Making Room for Anger in Your Life and Practice

Making Room for Anger in Your Life and Practice April 27, 2021

Anger is an incredibly powerful emotion, and at the same time an incredibly tricky emotion to wield in healthy ways.  It is a volatile fuel that is usually unsustainable and will burn you if you try to hold it for too long, but when given healthy space, that same volatile fuel will naturally burn itself out and can facilitate the most amazing transformations.

Anger is dangerous, but also valid and capable of driving amazing changes.
Anger is dangerous, but also valid and capable of driving amazing changes. Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

Emotions Are

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  We cannot help the emotions we feel.  They simply are.  They do not have to make sense, and often will not, for emotions are not logical.  They can be influenced by logic, but they exist independently of it, and if we want to be whole or to heal from trauma, we must give ourselves the space to experience our full range of emotions, all of them.  That includes the emotions that are difficult or painful, like anger, rage, panic, sorrow, fear, and grief.

When we have these emotions, they are always valid and meaningful, simply by their existence.  It is what we choose to do with or because of those emotions that can be good or bad, helpful or hurtful, or simply neutral.  The emotions themselves simply exist, and have no inherent “goodness” or “badness”, or “positivity” or “negativity” to them.  They are an inescapable part of this whole experience of being human.

When we experience emotions, it is critical to give them space, to acknowledge them and allow them to exist.  When we do this, when we accept them for what they are, we can consciously choose what we do with them.  We can evaluate where our emotions are coming from and how they are affecting us, and then formulate appropriate responses.  We can act instead of react.

When we deny our emotions, they do not go away.  They instead get pushed out of our awareness, into the shadow self, to fester and act out in other ways.  They can grow like a cancer, building and bubbling out into unexpected areas of our lives, demanding to be seen and heard.  They become a buried trauma or wound in the shadow self, unable to properly heal.  Like a physical wound that is ignored and gets infected, emotional wounds when dismissed or denied often become much more challenging to heal the longer they are left to fester.

It is natural and normal and healthy to be angry when things go wrong or someone gets hurt.  There is no shame or guilt in that.

Fire can run both hot and cold, but fire is associated with anger for reasons that make sense to me.
Fire can run both hot and cold, but fire is associated with anger for reasons that make sense to me. Image by Iván Tamás from Pixabay

Fiery Anger

If you are looking at elements, anger is usually associated with fire, even though emotions in general are usually associated with water.  There are good reasons for this, and anger can be a terrifying blend of watery and fiery energy that simmers invitingly, or showers forth like a geyser of water so hot and fast that it will boil your skin off your body immediately.

Anger is dangerous, but danger is not good or bad, it simply requires that we exercise caution and engage thoughtfully.  Anger is often volatile, but it can also be deceptively calm.  It has the ability to fuel amazing transformations, or to destroy things utterly, especially the person wielding the anger.

Anger is a vehicle of change.  As much as fire utterly transforms that which is alight, anger demands transformation.  We feel anger when we experience things which are unjust, hurtful, or wrong, or when we realize that harm has occurred to others.  We feel anger when things should have gone differently, or we need to make them go differently in the future, especially when there is something to blame.

When wielded in healthy ways, anger is a powerful motivator and powerful fuel for change.  It can provide the impetus to ensure things move in a different direction, that old systems are destroyed, and new systems created in their place.

Blame can be a powerful tool for both avoidances, and for accountability.
Blame can be a powerful tool for both avoidances, and for accountability. Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Blame is Not Inherently Bad

When you are looking for something or someone to blame, just to have a scapegoat, then blame is probably not going to help a situation, any situation.  All finding a scapegoat is going to do is provide momentary or personal justification and gratification, or allow the genuine guilty party to avoid accountability, while creating harm for the scapegoat.  Then the scapegoat has even more to be angry about.

Blame can be a powerful force for positive change when it is sought wisely, when it is about finding the root causes of a circumstance or event.  I say “causes” because there is rarely just one thing that can be blamed for anything.  Life is complicated, and there are usually a great many contributing factors to anything that happens.

When we feel anger, it is extremely validating to look for who or what is to blame for that anger.  It wants a target.  It wants a thing that can be transformed, changed, so that those circumstances can never happen that way again.  It is natural and normal and healthy to want to have a focus for anger, to be angry at something or someone, instead of just angry in general.

