Journey 324: Anger as a Map

As this amazing week of insights and revelations is concluding, I spent time today thinking about anger. I don’t like anger…expressing it or being the object of it. Anger is one of the emotions I learned to shut down at an early age. And not just because I thought “nice” people shouldn’t get angry. I didn’t like the accompanying feeling of losing control. 

It’s not that I can’t experience anger. Although I am slow to reach a place of wrath, once there, I simmer in it for quite some time. Therefore, I’d rather not go there at all. So when Week Three in The Artist’s Way began the chapter with anger, my immediate response was discomfort. I didn’t want to read about it. 

To my surprise, I really appreciate what the author, Julia Cameron, says. She calls anger fuel. We experience it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, yell, attack, throw a fit. On an energetic level, I understand that. When my granddaughter Aubrey was a toddler, she would throw things when she was angry or frustrated. The act of heaving a toy would release the build up of energy that the anger was causing and then she would be fine. Smart baby. It doesn’t seem so appropriate when an adult flings an object, and yet he is doing the same thing…releasing pent up energy. 

Julia points out that while people have all these reactions to anger…from acting out to burying it…few listen to anger. I sure haven’t. I attempt to avoid it, shut it up, ignore it. But anger is meant to be listened to. It’s a map, says Julia, meant to show us our boundaries, show us where we want to go, and where we have been that we didn’t particularly like. Anger points a finger, not at others, but in a direction that we need to go.

Instead of acting in anger, it is the fuel to take the actions we need, to move where our anger points us. An example is:

“Blast him! I could make a better film than that! (Anger says – You want to make movies? Learn how.) 

My beliefs about anger have shifted as a result of this section in the book. It doesn’t have to be about losing control. Or acting out. I like the idea of using anger as a map. As guidance. As a marker of where my boundaries are. Someone cuts me off in traffic? My irritation can alert me to the fact that my personal space was invaded. That I perhaps need to adjust my speed, allow for more space between my car and the next, or raise my awareness as I drive. It’s not an attack on me by the other driver. And the resulting anger is a temporary directional arrow to lead me rather than a weapon of retaliation to unleash. 

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel uncomfortable with the emotion of anger. In fact, I’m almost excited to have a situation arise that sparks anger in me so that I can heed the guidance, study the map that it provides, and learn something about myself. In the recent animated movie, Inside Out, the main character Riley discovers that she needs all of her emotions, operating together, to live a healthy life. I am discovering this truth as well. I need anger to show me what’s important to me, and direct me to areas of my life that would benefit from more attention.

So go ahead. Make my day. Make me angry. And then watch me grow.