A Buddhist Perspective on Anger
I recently attended a weekend workshop about anger from the Buddhist perspective, and I was reminded of some beliefs that are present in the way I work with clients struggling with anger.
One of the things Narayan Liebenson Grady said was “in the arising of anger there can be a temporary feeling of strength. The sense of power and pleasure [which can sometimes occur] can be seductive. [However] After this initial feeling we can start losing power and our perspective gets lost. We only see partially. It is difficult to be wise when we are only seeing partially.”
I talk about this in my workshops, the “addiction” to the adrenaline rush of anger. Many people have said they like getting angry, it feels good. I think it’s this adrenaline rush and temporary sense of power that feels good. It’s after the initial rush and the lashing out, that it become problematic even for those who say they like reacting and enjoy the rush. Almost everyone I have worked with say they don’t feel good about what ensued after the initial moment of power. Generally people have a range of feelings from shame to hurt about their actions or what they said in a fit of rage. We often wish we could take back what we said or did.
Narayan went on to say, “We are responsible for how we feed it…Kicking a stone is an analogy the Buddha used, it hurts us too.”
This is what I call the stories we tell ourselves when we are upset and are trying to make sense of the disturbance in our body. We will say anything during those times and much of it isn’t necessarily true and yet it continues to feed the anger and upset. At these times taking space and meditating or paying close attention to what is going on inside of us helps us become more self connected and centered. When we are more centered we are able to have a better grasp on what is happening and so have more access to our inner resources in navigating our way through what is going on with us. Through meditation we can observe our inner experience and see what we are saying, our judgments, i.e. “What a jerk! I am so stupid! I wish I had never met her! “, are just thoughts, they are not necessarily true or real. It would be helpful if we could learn to watch what goes on with the thoughts and feelings as they arise and fall.
Additionally, I encourage focusing on unmet needs. What needs are not being met right now? To be seen, understood, loved, appreciated? Knowing our needs helps us know where to go next. It gives us a road map to follow, we can speak more directly about what is really going on and we have a much higher chance of getting our needs met when we know what they are.
Another point Narayan said was learn to “uncouple the arising of anger from I’m an angry person. The arising of anger is natural and the dissolving of anger is also natural. Buddhists focus on suffering and the cessation of suffering.”
If we are able to detach ourselves from the anger that arises in us we can see we are not our anger, and so begin to develop tools to manage it and let it go. This is a practice and it takes time. Unfortunately there is no magic wand for changing habits, but I know it is possible one step at a time.