Voice Lessons for Today Blog » Insights from Atlanta therapist Mazi Robinson

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Decluttering Your Soul

I cannot stand clutter. It literally stresses me out. When my kitchen counter gets too overrun with unopened mail and my son’s artwork and stacks of other papers that I don’t know what to do with, my heart starts racing and I can feel my body temperature start to rise.

That being said, I am not one of these super organized people. As much as clutter stresses me out, so do those pictures on Pinterest of organizing solutions and color coded, labeled bins. I look at those pictures I simultaneously feel jealous, annoyed, and overwhelmed. That level of organization just seems like so much to get organized

So as much as I dislike clutter, the truth is I’m no stranger to jam packed shelves, overstuffed drawers, and stacks… oh I love my stacks.

Whenever I think of clutter and things that I need to let go of, two items in my house always come to mind: the double Slanket and the ice cream maker

Let me start with the ice cream maker. I don’t know what my husband and I thought our lives as a married couple were going to be like when we were registering for gifts twelve years ago, but apparently we thought we were going to be entertainers extraordinaire. We registered for an assortment of entertaining items and household goods that in a million years I don’t know how or when we could have used all that stuff.   Over the years, I have managed to part with some of those things, but there is one item I simply cannot let go of- the ice cream maker

This ice cream takes up a rather large amount of real estate in our pantry/laundry room, and truth be told, I have never even gotten the thing out of the box. Never. Yet, I will not give it away. I feel bad that someone spent all that money on a gift and feel like I should hold onto it. I tell myself that someday I’ll make ice cream for my son… and there will be memories… and laughter. There will ice cream, laughter filled memories. And so there the ice cream maker still sits

Then there is the Slanket. About six years ago you may remember that the Snuggie appeared on the market. You could by a Snuggie at Walgreens for $14. But a Slanket, the original blanket with sleeves, was sold on television for $40. I have no idea what prompted my husband to do this, but one night he saw a commercial for a double Slanket, a Slanket with four armholes so you and your loved one can sit cuddled under this contraption, and he spent $40+ on this double Slanket. He was beyond proud of himself and so excited to have solved all of my nightly temperature challenges.

Well, the $40+ Slanket arrived, and I have no idea what this thing was made of but you couldn’t sit under it for more than five minutes for fear that your body would burst into flames. It didn’t just keep you warm. It set your body on fire… a sweaty, fiery mess.

So use of the Slanket was very short lived yet it lingers in one of our few cabinets we have for storage because my husband refuses to let me give it away. Clutter. It is the worst.

We all have things we hang onto and things that are easier for us to let go of, and we have all sorts of reasons we let things linger in our lives:

So and so gave me this so I feel guilty if I give it away.
I might need it in the future.
It might come back in style.
I’ll reread it someday.
I will read it someday.
We got these on that trip years ago.
I’ll hold onto these in case I lose the weight… in case I gain the weight back.
I spent a lot of money on this- I can’t just give it away.
This might be worth something someday.
We have to keep it for nostalgic sake.

After we stare at the cluttered cabinet and closet for far too long and muse over this laundry list of reasons, we most likely end up feeling overwhelmed and we shut the door and think, “Ugh I’ll just deal with that later.” And the clutter stays… stays taking up space… taking up room… taking up opportunity that something more beneficial, more productive, more necessary could inhabit.

Isn’t that the problem with clutter? It takes up valuable space. Even if we don’t want to make room for something else, it is still taking up space. Clutter makes things harder to find. It clouds our vision and all we can see is the mess, the clutter. We can’t see the thing we’re looking for, the thing we need in the moment.

The cost of clutter in our homes is similar to the cost of clutter in souls. Like old sweaters we can’t let go of or kitchen appliances we’re convinced we will use someday, there are some things that we hold onto in our lives sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. Habits, quirks, worries, fears, decisions, regrets, hurts, relationships, images of who we think a loved one should be, images of who we think we should be, criticisms, dreams, nightmares. All of this stuff clutters our lives. It may not clutter our physical lives- on the outside those may look pristinely organized with color-coded, labeled bins- but it clutters our inner lives.

