Across cultural and racial differences, humans still share more in common with each other than differences. If you need proof of such common ground, then consider this universal response pattern habituated by most people when they experience anger—first comes withdrawal, then growing frustration and impatience, finally explosive projection.
To illustrate this, when we feel uncertain or face an unknown situation, there is a greater likelihood to be cautious, maybe even passive, rather than adventuresome and experimental. Such withdrawal, instead of active engagement with life, is because much of our training in infancy and onward prepared us less for thriving and more for surviving with an intended consequence of avoiding negative outcomes.
However, if everything we do is about not getting hurt, not doing it wrong, not losing what we already have, we are essentially basing our decisions on avoiding what we fear. Operating from this “cup half empty” perspective not only limits our options but also transforms us into pessimists. And eventually, everything and everyone become something of which to be wary or feared. Withdrawal, thus, evolves into our favoured course of action. As an example, those who suffer mental illness signal their dis-ease to us by their increasing withdrawal from society. During a difficult emotional time, you may have recognized your own signs of withdrawal and caught yourself before submitting completely to the escape urge.
If you weren’t able to resist the urge to withdraw, you might have also felt increasing frustration, impatience and resentment with emerging events and/or people. Maybe you noticed how quickly you jumped from frustration to full-blown rage, which you then spewed onto those in closest proximity.
What withdrawal, frustration and explosive anger all have in common is suppression of emotion. Why do humans feel the need to suppress emotion? The simple answer is, we fear losing control. My friend, Jake, taught me that FEAR, particularly in today’s contemporary society, is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Unless we live in impoverished, war-torn or other violent circumstances, most of the seven billion people alive today no longer need to fight for life and death. Nonetheless, many still operate from an irrational fearful belief that life is “out to get us” rather than provide for us in our efforts to thrive.
Of course you may be pondering, “Who doesn’t fear rage especially when it is directed at you with full force?” And you are right, the majority of people fear extreme forms of anger. Rightly so because extreme anger, whether suppressed or outwardly expressed and projected onto others, is harmful.
Whenever we partake in extreme stewing (withdrawal) or verbal and physical aggression, we are assaulting and bullying ourselves and others.
Regardless of whether you find yourself on the receiving end of rage or the aggressor, the inclination is to withdraw from or return the attack. It is exactly these fearful responses that begin us down the slippery slope of suppression. As a receiver, we don’t want to be the brunt of someone else’s anger and/or rage so we withdraw from them and suppress our own hurt and resentment. As an aggressor, we often feel shame for committing the act and suppress not only the shame but the entire angry event by blaming others for our behaviour. And thus, the cycle of withdrawal-frustration-rage resurfaces to be repeated again and again until we choose to break it.
When we suppress any of our emotions, we deny our authenticity. Denial of who we truly are triggers internal conflict. This inner warring, between the truth and “what appears to be real” but isn’t, emerges outwardly as a battle between opposite, extreme choices—suppression and explosive expression. Specifically, interactions with others show up as withdrawal, frustration and outright verbal and physical aggression.
So, what is the antidote for gaining control over our extreme behaviours particularly when we are so out of control? Are you feeling helpless to alter the negative pattern and outcomes? Have faith, there is a silver lining contained within our extreme reactions.
Every emotional and physical reaction that surfaces within is a signal to our current state of mind. An extreme reaction (withdrawal in the form of suppression or frustration and rage in the form of aggression) signals you are unhappy, anxious, un-well. Fortunately, self-awareness is 90% of the solution. The remaining 10% of personal mastery is about making choices that bring about different positive outcomes—happiness, peacefulness, wellness.
Here is a two-step process to keep you growing your own personal mastery with regard to expressing healthy anger:
- Name and claim, without blame, your emotion as it rises up to your awareness. Accept that you feel angry in that moment. Anger is neither good nor bad. Recognize that the feelings are all located within you, which means you can choose to change them. As an example:“I am angry right now. It is my anger. I can feel it in my stomach.”OR“I want to escape this situation. When this much rage exists, I feel helpless.”
- To unveil your truth, ask yourself “What am I afraid of that has me behaving this way?” Wait and listen for your authentic self to provide you with the answer. It may take a second, a minute, or an hour for the answer to emerge. The longevity of response time is determined by how resistant we are to receiving the truth. Be patient, the truth will show itself in spite of our resistance.
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