Category: Relationships

What Your Anger is Really Trying to Tell You

Have you ever felt angry and wondered why? Did you feel like something was wrong with you because you couldn’t just let it go? Or maybe you’ve felt like you had very good reason to be angry, but you should be able to “control” it?

Many people see anger as an undesirable or an unhealthy emotion. However, while it is not always pleasant for us to experience (or people who are in the path of our anger to experience), it can be a powerful messenger that something is not right.

It’s common for people to think that something is wrong with them if they lash out in ager or feel it bubbling up to the surface. Our society prefers that we put a lid on it, and keep it to ourselves if something is bothering us. (This societal superficiality in itself can be angering).

There’s the notion that if you express anger, then you are crazy. There’s the idea that you should be able to “keep it together” at all times.

Yes, I am totally normalizing anger here. However, how you handle your anger DOES matter. Of course, it is not okay to use anger as an excuse to abuse or harm others. Rather, notice how your anger may be signaling how you are feeling abused.

Have you been highly self-critical lately (partaking in self-abuse)? Have you been letting others consistently trample all over your boundaries or needs? Has someone gone too far and you feel violated? And finally, are you just left feeling completely powerless in some area of your life?

In my opinion, anger itself is NOT a signal that something is wrong with you. Anger is not necessarily a bad thin

In physiological terms, anger is simply a message from the primal part of the brain to the body that says, “This is not right! Do something!” This triggers an array of physiological responses in the body to get us to get whatever “it” is to STOP. This in itself is not problematic, but in today’s culture, we may not feel like we can do anything about it to get it to stop.

In a spiritual sense, anger points us to our deeper needs for healthy self-preservation.

Generally, we feel anger for 2 fundamental reasons:

  • Someone has violated one of our boundaries
  • We are feeling powerless

For example, if you had a boss that perpetually belittled you (violating your boundaries) in front of others, you would probably feel angry, which would trigger a set of physiological responses. However, if you know you would lose your job if you said anything to your boss, then you are likely left feeling powerless to do anything about it. This violation, combined with feeling powerless, means that your body gets stuck in anger mode, and it can take a toll on your health and happiness if nothing is done about it.

Feeling one (or both) of these two things can pull us into a real personal crisis. In reality, we are never powerless. We are only powerless to the degree that we give our power away. However, if someone is consistently acting is ways that threaten our sense of empowerment or safety, then we need to remove that influence from our lives. If no solution can be met after repeated attempts, then it may require that we leave a job, a relationship, or an otherwise good situation in order to restore our well-being.

It can be tough to make the changes or choices required to “get it to stop” (whatever the anger is sending a message about). It calls on every part of our being to find the strength to risk doing things differently.

So, the point is not to push anger away when it arises, but to honor it fully as a messenger. To master this is to work wisely with your anger, and to fully understand what it is telling you about your own personal truth.

The Power of Belonging

I have recently come to appreciate Brene Brown’s work on the power of belonging. She says, “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”

I recently attended a retreat in Joshua Tree, comprised of 100 women. It was four days, filled with art, yoga and 5Rhythms movement meditation practice. In short, it was bliss.

There was also some serious personal work taking place. I am in awe of the courage it took for everyone to truly show up and be seen. Over the course of the four days, it was apparent that the masks and facades were beginning to drop, the inner walls were coming down.

It was due to the incredible atmosphere of trust that allowed this to happen. A sacred container was created to be able to make it safe enough for people to be themselves.

And wow — to be oneself — that is scary! It’s not often in life that we really, truly get to be the weird people that we actually are. Most social situations demand a certain amount of professionalism, put-togetherness, or even false positivity.

We mold ourselves to these ideals in order to avoid the awfulness of rejection. And in this, parts of us are lost.

True Belonging

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.”

Belonging vs Fitting In

First, I appreciate how she differentiates between belonging and fitting in, because at the core they are very different. Brown said that when we “fit in” as opposed to “belong,” we acclimate to the situation instead of standing for our authentic self.

Taking the Risk

Second, I appreciate how she talks about belonging as not always going with the flow. Authenticity requires great risk. Nobody wants to be called out or seen as an outcast, but sometimes we must stand alone in order to be in alignment with our own heart’s truth.

“As it turns out,” she says, “men and women who have the deepest sense of true belonging are people who also have the courage to stand alone when called to do that. They are willing to maintain their integrity and risk disconnection in order to stand up for what they believe in.”

During the course of the retreat, I saw the full range. People who agreed with each other and people who risked disconnection in order to stand up for what matters most in their heart. Regardless, people were standing up and expressing themselves. It became a forum to express thoughts and beliefs that are not always socially acceptable; but they are REAL.

Personal Commitment

Third, I appreciate how she says that it’s a daily practice, or a “personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” I don’t think we ever just “arrive” at being authentic and belonging. It’s an ever changing landscape that mirrors our own ever changing internal landscape.

Belonging Embodied

The facilitators also encouraged participants to confront them if there was something that they felt was not done in integrity. They encouraged us to exercise our ability to say no and to stand in our power, instead of mindlessly handing it over to others (especially those in perceived positions of power). This created an atmosphere of the utmost freedom and permission.

People were given the permission to be who they really are. In the presence of this permission, instead of an increase in discord, there was an increase in cohesion. People felt like they belonged, based on who they were, not who they had been conditioned to be.

There were other ways that we bonded with one another. Many of us (who were complete strangers to each other) laughed together, cried together, and shared stories of love, loss, sickness and joy. We were able to feel deeply connected through the range of life experiences that make us all human.