Just like the stuff in our closets and cabinets, this clutter keeps us from seeing what we need to see. It keeps us from finding answers, from using the resources available to us. It keeps us from trying new habits. It keeps us from going after new, healthy relationships because we’ve learned to live around all the clutter.   We’ve learned to accommodate the clutter.

What are the worries, concerns, and insecurities that are cluttering your mind? What are the feelings of anger, disappointment, and shame that are cluttering your heart?   A cluttered mind races at night and spaces out during the day. A cluttered heart is overly guarded, a little raw, and sometimes lonely. Mental clutter keeps us from doing the things we were meant to do while heart clutter keeps us from being the people we were meant to be.

What do you want to let go of in your life? What are you ready to let go of in your life? It’s the same question with one very important word change. We have to be ready to let go. We have to be willing to do the hard work to let go of the clutter that has become so much a part of our lives that we may not even notice it any more.  It can be a scary endeavor to think about letting go of the clutter that has become your constant companion, your excuse, your rationalization, maybe even your identity. But when you let go of your mental and heart clutter, you make room for the answers, wisdom, love, freedom, and joy that your mind and heart truly need.

What do you want to let go of in your life? What are you ready to let go of in your life?

Kristen - I laughed aloud reading about the ice cream maker and slanket. Oh the slanket! Let’s break out the ice cream maker next time we’re in town. I can envision with you the laughter filled memories! We cleaned out the garage yesterday which is number 34 on my list of things to clean out (literally)–I could have slept in the garage last night. That’s how happy I was about decluttering that space. A 100x more when it’s my soul!

Ellen - Re the ice cream maker: I had one collecting dust for years as well. And then, as my husband and I faced one of our rockiest years, last summer we pulled out the ice cream maker and made ice cream. All summer. We would choose a flavor, make it, eat it til it was gone, and start all over again. We developed a rating system. It helped us connect over something, when at times it felt difficult to connect over anything.

I don’t really know what to say about the Slanket though. My dog does like the snuggie I got for Christmas one year.

I’m a Quitter

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I love those pictures with quotes on them. Recently, I was scrolling through my News Feed and saw one that said quitting is never an option.

Immediately I heard Eye of the Tiger in my mind and images of Rocky and football teams practicing in the rain and the U.S. Hockey team doing that skating drill over and over in Miracle flashed through my mind. (I LOVE sports movies. I am in no way an athlete, but sports movies and documentaries move me to chills and tears.)

After I came to from my movie montage daydream, I thought about how often we hear statements like that. Never quit. Never Give Up. Those statements are indeed inspiring and encouraging. We do have to learn to keep going. We have to push through, hang in there. A life of always giving up ends up not being much of a life.

But this time when I read this quote, I didn’t think Yeah charge the mountain, fight the good fight. Instead, I thought…

I’m a quitter.

I thought for a few more moments and decided yep I’m a quitter and I am totally okay with it.

We think of the word quit as one of the worst four letter words out there. It’s right up there with lose and lazy. You never want to be a loser. Heaven forbid someone call you lazy, and you never, EVER want to be seen as a quitter. We run from these labels as if they were ghosts chasing us in a dark forest.

But you know, as I think about all the things I have quit in my life, I have to say I’m pretty thankful that sometimes I’m a quitter.

I’m thankful I quit certain toxic relationships.
I’m thankful I quit blaming myself for things that weren’t my responsibility.
I’m thankful I quit music so I could pursue teaching.
I’m thankful I quit teaching so I could pursue a career in counseling.
I’m thankful I quit being afraid to leave my comfort zone and started taking leaps of faith.
I’m thankful I quit wrestling with certain decisions and took action.
I’m thankful I quit being angry with certain people.
I’m thankful I am working on quitting worrying about what people think of me.
I’m thankful I have been a quitter.

I think most people fall into one of two camps- There are those that quit everything and never push through the difficulty of hard work, uncertainty, and disappointment. And then there are the people who never quit and stay long past the point of healthy dedication and perseverance. They never quit because they don’t want to be perceived as a quitter, and they’ve developed a distorted sense of loyalty and commitment. They never quit because they are afraid. They never quit because they have lost all sense of self and what is right and wrong and how they deserve to be treated. They never quit, and instead their spirit slowly dies.