The geyser pool is clear when calm, but impossible to see when bursting forth.
The geyser pool is clear when calm, but impossible to see when bursting forth. Image by Filio from Pixabay

Anger Can Cloud Judgement

It may sound a little contradictory, but it is important to try to be objective of your emotions, so that you can judge things accurately and understand where those emotions are coming from.  Try not to assign valuation to the fact that your emotions exist.  For example, it is not bad to be angry, although in most situations it would be bad to punch another person because you are angry.  It can be frustrating to want to punch someone when you cannot, but nothing “bad” has happened unless you punch that someone and create harm.

If you recognize and acknowledge your anger, objectively, you have the opportunity to recognize whether or not you are thinking clearly, or if your judgement is clouded by your anger.  You can acknowledge that you are angry, and then evaluate if you are thinking clearly, or if everything is ready to boil over.  This sort of evaluation (not valuation) can take practice, but it is possible, and sadly, life often gives plenty of opportunities to practice dealing with anger.

If you find yourself feeling angry, take a moment to breathe and acknowledge, truly acknowledge, and accept that you are angry.  Then look at how hot or cold you are running, and how clear your vision is.  Cold anger that runs like icy water is crisply beautiful to look at and can provide an amazing amount of clarity, but slush and daggers of ice can obscure the view.  Hot anger that runs like a pool of steaming water can provide a crystal-clear view to depths that were invisible before, or can boil so ferociously that nothing can be seen.

The more you acknowledge and accept your emotions as they happen, the easier it will become to gauge those emotions, and how you are doing with them.  For some people this is very easy, and for others, especially if they have habitually denied their emotions, it can take a great deal of practice and patience.  But, if you grant yourself that patience and do the work, you can get there.  Shadow work is a slow process, but it helps.

If you see that your anger is providing clarity, you may be able to decide on an appropriate response immediately.  If you see that your anger is clouding your judgement, it may be necessary to give it time to cool, to meditate, to consider, or come back to it when it is not so fresh, to decide on how best to act to create change that you want or need, or if it is in your best interest to simply walk away.

Emotions can create a mess, but when we validate those emotions we can start to make sense of things.
Emotions can create a mess, but when we validate those emotions we can start to make sense of things. Image by succo from Pixabay

Acknowledge and Validate

Consider writing down what you are feeling in a journal, in the note app on your phone, on video, or whatever means is most comfortable to you.  This can help to ensure that you are fully acknowledging your feelings as valid and real, especially if you feel clouded or overwhelmed.  Get it out, no matter how silly or stupid or harsh or mean or profound or paranoid your thoughts and feelings seem, and no matter how many other emotions are wrapped up with the anger.

Let them be.  See them.  Feel them.

When you do that, you open the way to the possibility of finding clarity and understanding, and/or peace and acceptance.  When you give them solidity, you can engage with them intellectually, to see for real what is silly or mean or profound or paranoid or confusing.

When you do that, you give yourself a much better chance of choosing a path forward that will provide positive changes and positive outcomes.  Mistakes can still happen even when you approach things thoughtfully, and positive outcomes are never a certainty, but you can set yourself up for better odds.  If you instead indulge in reactionary behaviors, anger is much more likely to result in toxic indulgence, self-destruction, or mutual annihilation.

Denying, judging, and shaming anger creates more harm, adding to the maelstrom of painful emotions.
Denying, judging, and shaming anger creates more harm, adding to the maelstrom of painful emotions. Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Victim Blaming

Denial of anger is very often a form of victim blaming, especially when you are talking about anger that is felt when an injustice or genuine harm takes place.  When harm has happened, chastising or judging the victim for getting angry places the burden of wrongness on the anger, rather than the harmful event which caused the anger.

When we are harmed by another person or institution, it is very typical to be told that our anger is misplaced, unnecessary, an overreaction, dramatic, or otherwise invalid.  It is also very typical to be told that any and all anger is unhealthy and self-destructive, or negative and bad.  Those who engage in toxic positivity are usually particularly vehement about shaming people who feel anger when they are victimized.

They usually even victim blame themselves, convinced not only that your anger, but also their anger is “just as bad” as the victimization that has occurred.  I could not tell you how many times I have heard or read someone give some version of, “I choose not to be angry.  I choose a better way,” always delivered with self-righteous superiority over the person who has chosen to acknowledge that their anger is real and valid.

