As a preface to this: This is a personal account, told as bluntly as I can tell it, and because I hope that others will be helped if I narrate my path. Also, I have come to completely love, accept and forgive anything in my family of origin- and I really loved my dad. That doesn’t change the truth of the story.
I had a mad dad. When things didn’t go well, he would bang and break. He would bully sales clerks and support people with his analytical brilliance. There was usually a low level of exasperation and sighing in his presence. It was this way before my mother died, and continued until he was well into stage 4 cancer. My stepmom wore her jaw down by clenching it over many decades, and although she’s a very cool and aware person now, I can remember her kicking her foot through my plywood bedroom door, because I had locked it and wouldn’t come out. I never understood their anger, I just learned to get out of the unhappy way, and wait for the good part of them to return. I would run, hide out, dream, and wait for the wave to pass. But the loneliness and fear in these moments didn’t stop me from growing up and doing the same kind of thing in my own household.
As a parent and a wife and a worker, my ire would rise at any number of things- toys not put away, bills not paid, projects not completed- and the only skill I knew to deal with the frustration of things not being just so, just the way I wanted, was …. yelling. If people couldn’t hear me, I would just be louder. If people couldn’t understand me, I would be more vocal and talk over them until they ‘heard’ the message. If they didn’t see that it mattered a lot, I would swear like a sailor for emphasis. In retrospect, this was isolating, and lonely, and I always felt horrible after an episode, while still justifying my anger as a natural reaction to something someone else did or failed to do.
I even used the story of Jesus overturning the moneychangers tables in the temple as an example of righteous justified anger- even the great teacher of peace got angry, see? And then there’s the dirty secret- anger is a fueling empowering energy. It made me feel alive. For a few minutes, it made me feel less shitty about who I am and what I’m doing in the world and my own inability to communicate… when it was somebody elses’ fault.
I later learned intermediate expressions of anger that weren’t vociferous, like ignoring or avoiding people, but, this didn’t work either. People still felt judged and unloved by me.
My kids told me about it, and I didn’t have the power or skill to change it yet, but their sweet earnestness and my desire to do right by them planted the seed that it had to change.
Then I started studying yoga and meditating. On the mat, I began to really feel just how serious of a impact this pervasive dissatisfaction and negativity had on my whole body, and when it arose. And how deeply judgmental I was toward myself and others. I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. The seed sprouted.
Then I met a gentle man, who loved me. I was one in a long line of angry women he had selected to love. But something about our timing invited a change in both of us. He was able to say to me that it wasn’t okay for me to speak that way, not to him or anyone else. That it hurt everyone, and didn’t create an atmosphere of love and acceptance and peace, it didn’t create the haven that is home. That I could choose differently. That he needed me to choose differently: if I wanted him to be open and truthful and real with me, I had to be safe. This love was worth looking even more deeply at the anger. And now I had a sapling.
The deep inner work on feeling loved came next. More meditation, more prayer, more singing, more giving. Letting the love that is around me in, not pushing it away like I pushed the unloving things away, just to stay “safe”. One key step in this was repatterning subconscious and familial stories and imprints. That came through the work of Mark Wolynn’s Hellinger Family Constellation sessions, and through intermittent sessions with a spiritual counselor to feel and expose what was keeping me in this box. I read everything on anger (and on lying, which was my husband’s response to anger), so I could understand the systems we had created- the intricate defenses and offenses to get through our lives. The tree was growing.
Then it came time for practical skills. Three things were indispensable:
1) Greg Baer’s fantastic work Real Love (if you’re a parent, run, don’t walk, and buy Real Love and Parenting– then do what he says in the book starting now). It is the foundational shift in consciousness that needs to occur. Baer in his work looks a lot at anger- saying things like, “When you are angry you are always wrong.” “Never speak in anger.” “Anger is consistently destructive.” At the same time, he teaches that the answer is always love, and gives very practical examples of how that works, that are easy to emulate.
2) Then there are the very tangible skills taught in Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication materials, which I can’t recommend enough.
3) Finally, study. I had to change my own thinking significantly, and the mind-blowing shifts were guided by many spiritual texts, Emerson and Thoreau and the long lost Tantric text, the Heart of Recognition- almost metaphysical texts about who we are and what we’re here to do.
Now, the tree of peace is bearing fruit. This fruit is joy, kindness, patience, abundance, loving relationships, the best work I have ever done, honest communication and a new openness. I still get anxious, and I still get angry sometimes, but I rarely spew it on those around me, and when I do, I am quick to come clean, to forgive myself and to forgive others. The lapses tend to come when I am off my practice, when I get too busy to stay tuned in and aware of what I am feeling and thinking about life, and to reality-check those thoughts.
The journey toward vibrant, optimistic and beautiful living and away from ambition, anxiety, negativity and anger has taken a decade for me, because I was feeling my way in unknown territory, and undoing many generations of inherited anger and sadness, and creating a new way. It doesn’t have to take that long for you, if anger is getting in the way of your fullest life, if its pushing others away and alienating you from yourself.
Now, I wake up every day feeling so so incredibly loved and loving, easy and open, and its the contrast to the tight little core of fear and inadequacy I carried for so many years that its like being let out of prison.
So begin. Anger is always wrong. Love is always right. Do Hellinger, do Real Love, do NVC. Sit every day, for 5 minutes, then 10 then 20. Quietly, with no distractions, and let your breath and thoughts rise and fall, go deeply inward. Practice conscious service and kindness. Forgive yourself for wrongs done, forgive others. Take responsibility for your life.
Start now. It’s your life to live, and every day spent in less than love is wasting it. Take my word for it, the fruit of this tree is the most delicious thing you have ever tasted.