Yes, sometimes it is okay to quit. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is quit. Sometimes we have to become broken enough to discover we are strong enough to quit. Sometimes quitting is the thing that will save your soul.

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One of our most difficult tasks in life is learning to discern the difference between when we should keep moving forward and when we should lift our hands in the air and say I’m done. How do we know when to quit, move on, try a new direction, and how do we know when to stick it out, pursue, and persevere? There is not a formula for deciphering this equation. Every situation breeds a different answer.   Every story requires a different ending. Finding a balance between quitting and persevering in your life is the mark of health and maturity.

If you quit everything, then you will never learn the beauty of hard work nor will you learn the depth of your own strength and faith.   Conversely, if you hold onto everything, you may never know the power of healing and the exhilaration of letting go and trying something new.  It is emotionally dangerous to live under the notion that quitting is always wrong. Quitting can be the doorway to freedom and wholeness.

Yeah I’ve been a quitter in my life, and I’ve also been a keeper on-er. Knowing when to hang in there and knowing when to surrender have been some of the hardest decisions I have ever made.   I’m thankful for those times when I haven’t given up and hung in there, and I’m also thankful for the times I reached the end of myself and quit.

The new year is just days away, and as you are contemplating resolutions and major and minor life changes, think about where in your life you need to persevere and where you need to quit. Ask yourself if you need to quit something but are afraid to do so. Challenge yourself to wisely discern the difference between when you need to dig deep and find extra faith and strength and when you need to quit. My friends, here’s to knowing when to hang on and knowing when to quit in 2015!

What do you need to quit as you wrap up 2014 and prepare for the new year? What have you quit in your past that opened the door to healing and new opportunities? How do you discern when to quit and when to persevere?

Jamie - Thanks for sharing this today! I love your blog and so appreciate your perspective.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from my favorite movie, “You’ve Got Mail” – when Kathleen decides to close her beloved store, she feels defeated but is wisely told, “Closing the store is the brave thing to do. You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure. But you’re not.”

🙂

Kristin Walker - My good friend Valerie sent this to me and I just subscribed. What a timely post. She knew I needed to read this right now. I was always too much of a hanger on-er. I finally stopped but lace myself with guilt about it especially when it comes to people. Sometimes the only resolution with someone is that there will be no resolution. You can talk and talk until you are blue in the face and they can’t or won’t hear you. Best to move on, cut out, cut off if necessary. Thanks for this post. I will enjoy reading more.

Barbara Exley - Love this Mazi!!’

Maggie Patterson - Yes! Could not have said it better myself. Happy New Year!

Anne - Mazi, I used to be a hanger-on. I would hold tight and keep thinking about how much (time, money, emotion, life) I had invested. I would only quit something when forced to the edge. Today, I am proud to say that thanks to your help, I too am a quitter. I quit a toxic situation and am slowly changing my life. I am not where God intends for me to be, but I am on the right path. You helped me to see that sometimes, walking away is what takes strength. You also helped me to reframe the way I look at what is worth fighting to save. That which destroys our true self is not safe and should be ditched. Thank you for helping me to become a quitter!

Back In The Saddle Again

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Oh my dear, beloved blog! It has been too long! Where has the time gone? Last time I posted, kids were just settling back in school and football season was starting. Now kids are getting ready for break, the football gods have decided who the best four teams in the nation are, and it is almost Christmas! It takes your breath away how quickly times passes!

So let me catch you up on what’s been going on. The Fall was FULL. Full with so many good things, but full nonetheless. I had the opportunity to speak in front of some amazing groups of men and women over the past few months. There is nothing I love more than seeing people eager to live as we were created- with purpose and for a purpose!   I held my first Daring Moms group and another Daring Way™ retreat for women. Both groups were filled with strong, courageous, amazing ladies. It is a true honor to do this work with women who desire change and freedom in their lives. On the personal side, we took my son to his first college football game and enjoyed some great time with family and friends. Yes, FULL indeed!

Although I have been MIA from the blog, I have thought of you often and written about a hundred posts in my mind over the past three months.  They were all really good- Ha! About three weeks ago, things finally settled down with my schedule, and I immediately thought that I wanted set aside some time to write. But an odd thing kept happening- I kept thinking of other things to do. I need to catch up on this. I need to read that. I need to contact so-and-so.

