I was so angry yesterday I threw a chair. It flew off the deck and is still sitting there, beneath the plum tree. A marker of my rage. The kids were inside, and my husband and I were outside having a, um, very, er, intense, conversation. I threw the chair and we stormed off to our seperate corners. We didn’t have wounds to lick – not wounds caused by that conversation, anyway. They were deeper wounds, things we’ve carried for some time. We hadn’t hurt each other with our words, but we had bared all and it funnelled up in me, needing a physical expression. And we needed time after to sit, and weep, and wonder if it would all be okay.

We came back together after a while. And the follow-up conversation took all day. Snatched at between the grocery shop and the visit to the dump. Healing grew between us as the kids raced the dog at the park after dinner. And by the time we kissed each other good night we were filled with hope again. We knew it would be okay. We knew a few things had to change, but everything was fresh and new as though a fierce wind had blown through, sweeping away discontent and frustration and the fuzzy mildew of so many years together.

Anger is important

We can be so afraid of anger. We are afraid of it in ourselves, in others. We are especially afraid of it in children! So many times I have heard an adult describe a young child’s rage as “frightening.” We are conditioned to see anger as naturally destructive rather than serving a vital role.

Anger is one of our most powerful emotions. It’s the emotion of change. The feeling that tells us that something HAS to stop or start or grow or back the f*%k off! We ignore anger at our peril. Without it we wouldn’t have the vision or courage to step away from a toxic job or partner, we would never say “enough is enough” and have those raw conversations that lead to healing. We wouldn’t be drawn to hold something up to the light, to question its value in our life. Anger leads to transformation.

In the same way, all societal change stems from anger. Every social justice movement began with someone having a righteous rage. THIS IS NOT OKAY. WE MUST ACT. Anger is the fuel in the engine of human rights, art, progress.

When we squash our anger, we deny ourselves the glorious opportunity for change.

When we swallow it down or pretend it isn’t there, we end up sitting on a volcano – not knowing when it might blow and cause destruction.

When we are shocked or upset by our children’s anger we teach them from their earliest days that anger is bad, we lose the chance to show them how sacred and transformative anger can be.

When we punish or shame our children for their angry words, we can unintentionally feed this sense in them that some of their emotions are unloveable. We ask them to do what we have been doing our whole lives- to keep the anger in and feel guilty, rather than to use it to give birth to something the world needs. why we need to embrace anger, 30 ways to do so

How you get angry is important

It’s not okay to hurt people with our anger. But too often, after years of squishing it down, that’s what ends up happening. The anger seeps out as an insipid bitterness, poisoning our relationships and our dreams and our sense of self. Or one day we snap and we hurt the people we love most.

Rather than telling children not to be angry, or telling them to stay calm, or to be kind, we are best to model a healthy anger process.  We must intentionally engage with our anger and find ways to process it. We must embrace it as one of our most powerful emotions, welcome it as a precious midwife of change. All heaven will break loose when parents face up the anger they feel and step into beautiful ways of dealing with it.

(And, of course, while our children are still learning about how to work with their anger, we may have to hold them, to tell them it’s not okay to hurt people with our anger.)

Knowing what type of regulator you are really helps

Understanding what kind of regulator we are can help us figure out some of the best ways to process our anger. The regulatory types were first bought to my awareness by Ruth Beaglehole of the Centre for Non Violent Parenting and you can read more about them here.  They are simple ways that we can decompress our stress states, to get back into a regulated brain state.

Auditory regulator

I am an auditory regulator. My warning signs tend to come from my mouth – gritted teach, short breath.

In a stressful situation regulate by:

  • Making a “regulation playlist” – music that lifts your spirits
  • Having a mantra that you say or listen to
  • Listening to affirmations.

Movement regulator

If you want to fight and move your body when overwhelmed, you are possibly a movement regulator.

In a stressful situation regulate by:

  • Going for a run
  • Doing some yoga stretches
  • Punching a pillow
  • Having a bath
  • Swinging or rocking

Oral regulator

If you swear and scream or sigh then you may be an oral regulator.

In a stressful situation regulate by:

  • Taking a deep breath in, holding for a few seconds and then breathing out through a mouth pursed, as if through a straw.
  • Singing
  • Roaring
  • Repeating a mantra

Touch regulator
Do you pull at things, your hair or your top? You may be a touch regulator.

