Today's episode is all about how to befriend anger. It's an emotion that can do great harm and one that also has great benefits.
Whether you thrive on anger or try your best to bury it, one thing's for sure—we all have to reckon with it. When you learn to work with your anger, it can become a powerful force for good in your life and in the lives of the people you love. Today, my friend Rowena Day (see Episode 31) returns to the podcast as we discuss how we've learned to create space for healthy anger in our lives.
Here's what we cover:
1. Practical strategies to befriend and build trust with anger
2. The guilt and fear we feel about having anger
3. How to manage anger while parenting
4. Examples of speaking on behalf of anger vs. from it
5. The problem with comparing our pain to the pain of others
6. Jesus and anger
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
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- Guided IFS Reflections:
- Psalms 51:6 "You desire truth and our inward parts, and in the hidden part." (NKJV)
- Matthew 11:30 "Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly." (Message)
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- Boundaries for Your Soul, by Kimberly Miller & Dr. Alison Cook
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Other Episodes in this Series:
- Episode 39 Boundaries for Your Soul—How to Navigate Your Overwhelming Thoughts & Feelings
- Episode 40 5 Steps to Healing Painful Emotions & Why Parts of Us Get Stuck in the Past
- Episode 41 Boundaries With Fear And Anxiety—How to Calm the Chaos Within and the Joy of Internal Boundaries
- Episode 42 How to Honor Sadness, Set Boundaries with Loneliness, and What to Do When You Don't Have Time for this Work
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook and Guest Rowena Day
Episode 44: Healthy Boundaries for Your Soul – Anger.
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Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Best of You podcast. This is our last episode in this series on Healthy Boundaries for Your Soul. This has been such a powerful series, and I've appreciated hearing from so many of you. Wherever you listen, whether it's Apple, or Spotify, or Amazon, music, or wherever you get your podcast, how much you've gotten out of this series.
So thank you for listening, thank you for subscribing, thank you for giving me your feedback. I love creating this podcast, and I just so appreciate hearing from you and knowing that it's reaching so many people who need these resources.
As we close out this series, I want to leave you feeling equipped and empowered, to do good in this world and to create change in your life and relationships. And one of the most empowering emotions that we have is our experience with anger. Anger is such a valuable member of your internal family. It can alert you to danger, whether you're being mistreated by someone else or maybe you're even in physical danger.
It can motivate you to take action on behalf of yourself or on behalf of an injustice that you're witnessing. It can help you point out brave truths. It's also one of our most uncomfortable emotions. It's an emotion we often fear, or don't like, or even exile. Sometimes we push it away.
But if we do not befriend our anger, it will come out. It can come out as irritability, as aggression. It can come out as harsh or critical judgments toward ourselves or toward others.
It can come out as cynicism or bitterness. It can come out as physical tension in our bodies, or anger can come out sideways as passive aggression.
These little digs, where we get it out, but not really directly in a way that is healthy for our souls and for our relationships. So there's a lot to cover here with this emotion.
So for today's episode, I invited my dear friend, Rowena Day, back on the podcast, to be a conversation partner with me, as we discuss this emotion of anger. Rowena was first on the podcast in episode 31. Where she talked about being a peacemaker, and how she had to learn to befriend anger as someone who really loves to keep the peace.
Rowena is a writer, an artist, and a spiritual director in training. She's the mom of four children between the ages of one and eight. She and her husband live in Washington, D.C. We met over a decade ago at a spiritual listening community. Where we became friends and discovered each other as kindred spirits, on this journey toward emotional and spiritual wholeness. And we have both worked really hard to create a healthy relationship with anger.
It doesn't come naturally for either of us. We've had a lot of conversations about it over the years, and I'm so happy to have her on the podcast today. Let's dive into our conversation about anger.
Welcome back to the podcast, Rowena. I'm so glad you are here today with me.
Rowena: Thanks for having me back, Alison. This is a really important conversation.
Alison: I thought it was so interesting. And I didn't know you were going to do this in that first episode, where you came on to talk about peacekeeping. Where you really brought it back to this experience of anger, and that the two really go hand in hand to be a more effective, more powerful peacekeeper.
Someone who really shows up wisely in relationships with others versus someone who just bypasses yourself, in order to keep peace for others. You have to get in touch with your anger. And that really resonated with my experience of being what I would call someone who likes to please others, likes to perform for others. Where I had to realize that anger sometimes felt like a disruptor, in a negative way.