As my procrastination continued, I became more and more curious as to why I still had not put fingers to keyboard. Being the over-analyzer that I am, I did a little soul searching and realized I was dragging my feet because it felt a little vulnerable to post after so long. Vulnerable?   Yeah.

My thought process went a little something like this: It’s been three months since my last post, so this next post needs to be REALLY awesome. Ugh it’s easier not to write then I don’t have to worry about looking foolish. It looks bad that I haven’t posted in three months; that’s not being very dedicated or intentional. I said I was going to a do a read-a-long. Where’s the read-a-long, Mazi???

In short, my self-doubt and self-criticism began to shout a little. As I shared before, having people read my writing feels very exposing for me. I can speak in front of groups of people everyday and twice on Sunday and feel completely at ease. But there is something about having people read, rather than hear, my words that feels more vulnerable to me. It feels more out of my control. When I speak, I can sense if my words are resonating or if I need to re-state something. But when I write, I’m just… putting it out there. Putting it out there for people to read and criticize and judge.

Yeah starting to write again after a three-month break felt very vulnerable. I realized I was out of practice in facing that vulnerability and doing it anyway. My muscles were a little weaker so my self-doubt was chirping a little louder, and as a result, my procrastination skills were a little stronger.

Has this ever happened to you? You want to do something but you keep thinking of fifty other things to do instead. You are really excited about starting something yet you never follow through.  You’ve taken a break from something you enjoy but you’re struggling to find the wherewithal to pick the activity back up.  Why do we put off doing what we say we want to do? Why do we procrastinate??

I think we avoid and procrastinate for a host of reasons. We don’t know where to start. We don’t know what to do. We’re afraid of making the wrong decision/doing it wrong. We feel vulnerable and don’t even realize it. The thing we want to do feels uncertain and exposing. We don’t know the outcome. We sub-consciously know we expect ourselves to be perfect so the thought of having to work that hard/try that hard feels daunting so we stop before we begin. We avoid doing what we want to do, what is good for us for all sorts of reasons.

And then the longer we avoid something, the bigger it seems in our mind to actually do make the decision or call the person or submit the proposal. Avoidance doesn’t make things smaller. It makes them seem bigger and even more insurmountable.   We stop practicing doing the hard and uncomfortable things so we forget we actually can do the hard and uncomfortable things.  It is difficult to get back into the routine of doing the things that are good for us and so we keep practicing avoidance.

Sometimes we have to stop thinking, stop planning, and just start doing.  In my case, I had to stop thinking about what would be the “right” topic for my next/first post, and I had to just start typing.   Action is so much more effective than intention. I’ve learned that in my life if I don’t keep practicing being vulnerable, then my doubts and insecurities are liable to take control of my life.  If I want to keep my insecurities at bay, then I have to regularly practice doing the thing that makes me feel uncomfortable.

So I’m back in the saddle again with blogging.   This blog continues to be an interesting teacher for me- it is something I enjoy and actually wish I could do more of, but it is definitely outside my comfort zone.  It feels good to put fingers to keys after so long.  It feels good to be uncertain and vulnerable.  Breaks are good, but we have to know when it’s time to saddle up and start riding again. Let’s saddle up together and start practicing doing the hard, uncomfortable things!   Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. Practice action rather than avoidance!

What do you need to stop thinking about and just start doing? What saddle do you need to get back on? What are you avoiding that you actually want to do or that would be good for you?  Are practicing the behaviors in your life that you want to make permanent?

The Truth about Anger (Part 2): Getting to the Root of Our Anger

Has this ever happened to you: you are going about your day and something happens that totally ticks you off. You become completely frustrated and irritated as if from out of nowhere. The dust settles, some time passes, and then you wonder Why in the world did I just get so angry?

Why do we get angry?? What is our anger really about?

Last week we started a discussion on anger. We defined anger and discussed that anger does not have to be destructive. Stuffed anger is just has harmful to our spirits and relationships as out of control anger. We keep anger from being destructive when we learn to identify what anger feels like in our bodies and how we act in anger.   It’s normal to feel angry; it’s what you do with and in it that really matters.

