Being Angry and “Being Spiritual” | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Being Angry and “Being Spiritual”

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.

14 thoughts on
Being Angry and “Being Spiritual”

  1. Evelyn Lim

    This is something I need to learn to do more as well. Because I don’t enjoy confrontations, I tend to bottle my irritations. But irritations built over a long time can become anger. A better way, as you’ve pointed out, is to share my feelings.

    I am also learning to trust that what I am feeling comes from a positive intention, rather than whip myself for having felt anger. Sharing the positive intention and recognizing that it is my ego taking over to the other party helps in diffusing the heightened tension in the situation. I then move on to acknowledging my higher intent of shifting into integration with my wiser self.

  2. Abuundant Lee

    Thanks for sharing. I totally agree.. we need to be authentic and communicate what we feel, or else we will end up with blocks in our heart and throat chakras.
    Having said that, it could also be different strokes for different folks. While some are learning about feeling and communication, there are those who are learning about patience. Ultimately, one does have to go with the flow and allow oneself to respond spontaneously from one’s heart and trust that such a response is one that is for the highest good of all.

  3. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris!!

    WOW!! Now THIS is something that I SO relate to. Yes! I am working (slowly) on a ebook, and one of the topics in it addresses this issue. I am all for dealing with our anger so that we don’t harm others and continually destroy our relationships and ourselves, BUT I also am an advocate of feeling what we FEEL.

    Spirituality can be a very interesting and even tricky thing. I see people all around me negate their anger because it is NOT deemed spiritual. And what I also see happen in first off that anger taking another form/outlet somewhere in their lives (even if internally directed at themselves). I also see a great loss of soul in terms of REALLY getting to know our most authentic, honest selves. I also see a downfall of relationships due to lack of honesty and REAL bare bones communication, which for my husband and I is the real crux of profound intimacy and bonding, and more importantly, deep deep friendship and understanding.

    For me spirituality does NOT exclude honest and appropriately expressed anger. I think it is essential for full-bodied, grounded spirituality. (A bit like “be spiritual, but chop wood, lug water”, sort of thing.) I also think that I live in a culture that has enormous repression of HEALTHY anger. We live in fear of being seen as “bad” for being angry, or something being the matter with us, or being punished for healthy anger. However, our anger still exists and migrates from it’s potential healthy expression to a repressed and very distorted and destructive anger, which my culture is full of. We even sometimes trade healthy anger for apathy. It’s a subtle mutation but one I also see in my culture.

    Fascinating topic. And your honest writing is what I LOVE about you; it’s gusty. pithy and honest. You are REALLY onto something, and it is listening to your “true voice”. I applaud you, and am thrilled for you.

    Hugs,
    Rob

  4. Patricia

    Hi Chris,
    I am going to mention Nonviolent Communication by Dr. Marshal Rosenberg because it is such a powerful way to deal with others and find connection and then again because I need to remind myself about his work because I am so angry with my whole self right now.

    Great post good words…Oh for perfection? We already are…

  5. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I’ve had a lot of flack from the family over my mother … they cannot see the other side of the coin & therefore have ‘no comprehension’ of my position and perhaps I’m doing some good things for their mother, which perhaps they could learn from. Recently I’ve been extremely angry and upset .. but then I realise that it’s their problem, not mine & I must continue doing what I feel is right and my thoughts and actions are mine, theirs are theirs .. I’m the one that’s benefiting from the situation – though sometimes it’s hard to believe! and hard to deal with .. thanks – Hilary

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — I liked what you said about trusting the way you’re feeling, as opposed to beating yourself up over it in the name of “being spiritual” — I definitely resonate with that, as I’ve started to see my own spiritual practice as more about trusting what’s coming up for me as opposed to demanding that my body feel or not feel a certain way.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Lee — yes, I think your comment touches on one of the most difficult challenges (for me at least) of spiritual practice — of letting go of preconceived notions about how we should feel and behave, and allowing ourselves to be spontaneously guided, even in our day-to-day lives, by a knowing that’s deeper than what we’re consciously aware of a lot of the time.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Robin — yes, that’s my experience as well, that people’s anger emerges in a sort of devious way when it’s covered up by a facade of “spiritual” peacefulness, or an effort to tolerate everything in the name of “doing our work.”

    I used to see my own practice that way — as learning to “sit with” every emotion or sensation I have, without “doing anything about it,” because that would give me choice around how to act. My sense now is that I can fully allow myself to feel what’s coming up, and also speak what’s going on — that there’s no disconnect between doing both.

    I think that’s a great insight, when you say that we tend to live in fear of being punished for our anger — probably because, for many of us, we got accustomed early on to a situation where others have the “right to be angry,” and we’re supposed to sit and accept their judgment. I would even say spirituality, on one level, is about noticing how we’re buying into a dynamic like this and allowing ourselves to be fully human.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patricia — I like what you say about “communicating nonviolently” with yourself — it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we’re often most “violent” in our communications with ourselves? As if the rest of humanity is inherently worthy of dignity and respect, just by virtue of being human, except us? For me, just becoming conscious of moments when I’m thinking that way has been very helpful.

  10. Davina Haisell

    Hi Chris.
    There is a lot of this going around! I read a similar post to this earlier this evening. It reminded me of a book I started reading last year called “Meeting the Shadow.”

    Simply put, all those perceived negative feelings and behaviors are coming from that dark, denied part of ourselves. The shadow begins to develop when we are young as a result of stuffing away things we judge about ourselves to uphold a realistic ideal about the person we believe we “should be”. It’s the ego that makes those judgments and the ego that builds the shadow. I find all this fascinating.

  11. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    Wow, how very refreshing, Chris. Of course we get angry and need to respect it as something valuable. Of course love is important, too, but it’s not the be all and end all. If we have the capacity to love, so do we have the capacity to hate. Likewise, if we can be calm so too can we be angry. I’m a big fan of Robert Johnson’s writing about this in “Owning Your Own Shadow.” He suggests that in accepting all of these parts of ourselves, we gain enough flexibility to move into that in-between space, what he calls the fulcrum of the teeter totter. Such a place allows us to to use all of our emotions, and their opposites, in a healthy and centered way. Which sounds exactly like what you’re doing these days. Very inspiring!

  12. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — thanks, it sounds like you got clear around some of the stuff that’s going on for you right now when you were writing your comment — I aim to provide a space where people can do that. Or maybe I’m wrong and that’s not what happened at all! But this is a space where I can be wrong too. :)

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi Davina — yeah, I’m getting the sense as well that people who write on personal development are moving in the direction of embracing all of their humanity, as opposed to trying to be perpetually happy or motivated or something along those lines. That’s a refreshing trend for me and it’s always been the direction I’ve been hoping the “field” would move in. Yes, the shadow is definitely what I’m talking about here — the subtle way our anger strikes out at people when we aren’t willing to acknowledge, or speak, the fact that it’s there.

  14. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patty — I like that way of putting it about acknowledging all of our emotions leading to the healthier expression of all of them — I’ve definitely experienced that in my own life around anger and setting boundaries recently. I notice that, the more I feel able to tell someone I don’t like what’s going on, the more I become able to admit when I’ve made a mistake, and to be with someone else’s anger without getting shrunken or defensive.

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