Because how can I please someone else if I'm feeling angry? And, yet, the reality is it actually empowers me to the higher good, which isn't just to please or to perform. It's to actually create good, to create real help, to create meaningful change, in the lives of other people and in my own life. So I really resonated with that. And I'm so glad we're going to talk about it today. I'd love to get started, for you to just talk about how have you come to understand anger.
Rowena: Mh-hmm, anger is such a powerful force and it can create such an internal conflict. And I think this internal conflict is not talked about a whole lot for women because, I think, women are socialized mostly. Maybe not every woman identifies with this. But, I think, it is true for a lot of women that we are socialized to see anger as all bad.
And, so, it's very uncomfortable when we feel it in our bodies to know what to do with it. It's a hidden power and a hidden fuel. And it can lead either to destruction, outwardly or inner, inward disintegration or fragmentation, of ourselves. Or it can be a fuel that leads to greater goodness, and integration, wholeness, and healing of fragmented parts of ourselves.
And, so, it takes a lot of practice to figure out how to harness anger well and have a healthy self-expression of it. And, so, I think in our society, we probably have a false dichotomy of anger. Where on one side of the spectrum, you can either bypass, suppress, or deny your anger. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you can have an eruption or an explosion of anger. That's like a volcano that just erupts in a really destructive way.
And, so, there's this false dichotomy where it's either I suppress it or I explode. And there's just such a range in the middle where there's healthy self-expression of anger. And this is really tricky to navigate when you're feeling it in your body because there's all these other emotions that entangle and wrap around it.
But there really is a third option to express it in a healthy way. And you talk about this a lot, but the key is to have a lot of curiosity and compassion for these angry parts of ourselves. And we don't want to suffocate the flame of anger or stoke it so much that it's exploding into a huge fire.
So I think the fire analogy is really helpful. Like a fire can produce warmth and light when it's contained. But when the fire goes out, there's no light and no warmth anymore. And then if the fire is huge, it can set off a whole forest and cause immense damage.
And, so, having a healthy amount of anger in our lives is actually good, and it's a God-given emotion. And it's just so important that we figure out, our minds can think one way about it and our bodies can feel a different way.
Alison: Yes, it's so true. It's so good. And because it is such a physical emotion, we feel it in our bodies. I think also that's where there's some fear with it. Because if and when you've, and as we say, lost your temper or become angry, it's scary. It's almost like it takes over. It's an activating emotion. So it activates us to move, and to get big, and to yell, do these things that can be harmful.
And, so, it really is a process of learning how to have this grounded experience of, sometimes I use the word authoritative anger, of gravitas, of healthy sternness. Because when we don't have enough, when it's too far away, we actually can become passive, or feel like we're a victim of our circumstances, or feel helpless, and that's not healthy.
But if it becomes that volcano, or if it becomes that raging, blazing fire that will burn the forest down. We're hurting the people that we love, and we're not being effective in our anger. And, so, I love that metaphor. I think it's really helpful. I think the trick here is to learn how to befriend our anger, to find it in our bodies, so that we can lead it versus either shoving it away, exiling it to where it's not constructive to us, or letting it take us over.
Rowena: Yes, exactly, I love this part in Psalm 51 where it says, "You desire truth and our inward parts, and in the hidden part, you will make me to know wisdom."
And Jesus also says, "Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." And this is incredibly appealing. Who doesn't want to live with that sense of inner freedom and lightness, no matter what is happening externally or internally?
And having a harmonious internal family system is crucial for this. And anger is a big part of that for me, and for lots of other women, learning to witness this part of ourselves, and see it in front of us, and bringing it to the light with other people. So that truth can come to these inner parts and can be unraveled, and put in its rightful place in our life instead of being exiled within us.
It can so easily become a trapped emotion, where you've got fear on the front end for me. And then guilt on the back end, literally, a sandwich with anger in the middle and, literally, trapped by other emotions that are terrified of feeling this feeling, and then guilty for feeling it afterwards.
So, yes, it's incredibly important to see anger in front of us and then see the other emotions around it that are keeping it stuck and trapped. Either in this ping-ponging back and forth between suppressing, and denying, and then exploding.
Alison: Yes, or they're stuck, I love how you describe that. I remember when you and I were talking about anger a little bit, last summer. And you described, literally, that feeling of... because those parts of you that were fearful of it were trying to shut it down. And, so, then there's a war inside of you. There's "I'm angry, but I can't be angry."
Rowena: Exactly, yes, you asked me a question about how anger felt in my body, and I immediately felt a lump in my throat. And it was hard to talk, and hard to swallow, and it was just like, "Wow, this is a physical barrier between my brain and my body that is just trying to keep anger from coming out." And it was so interesting how you think about anger in a certain way in your mind. But then your experience of it, in your body, is so telling and so important to pay attention to.