We left off last week by saying that anger is a secondary emotion. Of all the things I’ve learned about anger, this little fact has been the most helpful. What does it mean that anger is a secondary emotion? Like an iceberg with it’s tip rising above the ocean, there is much more going on than initially meets the eye.  It means that there is always another emotion behind anger, and that emotion goes much deeper than the anger that is exploding above the surface. Yes, you may feel angry… really, truly angry. But there is another emotion that is fueling that anger.

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Learning to manage your anger means digging past your anger and identifying that root emotion. It is that root emotion that needs to be recognized and shared. Staying in your anger rather than taking the time to understand the true emotion that is fueling that anger will block anyone, including yourself, from really knowing and understanding you. Your anger then becomes a mask that keeps your authentic, vulnerable self from being seen. If we want to develop closer, more intimate relationships, we must learn to lower that mask.

The three emotions that I find are often at the root of our anger are fear/anxiety, shame (feeling insecure or not good enough), and hurt (specifically disappointment). Let’s take a closer look at how each of these feelings can pave the way to anger.

 

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FEAR/ANXIETY

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or dread of something unknown that may or may not be real. Anxiety and fear are parts of life. Yet, so often when we are angry, if we dig real deep we may realize we are actually feeling anxious or scared. We can feel anxious over everything from running late to church (confession: I snap at my husband more on the way to church than any other time we’re in the car. Lovely I know) to worrying if our children are going to grow up to be serial killers because they won’t eat to green vegetables to wondering if our job is in jeopardy. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we are much more likely to respond to someone in anger.

Let’s look at how this might play out… Work has been particularly stressful lately and there has been talk of layoffs. The environment is tense, and you are taking on extra projects trying to prove your worth and value to the company despite the air of uncertainty. You also notice that everyone in your life just happens to be especially irritating lately, and you have been arguing more with your spouse and family members. Simply put, you just feel crabby, irritated, and all around angry.

What is going on here is not that you are now an angry person or that everyone you know is all the sudden irritating, but really you are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of your job. Anxiety and fear leave us feeling weak and exposed. We counter that powerless feeling with an emotion that makes us feel “powerful”. All that adrenaline pumping through our veins certainly does make us feel powerful. In truth, though, it is a false sense of power… a false sense of power that is very seductive. That seduction is why we keep returning to the trough of anger again and again when we feel weak and powerless.

If you can slow yourself down and identify the anxiety, then you will be able to handle your anger in a more productive way. You will be able to communicate that you are feeling nervous about your work situation, and you will connect with your loved ones at a deeper level. Understanding that we are angry but then understanding what is actually behind that anger is what allows us to build emotionally honest and vulnerable relationships. Recognizing this connection between anger and anxiety/fear can be a real a-ha moment and learning to honestly and vulnerably communicate your fears can prevent all sorts of unnecessary conflict.

 

SHAME/INSECURITY

There is nothing that sends us into anger quicker than feeling insecure, unworthy, or not good enough. Feeling inadequate quickly triggers both our anger and anxiety, and in these situations we are inclined to either withdraw or lash out. Take a second and think of a time when you felt insecure or unsure of yourself? In that moment, how did you react to those around you? Did someone else bear the brunt of your feelings of inadequacy?

When we are feeling insecure or wondering if people are judging us, it is so easy for us in turn to become disgruntled and critical of others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves we are much more likely to use criticism and shame as our weapon of choice. We spew our shame onto someone else as a way of disconnecting from the pain of that shame. Looking at this root of our anger takes a lot of courage because we do not like to admit we feel insecure, and we really do not like to pinpoint the things that make us feel insecure. We feel insecure about our insecurities.

Slowing yourself down and learning to identify that your anger is masking deeper feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, allows you to begin to address and heal those painful feelings. You can then share what is truly bothering you rather than picking a fight with someone and covering them in your shame-induced-anger.

 

HURT/DISAPPOINTMENT

Feeling hurt is a raw and tender root of anger, and hurt is often linked to disappointment. Whether we mean to or not, we have expectations. We have expectations for everything from a trip to Target to what our future is going to look like to how a dinner or a conversation or a vacation is going to go. When things do not go as planned or hoped, we feel disappointed and that disappointment may manifest as anger.

