls. Often we judge each other’s beach balls because we aren’t looking at our own or busy fending off the flying beach balls from others.
A first step in releasing a beach ball is to simply let it rise up. Name the actual emotion, not the story behind it. Here’s the cliff note version: Mad, Sad, Glad, Scared, Disgusted. The basic emotions. Then breathe and breathe again while you just let that emotion be there. Notice where you feel it in your body and breathe into that space. It will naturally rise to the surface and float away. Then you can decide what to do about the story without the added effort and exhaustion of holding down the beach ball. Then you have more conscious choice in how you respond, not react, to the situation and emotion. That’s a simplified version but of course, many of us need a bit of help to work through the feelings and story behind it. Reach out for help from a trusted guide or professional. You deserve it.
It is possible to play with your beach ball above the water. In fact, playing with your beach ball above the water is so much easier and fun and no one gets hurt! Let’s play and stop holding those beach balls down.
I can be reached for coaching, consultation, therapy and beach ball play at firstname.lastname@example.org Let’s play!