In a stressful situation regulate by:

  • Stroking your pet
  • Getting under a soft/ weighted blanket
  • Having a bath/ shower
  • Using a stress ball or ones of those new fidget spinners.

Visual regulator
If you do a death stare or need people to look at you, “LOOK AT ME you may be a visual regulator.

In a stressful situation regulate by:

  • Looking at your favourite painting on the wall
  • Looking at photos of your children when they were tiny
  • Looking at photos of your favourite people or places

Some of the ideas above might work for processing your anger in a healthy way. However, you might need to upgrade these actions, double down on them, create a more intense version of some of the above!

A list of healthy ways to process your anger

I’ve done some of that doubling down in this list of ideas for processing anger. There is something in here for every kind of regulator! Read through this list and see which ones leap out at you. Find a way of bringing these in to your life, not simply when you are angry but as a regular, frequent way of letting off steam.

  • Digging in the garden
  • Pulling weeds
  • Chopping wood
  • Listening to seriously loud music in the car THUNDER! NANANANANANANANA!
  • Screaming and shouting in the car in remote places!
  • Going to a wild beach or the end of a pier and bellowing into the waves
  • Dancing – aggro, sweaty anger dancing, in a club or in your living room
  • Martial Arts class or punching bag in the garden
  • Going for a run
  • Angry yoga
  • Swearing! Into your pillow or writing swears into your journal (this might seem petty but our brains register curse words as pure emotion, so there is a neurological reason for why swearing can be therapeutic!)
  • Speaking out loud all of your rage – this must be in a safe place, a dearly trusted friend or in a moon circle (my primary reason for beginning a moon circle was to process all the rage I found bubbling up as a mother!) This one is really, super important. A human right! We don’t need to be angry alone. We should share our big feelings with safe people! We are a community! Let’s share our vulnerable, angry selves with each other.
  • Walking in nature
  • Hugging trees
  • Burying feet in sand
  • Climbing trees
  • Lighting a fire and throwing things in it that represent your problems
  • Also, like, er, if your neighbours are cool, chant/ dance/scream at the fire.

An invitation

Last week Parent Allies ran three events with our trustee, psychotherapist and author of Parenting for a Peaceful World, Robin Grille. On our way to the middle event we were chatting about anger. I told the story about how in one of my first jobs a colleague of mine got real furious at his computer and ran to the stationary cupboard and ROARED. Like he seriously just let loose. And how at the time I thought it was a bit strange, but how now I see it as being quite healthy and what a shame that we don’t have regular rituals like that, where we can accept anger as a natural, healthy emotion?

And then Robin shared with me a story that gave me goose bumps. It’s a ritual that some First Nations people hold dear. When they plant a tree they gather around the hole, and into the hole they’ve dug together someone who needs to will scream. They will roar. They will let out all their pain and grief and anger. Everyone stands by, patiently, knowing that the person is remembering all the times they’ve been wounded and jealous and bitter and mad. They’ll spit it all out into the dank earth.  Then they’ll plant the tree. Packing the dirt over the roots of the little sapling and over the hurt that’s been poured in. Over the coming years, with every inch that tree grows, every new leaf and bloom and berry, the person will feel their wounds heal and the community will know again the mysterious force of our emotions. The life that can come out of our blackest feelings, of our darkest night. That the earth and humankind is big enough for our rawness and our vulnerability – they can handle it. We just need to find the courage to face it.

I invite you to get to know your own anger. When you feel it bubbling up use it as an invitation to spark something important in you. When you have got to grips with your own anger, when you have full expression of it and see it as a beautiful, righteous rage, you will be far better able to hold the space for your own children when they are angry. You won’t be frightened of their big feelings. You won’t worry that your punchy kid might some day be a fighter.  You’ll stop them hurting the people they love, you’ll talk with them later about how important their anger is. You’ll take in what they were protesting and see if you can support them to find change in that area. Eventually they’ll learn what they need to do to process their anger in a healthy way. You’ll see them going for an angry bounce on the trampoline and you’ll think phew.

But most importantly, they’ll look at you and see you embracing anger. Their lives won’t be lived in the shadow of their big feelings, but in the magnificent light of honest, beautiful life-bringing emotion.

1 Comment

  • Sarah March 6, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Brilliant! Made me tearful and inspired at the same time!
    If we could really embrace this, as people and as parents, just imagine what the world would be like.


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