Alison: And I remember that conversation, Rowena, because this parts work, that we're talking about. Really what was going on, it was the part of you that was terrified coming up against the part of you that was really angry, and both were valid.
And, so, that was that feeling of just literal stuckness inside your body. Like, "What do I do here? I've got these two emotions and, yet, I need to feel a little bit angry because it's real. But the fear was just keeping you from any sort of healthy expression of the anger.
Alison: So as I think about how we learn to access that anger. I think about how Harriet Lerner talks about in her book The Dance of Anger. How our families, our most intimate relationships; whether our relationships with our own parents. Whether our relationships as parents, our relationships with our kids, or with a spouse is that real crucible, ironically and paradoxically, for anger. Because these are the relationships we care about the most. We have the most passion. They're the most delicate, they're the most important.
These are the relationships that have shaped us. These are the relationships we're keenly responsible, that we are shaping there are high stakes. And, so, they're the relationships where we want to be our best, calmest, wisest self. Especially our relationship as parents. And, yet, these are also the relationships that tend to bring up these angry parts of us. That without these people bumping it to us, in our space, in our day to day lives, we might blissfully be able to just ignore. If we live, by ourselves, on the top of a mountain, we don't have to deal with our anger.
But it's when these people come knocking, and tapping, and bumping into us. These angry parts of us start to come to the surface. And I'll just speak to my own experience. That's when, what you're describing, that fear, anger, "I'm feeling this, but I can't feel this because I cannot blow up this relationship."
"I'm feeling this but I can't feel this. This isn't allowed here." That's where that real tension inside of us kicks in. And that tension that we feel when those competing emotions come up. When we have that what we call polarizations, these polarized emotions, which you describe so well. "I'm angry and I'm terrified of being angry."
That actually creates more tension inside of us. And that's when we're, actually, going to be more susceptible to going to the false extreme or hurting ourselves by trying to exile that anger away. Which was a little more my experience. My experience and a lot of the women with whom I worked, early on, as my work as a therapist.
What I would notice is when you don't access that anger in a healthy way, and you really shove it aside. You end up taking it out on yourself. It comes out sideways in some way or another. You end up feeling the bitterness. You feel the resentment. But you won't put that anger on the responsible party, of where it belongs. And, so, you just end up simmering in that stew inside of you. And then you might even end up hurting yourself in that process, and it's so hard.
And I've noticed this, as a therapist, when someone is so clamped down on their anger and will not let it come out. Inevitably they're going to hurt themselves and, inevitably, that anger will also come out sideways. It comes out in criticism. It comes out in these passive aggressive ways. Where we find a way to get that anger out, but it's not constructive. I'd love to hear a little bit about your experience with anger.
Rowena: Yes, boy, parenting has taught me a lot about myself. We cannot teach maturity to our children. We need to possess it and embody it ourselves, in order to give it to our children. And that's been one of my biggest lessons these last eight years of parenting, almost nine. Parenting revealed holes in my maturity that I didn't know existed before.
Jim Wilder, who's a neuro theologian, says in his book The Other Half of Church, that "We're not responsible for holes in our immaturity. But we are responsible for repairing these holes later in life. And cleaning up parts of ourselves that are emotionally stuck in younger stages."
And, so, before I became a parent, I thought of myself as an incredibly patient person. I didn't have lots of blow ups and I thought I was in control of anger. The hidden message under this belief, however, is that I'm patient and, so, I can control my anger and I don't experience it.
And, so, thinking of myself in this fixed mindset way, it sets me up for having a low tolerance or immature relationship with anger. Because when you do, inevitably, get angry, it challenges this idea that you have of yourself that you're patient. And, so, then, that's when the guilt kicks in. So then you're fearful of anger, and then you feel guilty for having it because you think, "No, I'm a patient person; how could I have done that?"
And, so, the reality is you're not either a patient person or an angry person. A mature person must definitely have a high degree of patience. But this doesn't mean rising above anger or eradicating it from our life. It means skillfully using anger constructively. And, so, over the last years, I've been slowly growing in this, and I don't claim to have arrived.
But the fear, anger, guilt, sandwich is not such a crippling force for me anymore. And I can have more acceptance and even, sometimes, approval and validation of righteous anger from my other parts. Whereas before it was like all the other parts of my internal family were saying, "No, you can't come out, it is not okay to be angry."