Insisting that anger is “just as bad” as the harmful event that created the anger is a false equivalency.

It is a false equivalency that prevents the victim from creating change, the change anger demands in order to prevent the harm from recurring.

It is a false equivalency that piles guilt onto the victim, adding harm upon harm to a person who is already harmed, and prevents healing.

It is a false equivalency that can easily devolve into self-destruction and plummeting self-worth as the denied anger festers and remains poignantly present.

It is a false equivalency that can cause the victim to spiral into spiritual bypassing in a desperate attempt to hold onto “positivity”, to keep the anger that is still present out of sight and out of mind.

When we dwell in the anger, hold it too tight or too long, it can burn us utterly.
When we dwell in the anger, hold it too tight or too long, it can burn us utterly. Image by SAFA TUNCEL from Pixabay

The Risk of Dwelling in Anger

At the same time, it is important not to dwell in anger.  When we dwell in anger, and hold on to it too long or too tight, instead of creating beneficial change it can easily consume us.

When you deny anger, it usually shifts into the shadow and you dwell in it, while smiling and insisting that everything is fine.  At the same time, it boils your feet and makes you sweat and scorches you in random places or threatens to consume you whole.

When you acknowledge and accept anger, it can be a rush.  Anger is incredibly powerful and empowering, and can provide amazing drive and energy to get things done, but that kind of empowerment is always temporary.  It fades, just as a fire fades when the fuel runs out, so it can be tempting to throw more fuel on the fire to continue feeling that empowerment.

A couple days ago a friend said in a group setting where we were discussing shadow work, “Trauma healing can be addictive.”  They were right.  Trauma healing is intimidating to start, but it can get addictive.  The validation, especially if you have never been validated, feels amazingly good, like nothing else before has.  So, we can be tempted to seek out that rush from the validation, time and time again, rehashing old traumas anew so we can reclaim that rush, instead of letting the scars fade naturally over time.

Anger can provide a similar rush from empowerment, of taking control of a situation that harmed you and turning it into something that benefits you instead.  Some people will experience that empowerment, and then chase that rush.  They will latch onto anything they can get angry about, even silly or inconsequential things, or refuse to let go of justifiable anger even after it has become such a dead beaten horse that it has turned to nothing but bones and ash.

If you hold anger past its time, you deny yourself the ability to nurture new growth.
If you hold anger past its time, you deny yourself the ability to nurture new growth. Image by Rommelle Tesoro from Pixabay

Knowing When to Let Go of Anger

It can be hard to know when to let go of anger, but let it go we must.  Where that line is is different for each of us, and each situation, but when anger fades or starts burning you, it is critical to let the anger go.

Like any fire, when it is given healthy room to express, it starts, grows, burns, and then fades away and extinguishes when the fuel is consumed or the situation changes so that fire is impossible, like dousing a candle or throwing water on a campfire.

That means each anger event will have a natural lifespan of its own.  What that lifespan is will depend upon your personal temperament and personality, the root cause of the anger, the amount of harm done and to whom, what you and other do to address the situation, whether or not the problem is resolved, and any other factors at play.

Some people are naturally angrier than others, or tend to run hot or cold in their anger.  Some people hold on to anger like an oil lamp with a lot of oil to burn, and others experience it quickly and let it go just as fast.  No one way of experiencing anger is inherently “better” or “worse” than any other.  They are just different.  As you get to know yourself, you will be better able to understand how you, personally, experience anger, and what is healthy or harmful for you, personally.

If the root causes of your anger are perpetual, that creates a different kind of anger from a momentary event.  For example, the anger I feel at social inequities and injustices in the USA ebbs and flows with specific events, but it is usually present to some degree, because the sources of those problems are ongoing.  As long as those injustices happen, I will be angry about them, but remaining actively perpetually angry is unsustainable for me.  I must disengage and reengage repeatedly, so that I neither burn myself out until I can no longer fight, nor lose sight of the importance of fighting for justice.

Even the most accomplished fighter must take breaks or they will hurt themselves.
Even the most accomplished fighter must take breaks or they will hurt themselves. Image by Yingnan Lu from Pixabay

If someone cuts me off in traffic and nearly hits my car, the anger it evokes is likely to be much more fleeting.  Sure, if I think about the event later on I might get angry again, but it was a do and done situation, with nothing to fix or change, and no lasting harm.  Deliberately holding onto the anger would be pointless and self-destructive.

