In the past, when someone said something to me that I found insulting or disrespectful, I tried to avoid reacting angrily. I told myself I was probably just being thin-skinned, and that the other person probably didn’t intend to hurt me.
Besides, I said to myself in “spiritual” jargon, the anger I feel comes from my ego — my identification with my body, my accomplishments, my possessions, and so on. In reality, I am all that is, I am consciousness itself, I am Atman. How could pure spirit take offense at anything? By letting myself get upset, I dishonor my true nature.
On one level, I think some of this “spiritual talk” is valid. There have been moments when, in meditation, I’ve ceased identifying with the body and history that people arbitrarily label “Chris,” and experienced myself as limitless consciousness.
And yet, I can’t deny that, from time to time, I get pissed off. I feel a tension in my shoulders and a dull heat in my lower back. In moments like these, I can remind myself of my spiritual nature until the proverbial cows come home, but that won’t change how I feel.
Is It “Spiritual” To Deny Our Anger?
A little while back, it occurred to me: is it really “spiritual” to tell myself I shouldn’t feel angry, even though I do? If I, in my true nature, am perfect and complete, why isn’t my anger perfect and complete too? If I’m really a “spiritual being having a human experience,” why isn’t it okay for that experience to include getting mad sometimes?
What’s more, I used to tell myself that, in my true nature as spirit, I am infinitely loving. Thus, when I tell someone I’m angry, I’m acting inconsistently with my deepest self. But does this make sense?
In fact, I find my relationships with people most loving when I can tell them what’s really going on for me, and hear the same from them. How can I really connect with, and love, another person if I’m not willing to reveal my anger to them? Doesn’t that render our relationship kind of a farce, or at least superficial and businesslike?
Anger and Intimacy
Acknowledging all this was painful, as I think most growth is. But these realizations have led me to start dealing with people in a way that’s a lot more satisfying for me — and, I think, for them as well.
Over the past year, when someone has talked to me in a way I’ve found disrespectful, I’ve taken to telling them “I don’t like what you just said to me.” I don’t call them names or otherwise attack them — I just share, matter-of-factly, how I feel.
Instead of destroying my relationships, doing this has actually led to deeper intimacy. I’ve found that, when I tell someone what’s really going on for me, they tend to feel freer to reveal their own emotions to me. Even if what they share is their own anger, that gives me a better sense of who they are.
This doesn’t always happen, of course. As I’m sure you know, there certainly are people out there who just want to say something hurtful and leave, feeling like they “won” or became superior as a result. But by and large, letting people know when I’m upset has actually brought me closer to them, and fostered a more genuine connection.