Alison: Can you give me an example, Rowena, of what that has felt like in your body. And perhaps even looked like to your kids. The difference between suppressing or the tension of, "I can't be angry." To "Here's a healthy expression of anger?" What does that look like? Give us an example.
Rowena: Okay, so what it feels like in my body when the anger is starting to overtake is like rising in my heart rate. And basically like a physical feeling of the lava starting to rise and about to erupt, if I can't manage it effectively.
And, so, it's the feeling of being taken over and the pressure. There's a pressure that mounts, and builds, and you feel this, kind of, in your blood and probably in a clenched jaw, in your hands. Just this need for anger to come out of the body in some way. But then if you haven't practiced the skills to get it out in a healthy way, then it is going to be more on the destructive side.
Alison: So I love what you're saying. So you've become aware through the work of befriending your anger. When you feel that rising lava. You're in the throes of parenting, and I think every parent listening can relate to what you're saying. You're in the throes of parenting. Before some part of you would just come in and be like, "You can't feel that way." Which I would guess just increases the tension.
Alison: And therefore, actually, makes it harder because it adds pressure. And, so, as you've done this work. Which I know you've done so faithfully to befriend that anger and notice, "Oh, there's a queue, I'm feeling the rising lava." What are some strategies, when you feel that because you don't want to hurt anybody? But you might want to do something, or take on some authority, or speak on behalf of what you're feeling in a healthy way. So what do you do to keep that lava from just exploding? What are some strategies that you've learned?
Rowena: The first step, for me, has been being more connected with my body and noticing what is happening in the moment. And being like, "Okay, wow, I'm really feeling the pressure starting to rise." And, so, once I can name that for myself, then, I have some choices.
Whereas if I don't know what's happening in my body, then, I can't manage it because it is just going to come out without having that healthy sense of choice. So the better I am connected to my body then I can realize, "This is I'm feeling it. I'm feeling it a lot." And I need to just probably name it and be like, "Kids, I'm feeling really frustrated right now, and I'm just going to go take a break for a few minutes."
And I've learned that splashing cold water on my face can be really helpful. Just to shock the body and be like, "Okay, you don't have to feel this high heart rate and this pressure internally." And just having that cold sensation is incredibly helpful. Naming it to my kids instead of trying to deny it. And just being like, "I'm feeling really frustrated, guys." It's a lot of work to try to navigate the role, as a parent, especially, when there's multiple kids.
And, so, for me, taking a break is helpful and just realizing this is not an emergency. I can come back and deal with this situation but first I have to deal with my own body. And I cannot impart any wise lessons to my children when I am in an activated state myself. They are certainly not going to be able to receive any helpful instruction, when they are in an activated state.
And, so, just taking away that sense of emergency has been really helpful. I don't need to deal with this right in this moment. I can come back to this. So I might even just say that "I'm feeling really frustrated. We're going to talk about this in ten minutes. But let's just have a cool off period." And that's what I try to do when my kids get activated with each other, it's just not try to fix or solve the problem in the moment. But just say, "Let's have a cool off period. Let's play in different areas for a little bit."
But we come back to it at another moment and we discuss how they were feeling and what was bothering them. I do my best to try not to take sides, or blame, or shame one kid and to really validate what each child was feeling and thinking. That just increases the anger when they sense that you're taking sides.
Alison: I love this because what you're describing is this process of modeling. Just, as you said, we have to model for our kids what we are able to do ourselves. And, so, you're modeling this idea of emotional regulation. And the only way to do that is to become aware. It's to do all these things we've been talking about in this series is, "Oh, boy, I feel that tension rising in my chest. I do myself no favors to pretend I don't. I need to get curious about it." We talk about in Boundaries for Your Soul. "I need to take a U-turn."
Which is what you're saying is, "I need to actually give myself a little time out. I need to go make sure that my nervous system is calming down. Because I'm not going to help anybody from this activated state. I'm also not shaming myself because this happens." So you're naming without shaming, both to yourself and to your kids.
Which is modeling emotional regulation. And then you, also, when your kids get activated, you're helping them realize; "You're experiencing anger or you're experiencing frustration, that's not bad. However, you can't take it out on your sibling."
And it's like the way we parent our internal family maps on to how we parent our external family. And everything you're saying about building trust, you might say, "Let's separate for a second." But you also build trust, "We're going to come back. We're going to come back and reconnect when we're all a little bit calmer." I just love that example.