This happens all the time, and it is a great example of how we try to bury sharing our true feeling and deflect that disappointment by getting angry. Disappointment-induced-anger can be especially dangerous when we are unaware we had any expectations to begin with. It is in those scenarios when, if we are unaware of our own expectations, we are more likely to react defensively and blame another person. We do this because we are in a fight/flight response and our mind’s automatic response/goal is survival. We try to “survive” this disappointment by shutting down the emotion and turning it into anger. We have to teach our mind’s automatic response that there is another way. In sharing our true emotion, in this case disappointment, we are actually practicing vulnerability and openness, which will create more intimacy in the relationship.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We use anger to shut down and mask the emotions that leave us feeling weak or exposed or uncomfortable. But ultimately, this mask does no one any good. We have to slow ourselves down from reacting impulsively in our anger. Anger that is impulsively fired off injures individuals and relationships. But when we slow ourselves down, peel back the layers, and look at the true emotions behind our anger, we build awareness in ourselves and intimacy in our relationships.

So here’s our challenge. Everyone is going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a day where they have a little less patience. Everyone is going to feel frustrated, anxious, insecure, disappointed at times. It is normal. It is okay. The challenge is what are you going to do with those feelings. Are you going to let them turn into anger or are you going to spend some time understanding and sharing them?

Yes, we get angry, but anger is not always our true emotion, so to speak. Often, anger is a mask hiding our genuine heart. If you want to live authentically, if you want to be known and understood, if you want to practice vulnerability, you have to name and share the true emotion behind your anger. That is being emotionally honest. That is letting people really see you. That is how you find your voice.

 

Think about the last time you got angry. What was the true emotion you were experiencing? What would it be like to share that truth with the person who received your anger?

How would your life change if you made it a practice to ask yourself when you get angry, “Am I feeling anxious/fearful, insecure/not good enough, or disappointed/hurt?” and then shared those feelings with someone you trusted.

Caroline Baron - Mazi, I saw you at Catalyst but you were en route to a session, so I didn’t get to say hello. This certainly echos what we heard from Tim Keller about sin that is stuffed down simply becoming a coiled animal ready to pounce. Great post 🙂

The Truth About Anger (Part 1)

When was the last time you were annoyed? Frustrated? Irritated? Down right angry?   Was it sitting in traffic with no end in sight when you were already late for an appointment? Was it taking your brood grocery shopping only to spend most of the time picking items up off the floor rather than putting them in your basket?   Or was it when you even shocked yourself at how animated (yeah we’ll go with that word) you became watching the latest sporting event?

 

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Anger is such an interesting emotion.  Sometimes our anger is totally warranted and sometimes it stems more from an overreaction. Anger is an emotion that a lot of people dislike to the point of fearing it. They dislike feeling it themselves and seeing it in others. This is probably because they have seen too many displays of destructive anger.  Over the years, we’ve heard all sorts of myths and mistruths about anger, which feeds our reluctance to acknowledge and understand our anger.   So anger remains this mysterious and scary emotion that most of us try to avoid at all costs.

But when we ignore or avoid our anger, we run the risk of either becoming very quiet or adopting a false voice- a harsh voice, an invulnerable voice, a voice that does not let anyone know us or get close.  Understanding the truth about anger helps you live a more authentic, vulnerable, and emotionally honest life.  Your self-awareness increases and your relationships benefit.   This is the first of a two-part blog post on understanding the truth about anger.  Why do we get angry? What is the purpose of anger and what can we learn from our anger?

All of our emotions serve as a signaling system of sorts for our mind.  Our feelings let us know how we are experiencing a situation. When we are feeling angry that tells us something has gone wrong, some sort of boundary has been crossed.  Often, it means something has happened that goes against how we think the world should work, we should be treated, or we should act.

Anger is an emotion and like any emotion it is natural for us to feel it.  It is not wrong to feel angry.  Anger is not innately destructive, but it becomes destructive when we don’t understand what triggers it or is at the root of it.  In those circumstances, we let our anger get out of control.  Anger is not a bad thing, but what we do with anger can be destructive because most of the time when we are angry we are reacting, rather than choosing to act.  When we are reactive, we are usually (okay… always) out of control.

