There I was early last Saturday morning in the middle of a small Peruvian village shouting and screaming my head off – at no-one, at my-self, at everyone. I had resorted to my mother tongue English – incomprehensible to those around me. A scary sight for the locals as they went about their day?
But what was really going on?I’d just been bitten by a street dog. Although it perhaps wasn’t obvious I was probably more frightened than anyone. But in that immediate moment I couldn’t connect with the deep fear of what being bitten by a street dog in Peru might mean for me and instead I exploded with anger. Angry at the dog that bit me; at the children that had only wanted to connect with me and had intentionally slowed me down on my bike in the street to a speed that enabled the dog to take chomp at my leg; at my-self for not fully seeing the dog and for slowing down; at Peru for having such dogs that seem to chase me menacingly often; at everyone; at the world…
On some days anger is never very far away. My whole body might go tense, a rumble maybe comes from deep inside my belly and stretches up to the back of my throat, I might grit my teeth as I try to contain myself, and I will feel blood pulsing through my veins and up into my temple and down into my hands. These angry moments can arise in a flash – as if from nowhere – and in these moment any actions I then take seem so right, so justified. But beyond that moment the actions I’ve taken have often done damage to my-self and all that I love.
There has to be another way…
I have often told myself I shouldn’t feel angry, that it is somehow “bad” or “wrong” to feel anger. But, like any emotion anger is a genuine response to something I observe in the world around me and anger can therefore act as an indicator about what is important for me. Anger can be complex but it has the power to lead to deep insights about my-self.
Although anger may be one of the easiest emotions for me to access, it is also perhaps the one I have least understood. I experience anger mostly when I perceive some sort of injustice in the world, towards me or others. However, anger can also arise when I feel threatened and/or hurt, and normally anger ends up manifesting within me as blame and judgement toward others. But the anger, and the thinking attached to that anger, e.g. my perceptions, are all mine, they are my creation, and it is my responsibility to look closely into that thinking.
I haven’t given such a public display of anger as occurred a few days ago for a very long time. Such expressions of anger used to happen with some regularity but I’ve mostly learnt to manage my anger – to keep it away from doing damage – which largely means suppressing it entirely or just keeping it to my-self. However, neither of these ways truly serve me – I look deeper.
Beneath the anger is a sad, hurt, and frightened little childWhen I was growing up I found that anger was a useful way of dealing with my environment. In my family aggression toward one another was common and I think this probably arose because no-one really listened to one another – it seemed no-one knew how. Subtler emotions were rarely seen, let alone expressed or known to even exist, because there was limited space created for them to be present. As I reflect back now it seems these unseen emotions, at least in me, would eventually build up into something quite intense and burst forth as anger. My family, as with most human beings, had emotional struggles but awareness of how to support one another during those struggles wasn’t present and breakdowns in communication were inevitable.
I suppose being angry was more likely to get me heard and so I learnt to quickly bypass other emotions that wouldn’t get me heard. But my anger at home never got me heard for those other emotions that I deep down needed to be heard for. Rather I was just labelled a “bad”, “naughty”, ”misbehaving” kid – and whilst I at least got some “attention” for that it wasn’t the sort of attention that I really craved.
Still a struggle
I struggle to connect to the emotions below the anger to this day. What I need is time by myself, or with really supportive others, to process what happened. And this is not just the emotions in my-self. I can sometimes really struggle to differentiate between difficult emotions in others and I have a habit of hearing anger rather than being able to understand what is going on at the deeper level. Perhaps this is because my own reaction to another’s pain might generate an angry response by the other. Sometimes I also wonder if I’m looking through a lens of anger, biased from my early life conditions, and not seeing the world as it truly is, only as I perceive it to be.
But often what I notice is that underlying my own anger is a deep sadness, a deep sadness of not being heard, valued, or accepted for who I am. Or in the case of the dog bite it was feeling alone, frightened, and helpless. Sometimes it easier to be angry, and in the moment it might feel better too. The deeper emotions are harder to access and without support I find them much more difficult to deal with.
As I sit here in a hotel room giving my leg time to heal (having had all the necessary vaccines) I think about those children playing in the street that fled at the sight of my rage; I think about the dog that cowered in fear (probably it was fear that provoked it biting me) as I tried to counter-attack; I think about how I must have appeared to those onlookers. I was distressed. I’m not happy with my immediate response but I calmed quickly with the help of a local, who thankfully must have seen the anguish beneath my anger. I accept how I reacted, I have to, and I also accept that I was scared, and that yes I so often am quite scared. The journey and the work continue.
“Despair is part of the territory we must traverse”