Rowena: Yes, I've also noticed from my kids that their anger needs to come out of their body. They can't just be told, "Don't be angry." That doesn't work, especially, for two of my boys, sometimes, they'll say, "Push against me." And they'll feel my force against them in a friendly way, but just it helps so much to get their anger out of their body. It's amazing what some gentle wrestling can do for them. Where they'll feel like, "Okay, I could flush this out of my system because I could push it through my hands."
Or for my six-year-old, I thought this tip was strange at first, and was skeptical that it would work, but it really does work for him. He loves to draw when he's angry. And he'll draw how mad he was, and he'll show me his drawing, and he feels so much better afterwards. But he's drawing, and he's just livid, just creating this hilarious angry face or something, and I find that to be such a helpful thing for some kids. And shaking out hands is so helpful, for me, because it's got to come out of my body, too.
And, so, my three-year-old will sometimes say, "Mom, shake your hands." We try to discuss a lot of tools for how to acknowledge the reality of anger, in our household. While not shaming and blaming, but not suppressing and denying, and also not exploding. And, so, it's really just a long journey of practicing.
Alison: I love what you're saying. These are such practical tips, and you've got four kids. You've got a lot going on. And even if you have one child or even just between spouses, anger will be there. Anger will be there. So we have to get creative, and I love what you're saying. It reminds me of the C-word in IFS — Creativity. "Okay, let's all have an angry handshake out or angry art time." Whatever. You're creating a space for anger without letting it take everybody over. That's so practical and so wise, I love that Rowena.
Rowena: And laughter, laughter, I think is the best way to get anger out of the body. This is the beautiful parenting moments when you're angry, but somehow you can turn into a playful zone and it can't be done authentically every time. And, so, that's okay. But, occasionally, when you can authentically do it to create a sense of play and get people laughing, then it's like the anger just dissipates so dramatically.
And, so, whatever creative way you can bring in laughter. Like trying to have a game where you take each other's socks off or something, it's hilarious and kids just love it. Or putting on a fun song and having a dance party. Getting everybody outdoors and just being like, "All right, let's just get outside and go run around."[00:25:44] < Music >
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Alison: I love what you said; you've got to get anger out of the body, and that's what starts to calm the nervous system.
Rowena: And, so, often, I think kids get a message like, ''You can only be in my presence if you are in a happy place, in a well regulated place. And if you're not, I'm going to exile you to your room." And, so, I think there's nothing wrong with it in terms of "Let's take a break." Like, "Maybe we can just read some books for a little while." That's very different than the message of "Go to your room and come back when you're in a better place." Going to the room part is not, necessarily, a problem, but it's the way that we deliver that message that is very important for kids.
Alison: It's so interesting because it makes me think about my own childhood, and you're right. And, inadvertently, I don't think that parents mean to do this. For me I have this memory. I don't have a lot of memories of being angry. I've always struggled a little bit to access anger.
But there was this period of time, in high school, where I must have been pretty angry because I would journal. And I would journal so hard. First of all, I would journal swear words, which I didn't swear in real life, I wasn't allowed. But in my journal, I would swear. And I would write so hard that I would rip through the paper and it would just get it out, and it made me feel better.
It reminds me of your son drawing the angry picture. And I remember just ripping through the pages and giant letters, words that I felt that were not pleasant words. And this was probably 9th, 10th grade, and it worked, and also I was by myself. I was in isolation.
I mean nobody knew that I was doing it, this wasn't said to me. But the internalized message about anger is, "Go off and be angry by yourself, get it all out." Yes, that helped a little bit. But then, "Go back out and be happy with everybody else." And that doesn't work in adult relationships. You have to be able to go somewhere between the ripping the page out of the journal, because you're writing so hard. To "I need to have a conversation about something that's frustrating me." You have to get from A to Z somehow. You need tools to do that.
Rowena: Mh-hmm, journaling can be super effective to get that ugly version out first.
Rowena: That we can go and do a more healthy expression of anger. So journaling can be super powerful for naming and getting our anger out in front of us on a page.
Alison: Exactly. So you have these tools to try to get it out. To get it out of our bodies so it's not just festering there or turning sideways. Again, because if we don't get it out, it will come out one way or another. We will start to get critical. Again, passive aggressive, which are these little barbs that come out sideways, resentful. All this fester, so we got to get it out.
But I love what you're saying. And as you're parenting your kids and even thinking about it in our own lives, we get it out. We allow ourselves permission to get it out. Maybe in some ugly ways where we don't want other people to see it. God sees it, God gets it, God's okay with it. And then we also have to, once we've defused it a little bit, still figure out how to go back into that relationship. Whether it's a parenting relationship, a friend, a spouse, whatever, in a constructive way, and have the conversation.