It is neither realistic nor human to try and go through life never getting angry. Everyone gets angry.  Yes, even the sweetest, most patient peacemakers amongst us get angry.  However, it IS realistic to learn what is behind your anger so you can choose your actions and they are under control and non-harmful.

So what does it feel like to be angry?  That’s an interesting question.  We may not always realize we are angry.  What?  Yep, you read that correctly.  Many of us are so uncomfortable with anger that we stuff away any inkling of anger and redirect that energy to other activities and/or people.  But just because we stuff our feelings does not mean that our body is not still experiencing that emotion. If we know and understand how we physically experience anger, we can pay attention to our body’s cues and use that as a signal to say, “Whoa what’s going on here? Let me step away from this situation before I do or say something I’m going to regret.”

 

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For example, if one of your physical symptoms for anger is a racing heart then when you notice your heart is racing let that be a signal that you need to stop the conversation, leave the room, etc. until you are in a more settled state physically and mentally.  Let’s be honest, this is hard to do sometimes because when that adrenaline starts pumping you just want to hang in there for the long haul. But to continue in the situation leads to destructive anger, which is never what we want.

As we become more frustrated, we become more stressed and our bodies start experiencing a physical stress response- the whole fight or flight response that has been programmed in us since cave man days when you either had to fight the tiger or run like hell.  Except now there is no tiger, but your brain doesn’t know that.  There is only your spouse or your child or your boss. (Maybe a tiger would be better!)  Your adrenaline is pumping and your brain and body are thinking, “This is it. We’ve got to either run or fight the tiger.”

In an instant, the following things start happening in your body so you can either get ready to fight or get ready to run:

  • Increased adrenaline
  • Muscles tighten
  • Increased alertness
  • Digestion stops in order to save energy  (you don’t really need to keep digesting that hamburger if you’re about to be “eaten by a tiger”)
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased heartbeat and blood pressure
  • Increased breathing
  • Pupils dilate and peripheral vision increases
  • Increased perspiration

All of this happens in less than two heartbeats! (Side note- isn’t the human body AMAZING?!?)  Perhaps some of you can even feel it happening.  You can feel your temperature rise and your heart race. You can feel yourself digging your heels in and getting ready to fight.  But when we get in this adrenaline pumping fight or flight mode, we don’t think clearly. When your mind is in this mode it has one objective: survival (aka win).  Your mind is not in a state where it can reason or think through things.  That is why when we are angry or frustrated we say things that we don’t mean, give consequences we have no intention of carrying out, or do things we would never do in a calm state. We are in survival mode and we will do or say anything to survive (a.k.a. win).

OR maybe your experience with anger and the proverbial tiger is different.  Maybe you are thinking I really just don’t get angry. I don’t dig in my heels. I actually am fairly calm.  Maybe you are not a fighter; maybe you are a withdrawer.  Instead of feeling a hot flash on your cheeks, you feel as if a shield is descending, and you can feel yourself pulling inward and tuning everything out.

One thing to note, whether you fight or withdraw when you are angry, you are still angry.  Some people do tend to withdraw or freeze when they are angry, and it is easy for those people to think they never get angry or don’t have a problem with anger.  This is false. Remember, we said everyone gets angry. Regardless of how you respond externally, you are still angry internally.  Stuffed anger always comes out.  It may come out a week a later, a month later, or twenty years later. It may come out in the form of depression and anxiety.  It may come out on someone or some thing not even related to the original feeling, but it always comes out.

If we want to be the healthiest versions of ourselves and if we want to have productive conflict (this can happen) in our relationships, we have to understand what happens when we’re angry, why we get angry, and how to communicate what is really going on with us.  In Part II of this blog post, we’re going to look at what is really behind our anger.  Anger is what we call a secondary emotion, which means there are always other emotions that are at the root of our anger.  Yes, it’s honest to admit you’re angry, but it is a brave act of emotional honesty and vulnerability to say, “Yes, I’m angry but really I’m scared, I’m anxious.”  If we can learn to identify and express those root emotions, then we will have those open, healthy, authentic relationships we long for.  Our hearts will thank us, our bodies will thank us, and our loved ones will thank us.  Check back in a few days for Part II: The Roots of Our Anger.  See you then!