Resolving the problem is like dousing a candle or throwing water on a fire.  If a problem can be resolved, if amends are made, if things are fixed, if the changes demanded by the anger happen, then the anger has served its purpose and it can heal.  There is no need to waste energy consuming all the fuel that is available if the problem has been solved.  Enjoy the victory and move forward.

If no resolution is possible (like an abuser or bully who is unwilling to acknowledge mistakes and abuses, let alone make amends), it can be hard to find an outlet for the anger, a way for it to use up its fuel and transform into something beneficial, instead of festering and burning you.  When resolution is impossible, it can sometimes be necessary to remove yourself from the situation, to remove the fuel that adds to the anger and allow space to heal the wounds.

Anger is Part of the Grieving Process

It is natural and normal and healthy to experience anger when you lose someone or something, especially if you valued them/it greatly.  It is rarely fair, and it always hurts, no matter how or why the loss happened, and so we get angry.

If you never let yourself feel anger at a loss, you can never truly finish grieving and move from a place of overwhelming sorrow into a place of melancholy acceptance.  If you never allow space to be mad that you are denied access to a love or a joy, you can never create a space where you can remember that love or joy with warmth and fullness.

Anger in grief is when we get to scream at the world and feel the full injustice of a loss.
Anger in grief is when we get to scream at the world and feel the full injustice of a loss. Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay

Anger in grief is profoundly transformative.  It is the stage where we get to scream at the world and feel the injustice of the loss.  When we do, the pain and the trauma and the poignancy of the loss are recognized and validated, so that we can let those raging emotions burn themselves out.  It can be frightening, to let the anger rage itself into extinguishing.  It might create fear that the anger will consume us, or that it will never stop burning, or that it will stop burning… and leave us with nothing but ash and soot and dust and tears.  Because at least anger is real.  It is tangible, and gives a sense of control even when no control exists.

But, what we are left with when we grieve fully and complete is not nothingness.  What is burned away is the resentment and the anger and the overwhelming pain and sorrow, until we are left with love or peace or healing.  When we love someone or something, that love does not end with them, and completing the grieving process allows us to reclaim that love without the overwhelming burden of the pain of the loss, so that we may remember fondly or happily or lovingly, and hold them in our hearts without reservation.

When we are angry at something that cannot be resolved, it can be helpful to approach the anger as part of the grieving process, for we grieve not just people and things, but also possibilities and circumstances.  I did a lot of grieving that my parents were not people that I could have in my life.  I grieved for the should have’s and the could have’s that never were and never will be.  Many traumas are like that, especially traumas that cannot be fixed or resolved, but only validated and healed.  Acknowledging the grief of trauma, and that anger that is part of that grief, can be amazingly transformative and healing.

I have seen it written many a time, that no one should ever cast magic while angry.
I have seen it written many a time, that no one should ever cast magic while angry. Image by Ed Zilch from Pixabay

Witchcraft and Anger

I have seen it written many a time, that no one should ever cast magic while angry, even baneful magic.

If I never cast magic angry, I would never be able to do any magic for social justice, because just thinking about social injustices brings up the anger that is always there simmering in the background.

Is it a good idea for some people to avoid casting magic angry?  Sure, but that is dependent upon their specific personalities, awareness of self, and magical path.  It is anything but a hard rule, especially since I can assure you, I have known plenty of witches over the years who instinctively cast magic all the time, especially when they are angry.  They could not stop doing that if they wanted to, and certainly the majority of them did not want to.

I believe it is much more helpful to try to avoid casting magic when your judgement is clouded.  If your judgement is clouded by anger, joy, sorrow, pain, regret, guilt, love, lust, pride, greed, or some other emotion entirely, it becomes difficult or impossible to focus on an intent that will provide a fully beneficial outcome.  No emotion is inherently a barrier to clear thought, but any emotion can be a barrier to clear thought under the right circumstances.

If you can clearly conceptualize what you want to accomplish and why, and what the potential ramifications are, both positive and negative, then you can do magic, regardless of how strongly your emotions are coursing through your heart and mind and body.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that stronger emotions can make for stronger magic.  If you feel it and mean it with every fiber of your being, it can give that magic an extra boost of focus and power.  Strong emotions, led by clear intent, make for a profoundly powerful magical mixture.

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