There's two parts to this anger puzzle that are really important.
Rowena: Yes, I think, the chapter that you have in your book, The Best of You, about noticing what longing is underneath, is so important. And that cannot be accessed unless you have space to be curious about your anger.
But anger is a cue that there is a longing there that needs to be witnessed, and to come out. That's where it's a powerful tool, and it points to something deeper that wants to be named in real life. Like, "I have a longing for a peaceful relationship between my kids, and I feel really sad when they're fighting." And naming that with my kids can be really helpful. Instead, of being like, "I'm so mad that you guys are fighting."
Naming the longing like, "I really long to have a harmonious household here."
Alison: Yes, I love what you're saying. Where there is that anger, underneath it is a pain, I would say.
Alison: And that pain might be a deep longing that we're just not seeing coming to fruition. A need, a desire, and those things are painful. When we take the time to get underneath the anger. But the anger has to be heard first.
Alison: "I'm so angry at him. I'm so angry at her."
Rowena: Yes, often, for me, I think, underneath anger is just a sense of being overwhelmed and longing for more support, or a longing for more rest, or whatever it is. And those are really important things to notice. Because I want to be healthy in my body, and mind, and soul, to be able to parent my kids well.
And I learned this really early on from my sister, who is older than I am and has older kids. And she really recommended, when I had my first child, to do some preventative maintenance. And make sure I had some time where I was by myself and could take care of myself.
Instead of thinking I needed to be a parent round the clock. Instead of reaching that place of burnout, or utter exhaustion, or fatigue. Having that sense of asking for help and getting support in whatever way you can.
And, so, for me, that was doing some babysitting swaps with a friend. Where we would each take care of each other's child, and then we would get a morning or two off a week. And that was so critical to realize early on, I need to take care of myself because that is such an investment in my relationship with my kids." Or powerlessness is a really underlying emotion underneath, or the state, underneath the anger. And, so, if I can identify that, yes, there are certain things that I am powerless about. I can't really control anyone other than myself.
So there are certain ways that we need to accept ways where we are powerless. But then there are also ways where we feel powerless. Where we long for more authority, or more agency, or more healthy, effective leadership. And, so, that can be really helpful to name as well. Curiosity and no shame around anger is really important.
Alison: I love what you're saying about creating space for yourself, to get to the root of what's really going on. And I think that can be hard, as a parent.
I also think it's essential. I was thinking as you were talking, Rowena, last summer, I was dealing with a lot of anger. It was related to some work stuff that wasn't going right, and I was feeling really frustrated.
I was just feeling like I was on my own and couldn't get the help that I needed. And in the middle of that time, my daughter, who loves hiking and loves the wilderness. And she wanted me to go on a backpack with her. And, so, we did this two-day backpack and each day was nine miles. And that whole nine miles going in, it was like the whole way down, the angry part of me. All those angry thoughts, were just given an opportunity to finally be heard by me. Because I had nothing else to do I wasn't suppressing them. There was no one around me to get mad at.
And, so, I was just present to them and it was like attuning to all the frustration that I was feeling. All the anger that I was feeling. And then I just noticed, I was like, "Oh, I need to do this." And I wasn't writing, I wasn't journaling, because I was walking. But I was bookmarking; "Yes, that's frustrating."
Pretty soon, the tears started to pour. And I became aware in that process because, again, but here's the thing, I was walking. I had a backpack on my shoulder. My body was engaged. There was something physical going on that created almost the container for the anger. It's almost like the parts of me knew, and it was a really interesting experience. It almost created this safety.
My body was engaged and, therefore, it created this safety for my mind to allow me to become consciously aware of all this frustration that had been building inside of me, and it all came out. And I remember releasing it, there were mountains all around me and it just felt like, "God is here." It took me that whole first day. By the second day, that next morning, I was sitting by the creek, and I finally got to the root of the longing.
It took me that whole day and that whole nine-mile trek to let all of that volcano that had been simmering inside of me just come out. Release into God's hands, honor, and validate all those frustrations to the next morning. Where I just remember sitting by the creek and going, "Oh, here we are, God, this is what's really going on. I'm so disappointed. I'm so sad that this is the way this went." And there's peace in that.
It's just another example of our anger needs our attention, and it needs our attention, in a very embodied way. Whether it's through journaling, whether it's through walking, whether it's through moving our bodies, as you've given so many examples of. In my case, it was almost I needed to take a nine-mile hike because there was that much there. That I had been just shoving aside to get to the root of what's the disappointment?
