Learning from Anger

I've only very recently begun to understand anger as a useful tool. About a year ago, maybe more, I told my spiritual director how upset I'd been feeling with someone who was very important to me. She asked if there was any physical way that I noticed those feelings, and I realized that when I got angry, my arms felt tingly and uncomfortable. That cue became incredibly helpful for recognizing my feelings-- there were times that I didn't realize I was angry until I noticed how uncomfortable my arms were!

Growing up, anger was not something I was allowed to show. Anger was rebellious, disobedient, insubordinate, and not to be tolerated. Anger meant there was something wrong with me. I've finally come to learn that anger is often a tool to show me that something really is wrong with the situation. Instead of fighting my anger, I see it as a flashlight, illuminating the circumstances so that I can see that something needs to change.

Yesterday, someone was very angry, and it felt disproportionate. I didn't feel responsible for that person's anger (that alone was amazing), but I thought about it for most of the day. As I journaled last night, I realized that what's true for me is also true for others: she was angry because something was wrong in her world. It's likely the situation was part of that wrong-ness, but it's just as likely that it was a piece of a larger whole.

This conclusion-- that it wasn't about me, that something she was experiencing felt wrong for her, gave me a really new outlook on other people's anger. I feel more comfortable with it, more patient and more understanding.

It is, of course, distinctly possible that I'm a little slow on the uptake with this realization, and it's stating the obvious for most people. For me, though, it was a long time coming, and a gift from God.


  1. I would never describe you as "slow." These are very important noticings from your prayer life.

  2. How strange...I have been thinking of the same thing lately. As I approach 40, I have noticed that my irritation with others doesn't mutate as quickly into ugly rage. I have come to understand that other people's "bizarre" behavior has nothing to do with me. This is an extremely peaceful feeling. Feeding other people's demons in addition to the care and feeding of my own just makes me sick and tired (literally). Perhaps when I am 60, I'll stop giving room and board to my own as well...and then won't that really be something? Thanks for the nice post!

  3. Anger's a hard one, that's for sure. And yes, as Iris said, very important noticings. Thanks for sharing this. (and thanks for the input on singing -- so true!)

  4. Love the Abigail Bartlett quote. I'll have to share that one with my husband (who is always quoting something from West Wing to me)


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins