Treat anger with tenderness


I just read a lovely post on grieving. and it made me reflect upon how tied together grief and anger actually are and it made me raise this question, how much more aware and more skilful could we be as a society if we had a deeper understanding and empathy for what actually can lie at the base of anger and how often grief and anger are connected?

Anger and aggressive outbursts can be a huge factor in all kinds of Complex PTSD situations.  The frustration or thwarting of essential longings and needs in a person’s life leave huge scars as we are literally wired for connection and soothing.   To be highly traumatised due to abuse or other injury means to be have all senses on high alert, and anger is a justifed and often deeply compounded response or affect of what occurred to a person who was consistently invalidated or suffered huge lacks or losses that were beyond the person’s control.  Having a sense of how and why the person may be in pain and how anger comes from underlying pain means we are in a better situation to show love and compassion which are soothing elixars which help to calm the person down, rather than incite more pain and anger in them.

One of the reasons I feel strongly drawn to the teachings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is because he puts a strong emphasis on this kind of approach when dealing with intensity and anger.  As a very active advocate for peace and sensitive compassion much of his teaching concentrates on taking a soft emotionally attuned approach to the deeper wounds, grief, loss or injuries underlying anger.  I highly recommend his book Anger : Buddhist Advice for Cooling the Flames. 

In this book he explains how the best approach to a person who is suffering is to be told “I see your suffering and pain, I care about it, I would really like to be able to help or be there for you”  In this situation we don’t advise, we don’t say what we wish or hope for the person we just offer our help and our care and our love.  We don’t try to admonish the person or tell them they need to get over it, or should be at peace, we just acknowledge with kindness and empathy the deeper sensitivity or wound that may underlie the behaviour.    We can say things like “I see you are angry and that’s okay”  we can ask for feedback, we can accept where the person is and if they are still angry or won’t be appealed to in this way we may take some distance.

One of the sentences that most appealed to me in the post I mentioned above was the one that said that anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.  What might happen if when the anger was expressed we were not so scared but could see into the heart of the person crying out to love and be loved or crying out due to the losses or grief from other times?  What would happen if we could respond from this place?

I know personally how hard that is to do as I shared in a post the other day I broke up with an ex when he was really angry about something that hurt.  At the time I was blinded to the hurt beneath the anger.  I know the anger and hurt was also associated to far more than the incident with me that only served as a trigger. And for those other wounds I was not responsible and I was also powerless over the other person’s response and his anger.  After it all blew over I tried the best way I could to show love.  By then the relationship was over, but it served as a very painful reminder to me of how grief and anger can be so closely intertwined and how important it is for purposes of connection and communication to understand this connection.

Anger is just one of the five stages of grief explored in the post mentioned but it seems to be a most essential one as anger can express itself in all kinds of mysterious ways when we are grieving the loss of something or someone that was so important to us.

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