What's the heartache?
What's the longing that's underneath it? Where there God finally comes in. Not that God isn't with us in the anger because He is. But when we get to the root of it and we're like, "Here we are, God, this is the actual thing beneath the thing that I am just so upset about." And it's usually a good thing. There might even be an injustice there.
Rowena: You can't see it and have clarity about it, until you can sit with the discomfort in your body. And get connected with your body, and allow the anger to somehow come out through walking, and it's an amazing way. And then once the anger isn't exiled, then it can flow out. And then you can see the diamond that is underneath it, and you have so much more clarity. And then there's a sense of maybe some action steps you can take from that place, so that you can speak up on behalf of this longing.
Alison: That's right, and you get to that place of surrender, of "Here's what I do have control over. Here's how I can fight for this. I do want my kids to get along with each other. I want my kids; I do need more help that I'm not getting." But there's also a surrender.
That's where that place of, "Here's what I have control over. Here's, God, what I don't have control over." It doesn't mean it's not important and you start to find that balance, that equilibrium inside your soul.
Rowena: Yes, and we mentioned this earlier, but this is where we have to be aware of the other emotions that are surrounding anger. Whether it's anxiety about the anger, fear, guilt, shame. And those layers are almost the layers that need to be peeled away first to free the anger, to have some space.
And, so, yes, I just encourage every woman to get curious about what, for you, are the emotions that might be keeping anger stuck.
Alison: It's so true, because on that hike the whole first few miles were, "What's wrong with me?"
"Why can't I just get it together?" It was all the self-shaming. And then you can't even get to the anger until you've actually gotten to all the ways we tell ourselves the guilt. I love how you call it the guilt-fear sandwich. Let's talk just a little bit as we wind down, today, about the role of God. About how God sees anger and how God gets angry.
I know that we see anger in Jesus. We know that Jesus demonstrated anger, and we know that Jesus didn't sin. And, sometimes, when I read the Gospels, I'm amazed at the ways in which Jesus demonstrated His frustration. Demonstrated even anger that we don't really hear a lot about, I feel like, from the pulpit. We tend to talk more about how Jesus was gentle, Jesus is loving, Jesus is mild, and all of those things are true. And I would say, it's fair to say, you can't read the Gospels without bumping into a fair amount of His anger.
Rowena: Yes, this is really helpful. I'm so glad that Jesus had a right relationship with anger to model that it is not all bad. It's actually really an important emotion to come out. Jesus was led by His anger in some situations, and that, to me, is fascinating. That it was a force that led Him to turn over those tables. He was so harsh with the Pharisees in a really important way, not in a bad way, just, "You hypocrites." And He was angry with people who were hypocritical and who were claiming to do things for God. But then, under the surface, it was all a show for themselves.
Alison: I think it's so important when we think about our faith, our spirituality, that anger is a part of it. That we see anger in God, we see anger in the Old Testament.
Sometimes it's really hard to understand God's anger, and we see it in Jesus's life. And when we get to Jesus's life, I love what you said, I'm so glad we have those examples of where He called things out, sometimes, harshly.
His words were not always sweet, they were not always soft. He said, "You brood a viper." And not that we should go around calling people a brood of vipers. Because what we know for sure is that Jesus didn't sin and that it was always righteous. And we better be very careful in how we don't want to look for a license. And, again, to that spectrum, we can rationalize our judgment and our anger based on Jesus's life in a way that's very unhealthy. We better be very careful.
And we can also exile our anger and deny or bypass other people's suffering, or injustices, or even our own experience of injustice in our life. "Oh, Jesus says to turn the other cheek." I talk about this in The Best of You. It's a little more subversive than that. Jesus is complex, there's a lot of nuance to Tis anger. There's a lot of shrewdness, there's a lot of wisdom in it, and He didn't sin.
And so it is a great example. I think doing a study of the anger that we see in Jesus would be a great example for us. I think one of the things I say the most often is anger, as a member of our internal family, when we have a healthy relationship with it. When we befriended it, when it understands the boundary lines and it lets us lead it, not the other way around.
When we are leading it in partnership with the Holy Spirit, anger is amazing. Anger can empower us to set really healthy boundaries that empower not only our own lives, but empower other people. Anger can help us fight injustices in our own lives and on behalf of other people, and on behalf of wrongs we see in society. It can be the part of us that helps us speak, honestly, that speaks truthfully, even when it's hard.
Now, again, all of those things can get misused, but that doesn't mean there's not truth in them. Anger is a really important emotion that can help us create change in our own lives. Create change in a healthy way in the lives of people we love, and create change in this world.
