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  • Writer's pictureNava Narayani

Emotional Skillfulness: Anger! part 1

Updated: Feb 27

At first, a mountain is a mountain. Then, a mountain is not a mountain. Finally, a mountain is a mountain.

This is an adapted quote from a zen teacher describing the spiritual journey, telephoned down to me from fellow spiritual travelers. Recently, this quote rang through my head after finishing a therapy session with a client. This client had been a long time consumer of therapy, which was evident by the way she spoke and interacted with me, and some comments she made reflected my own journey through psychotherapy in relating to emotions. This quote shifted in my head to psychotherapy terms:

At first, anger is anger. Then, anger is not anger. Finally, anger is anger.

What do I mean by this? It's a complicated thought chunked down into a simple phrase. What I mean is, when you first engage with your emotions, they are raw, wild, and all-consuming. Whether you want to consider this as when you were child first experiencing each emotion or as your adult self becoming present and self aware of what you're feeling after years of avoidance. Anger can feel big, activating, charged, and aggressive with an impulse to destroy, hurt, shove, or be big and scary. Anger wants to be loud, maybe burn everything down. In this state, if engaged with, it's at risk for causing harm to yourself and/or others. I like to describe the energy of anger like a dragon sword- imagine your holding the hilt of the sword and the blade is a mad dragon. In this stage, the dragon blade wields you.

Then, anger is not anger. Through the process of psychotherapy and studying your own mind, energy, personality, and genetic makeup, you break down the elements of anger. This process allows you to know and understand what your experience of anger is about. By knowing and understanding the emotion, you can come to harness it better. Like the concept of "anger soup," you may come to find that anger is made up of many different elements.

The long time psychotherapy student may then sound like this when expressing their anger: "I am feeling angry because xyz situation and your xyz behavior. Your x behavior was a trigger for my feelings because of this past memory. I take responsibility for my emotional response. I can also understand and empathize with why you acted such a way because of what I understand about you and your history. Our worlds and coping strategies collided and there was hurt and misunderstanding. I also can recognize within my anger is also feelings of shame, grief, guilt, and fear which caused me to lash out at you." And then you consider regulation and repair strategies and which would be best or most accessible to try.

The words and minds of a seasoned psychotherapy student can be long winded and a spiraling fractalation of the complex interdependent web that creates our experiences. The dragon sword has been dismantled and dissected to know all the parts that make it up. This client went on a short rambling about all the tools and perspectives they'd learned through therapy about how to deal with a specific difficult situation. I witnessed as they were brilliant in their wisdom, compassion, empathy, and self-awareness from all that they had gained in their intensive self-discovery journey.

But I loved that in conclusion, at the end of all this analysis and compassionate empathizing for themselves and the other person, they realized that they're just fucking angry. And that's it.

And with that, the dragon sword is put back together and in your hand. Now the dragon blade is straight as an arrow as you choose how to direct your energy, simply and clearly, without draining yourself or causing harm. Maybe it takes one exact swipe, maybe you just hold it and be with it all, or maybe you sheathe it.

At first, anger is anger. Then, anger is not anger. Finally, anger is anger.

I find that this particularly happens when you have been wronged, hurt, or disrespected by someone or a system and there is a block in making amends. In psychotherapy terms this is called a "rupture," and a "repair." Repair often looks like both feeling heard and understood, responsibility is taken, sincere apology(s) given, and actions changed for the better. When this is not possible, anger can linger in your system at a low simmer and rage to a boiling point when triggered. If you are stuck here, it may be best to apply a rotation of techniques of acceptance, letting go, regulation, expression, action, connection with others, and forgiveness.

If you want support on your journey to emotional skillfulness, feel free to explore my services or contact me.

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