Brown says, “”We need to hold hands with strangers. We need reminders – collective joy and pain – reminders that we are inextricably connected to each other.”

This is what we had.

We also had the full experience, in mind, body, and soul, that told us we belonged. For me, every cell in my body felt like it belonged. The power of this, I am learning, is immeasurable.

Wired for Belonging

I’ll finish with this quote from Brown, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

hands giving heart

Next time you are feeling alone or like you don’t belong, don’t beat yourself up. A sense of love and belonging is a core human need. Instead of feeling stuck or paralyzed by it, see how you can reach out and connect; with a loved one, an animal, or nature.

Find a place (or places) where you can truly be your authentic self. Don’t settle for less. Make it your mission to belong. Your health and vitality depend on it. Others also need examples of brave people who are willing to take risks and stand up for what they believe in. Next time you step into your own authenticity, you may just be a catalyst to help someone else step into theirs.

This post is dedicated to Amber Ryan, Kate Shela, and the 99 other women at the retreat who were willing to take a risk; I see you, I feel you, and I am inspired by you. Thank you for helping me remember how much I belong.

If you are feeling alone and like you just don’t belong, please reach out. I offer free 15-minute consultations, so you can see if counseling or therapy is right for you.

Three Steps for Surviving a Breakup

Why is the old cliché of “breaking up is hard to do,” so true? Experts in the fields of neuroscience and Attachment Theory now have hard science that can tell us just why a breakup can be so painful.

In the book, Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, the authors state, “Studies have found that the same areas that light up in imaging scans when we break a leg are activated when we split up with our mate. As part of a reaction to a breakup, our brain experiences the departure of an attachment figure [such as our mate] in a similar way to that in which it registers physical pain.”

In simple terms, studies show that breaking up is painful. Literally.

In your brain, pain = pain. It doesn’t differentiate between emotional pain and physical pain.

The authors of Attached also say, ‘the emotional circuits that make up our attachment system evolved to discourage us from being alone. One way to nudge us back to the safety of our lover’s arms is to create the sensation of unmistakable pain when we find ourselves alone.”

This explains why even if you know (in your logical mind) with 100% certainty that the relationship is not good for you, it can still be so hard to leave. Evolution has hard-wired you to stay paired up, rather than risk being single. Dang wiring!

All this to say that the excruciating, heart-wrenching pain you feel during a break-up is REAL. Nature made it so.

There is good news: the brain is plastic. So, you can overcome old habits, patterns, and wiring with properly directed conscious awareness.

Here’s how:

Step One: Be gentle with yourself, no matter what.

No. Matter. What.

This is first on the list AND the most important.

If you slip up and contact your ex, forgive yourself. There are often layers of letting go that need to happen when you are in the process of ending the relationship for good.

If you are feeling grief or sadness, show yourself some compassion. Losing a relationship can feel like a death of a loved one. In a sense, it is a death. It’s the death of what was. It ‘s natural that you might have to grieve the loss, not only of the person, but also of all the hopes, dreams, and ideas about what could have been.

If you find yourself ruminating on all the ways you might have messed up, then hit the pause button. Do not resume that thought stream until you can center yourself. Once you are centered, you will be able to think clearly from a more loving point of view. For tips on how to get centered and why it is important, proceed to step two.

Step Two: Stay Centered

 Staying centered can help you think and act from your wise mind. When you are centered, you have the internal spaciousness to respond in a balanced manner from the most developed parts of your brain, rather than react fearfully from your primitive brain.

You will know when you are connected to your center because you will feel calm, grounded, and at peace with what is. You will trust that everything will work out, and you will be able to speak your truth with love if something is not right in that moment.

Disclaimer: This is a “do your best” type of step. Very few of us are able to stay centered 100% of the time. We all have triggers that can send us off-track. If you are going through a breakup, then you are probably particularly raw and vulnerable. Your nervous system has been under a lot of stress (as explained earlier in the part on attachment). So, again, be gentle with yourself as you experiment with getting centered.

Taking long, deep, slow breaths is a simple way to get centered. You can also try closing your eyes and breathing into your heart space.

The bottom line is, do what works most effectively for you. It need not be complex.

Step Three: ______________ Like Your Life Depends On It

 Fill in the blank here: ________________ like your life depends on it.

Pick one thing that you can pour your whole self into. This includes the happy parts, the sad parts, the ambivalent parts, and the parts of you that are hell-bent on a better future without your ex.

Do whatever it is that you love most with vehement fervor. If you love cycling, then cycle like your life depends on it. If you are a rock climber, climb like your life depends on it. If you love gardening, garden like your life depends on it.

If you have always wanted to go back to school, then do some research and make a plan to fulfill those educational needs.

Set goals, and stick to them.

Choose one thing to really focus on. For example, training for a half-marathon got me through a tough breakup. It gave me something (besides the relationship) to really work for and channel my energy into.

Often, when we are in relationships, we make it the center of our universe. Choosing one thing to focus on will make it easier to make yourself the center of your universe again. It will happen naturally as you stay committed to the one thing, and thus stay committed to yourself.

In addition, make sure you nurture yourself in every way possible. Take long walks, exercise, eat well, enjoy time with friends and family, listen to your favorite music, connect with pets, and get out into nature. These are all things that can bring greater balance and joy to your life, regardless of a breakup. So I recommend practicing them early and often.

Over time, these new activities and ways of being will become second nature. One step at a time, you will begin to see your life transform. It’s possible that you might even become the best version of yourself in the process. So while it’s painful at first, breakups can have a silver lining.

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