Rowena: At an Ash Wednesday service that I went to last week. There was a prayer of penitence that was sticking out to me that said, "For our unrighteous anger, bitterness, and resentment, lord have mercy upon us." And I just really loved that it was specifying unrighteous anger and that there is therefore a righteous anger that has space in our life, that God created and is good.
Alison: I love that.
Rowena: I think it's so interesting that the Bible talks a lot about enemies, and it's so easy to view enemy as an outward thing. But there's also internal enemies that we can have and I think anger is one of the best examples of that. How we can, inwardly, think of our anger as an enemy, and you talk about this also. That we need to love our inner enemies. And that's part of the healing that Jesus creates, is in learning to love the enemy of anger and befriend it, then, it can be transformed into something really beautiful and powerful.
There's an incredible book called Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther has some powerhouse quotes that I wanted to read. And she says, "I am convinced that much of women's tentative speech arises from fear of her own anger. That somehow there will be terrible retribution, divine or otherwise, if she reveals herself a strong person."
Later she says, "Tentativeness, a kind of clenched teeth, sweet rage..." Which I love that phrase. "May also result from a mistaken understanding of anger. Since women are socialized to believe anger itself is avoidable and wrong, and that its expression is sinful. As a result, a great deal of spiritual energy goes into combating the wrong sin. And the potentially constructive use of anger is neglected. The result is hurtful and destructive to the woman, and to those around her."
Alison: So good.
Rowena: I just love how she names that. And then later she says, "most women are not prepared for the question, 'Where do you hurt?' Although they would expect it from a physician. Socialized to put their own wishes aside or at least disguise them, they see the question as an invitation to selfishness or self-indulgence. Instead, it is an invitation to self. Merely naming the source of hurt can expose it to light and air, and thereby bring about healing.
As she begins to answer the question candidly, she may reveal, to her own surprise, years of denial and suppressed pain. The cost of faithfulness has been high, and the cost of peacekeeping, the cost of people-pleasing all of those things. And how just important it is to notice if anger is an enemy within us and to befriend it, and to realize that there is a healthy expression of it, and a potentially constructive use of anger.
Alison: That's right. Two things can exist side by side that gets at that selfhood versus selfishness. And selfhood is actually having a healthy relationship with our anger. Even as we also have a healthy relationship with our desire to do good, our desire to help. These two things can exist side by side. And anger is that part of us that helps us to be more assertive. That helps us to ensure that our needs are not getting sidelined. It's such a powerful emotion.
I'm curious, Rowena, there are so many reasons why, I think as women, we fear our anger. We worry about our anger. We don't want to be angry. How do you think comparison factors into that?
Rowena: Yes, I think there's a real potential for an inner critic to arise and tell ourselves that our story isn't important. That we don't have it as bad as other people. And therefore we should suppress and deny the reality of what is happening internally for us.
And, so, I think, that is just really important to name because that can be a powerful blockage that shuts down curiosity of anger. And that needs to be freed up to say, "Yes, there are so many different kinds of pain and suffering in this world. But not to minimize what is going on for each of us."
Alison: I think that's a big one for me. I think there's a part of me that can always say, "I don't have it as bad as that person, therefore, I shouldn't feel this way."
Alison: And I think that's so important to highlight. And it has taken me a lot of years, my spiritual director saying, "What?" Just because your pain is your pain.
Rowena: And your longings are under there?
Alison: That's right. I think many of us have that refrain in their head. "That person has it worse. I don't have it that bad, I should just be grateful. I don't want to be entitled." No, we don't want to be entitled. We don't want to think we deserve more. We want to be grateful. All of those things are good and, also, I can be grateful and frustrated with this situation.
I can be content and want to see more out of my family, out of my kids, out of my relationship. I can value that person and their efforts, and be disappointed that they've fallen short of what I really needed. Both things can be true, and that's the heart of anger. Anger doesn't have to tell us the whole story, but it can have a seat at the table. It can have a seat at the table. We can sit side by side and say, "Yes, I'm grateful, and this is frustrating." Two things can be true.
Rowena: Yes, learning to hear the shoulds that we have in our internal dialogue. And also the either/or thinking. And once you can catch yourself hearing, "Oh, I heard, I say, I should." And that's a real big clue, the either/or thinking. If we can catch ourselves in the moment. Awareness is so key to just unlocking so many things and allowing God to really transform us on the inside, and bring truth to these innermost parts.[00:48:12] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode, and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.