We, as a culture, have a schizophrenic relationship with anger. On the one hand, we are a nation quite comfortable with anger. Observe a youth soccer match, for example. Ask anyone who’s ever worked in customer service. Try going the speed limit. In the fast lane.
On the other hand, there is an underlying judgment around anger. We shun those who can’t control their anger. There is a general disgust of people who lash out in anger at children or pets. We especially have a hard time with women showing anger. My mother described a situation where a woman was kicked off the bus last Saturday for playing her music too loud, despite numerous polite requests from the driver. The woman stormed off with some furious foul language. Everyone else was happy to see her go.
Which is right? Is anger okay or not?
All my life, I’ve been afraid of anger. Early experiences with anger led to violence, so logically, I avoided it. Yet, it was familiar, so I continually found myself in close relationships with people, most notably men, who did not manage their anger well.
I learned the skill of placating as a means to a peaceful household. Don’t rock the boat, baby. Lamentably, I also picked up some complimentary skills: questioning, judging, and avoiding my own anger. I adopted the double personality of the wider culture: Anger is great! But don’t express it or you will be judged harshly.
Quite recently, a situation came up in my life where I really had every right to be angry. It was a big one. In any rational person’s eyes, I would have been very much supported in being a royal asshole. Instead, I stayed calm and sweet. I treated the offender with equanimity, despite a horrific offense. I leaned into my habit to placate.
A few days later, the anger hit me like a speeding freight train, and as such, I had a hard time catching it. Having rarely allowed myself to be that close to anger, I had no idea what to do. I almost watched it whiz right by.
With some excellent coaching, and on a foundation of 25+ years of mindfulness practice, I sat with my anger, and, as in Buddhist imagery, invited my anger to tea. The invitation was accepted, but not until 3:45am.
Inviting my anger to tea sounds convivial, no? Imagine instead the fits and starts of a bumbling first date. She, (my anger, that is), sat there solid, hot, confident, and concentrated. I furtively glanced her way, waiting for the eventual violence to ensue. I breathed, and yes, the violence did arise – in my private, early morning tirade, in my pounding of a pillow, in my clenched teeth, and in some righteous and deliciously foul journaling.
After that, we had a lovely visit! She, (my anger, that is), wasn’t so scary after all. She and I are on the path to becoming swell chums.
In music, anger shows up almost as much as love, maybe more. Like mischievous twins, most songs are either sappy tributes to the delights of love or the power and intensity of anger at the world.
Angry songs are awesome! Isn’t it so validating to belt out songs like…?
Big Shot, Billy Joel
Not a Pretty Girl, Any DiFranco
Like the Way I Do, Melissa Etheridge
There are so many more: Linkin Park, Eminem, Seether, Rage Against the Machine, Kendrick Lamar, NWA, Rachmaninoff. You may have caught me roaring out Katy Perry’s famous angry song at a recent karaoke night. Felt SO good.
I didn’t notice my penchant for angry songs until after my tea date with Anger Herself. My phone is filled with them, some overt (Uprising, Muse) and others more subtle (See Saw, Aretha Franklin).
If you’ve been a fan for long, you know song writing is how I manage my big ‘ol sensitive heart. Singing my anger might well have been my only way to express it, at least until recently.
Now that Ms. Anger and I are on speaking terms, perhaps it’ll be that much easier to write the songs that say what I’m feeling. And then belt them at the top of my lungs.
I have a soft spot for anger. Maybe someday, we’ll even be on a first name basis.
What’s your favorite angry song?
Share about using creativity to express anger.
Let’s hear it, foul language and all!