Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
My experience of anger has a parallel to this belief of choice while in the face of intense emotion. I first started to get to know my anger during a time in my teenage years when upheaval and inconsistency was present. My brother was struggling with some of his own personal battles while my parents strived to continue providing for us both equally. During this time, anger became my norm. Anger became a constant in my life when other things were not as certain. And I held onto that anger until I was able to face what was underneath those feelings of hostility: sadness and fear.
This was a realization that did not come until I met my husband. In creating a vulnerability with him I was able to understand my anger on a more intimate level. He was a mirror for what I was trying to starve off and avoid. It taught me that my anger was protecting me from feeling the emotional underbelly in the moment and created safety for me. I can acknowledge that now.
Knowing what I know now, professionally and personally, I can pinpoint how I became familiar and friendly with my anger. Anger is a secondary emotion, which translates to being a layer for another emotional experience. As humans with emotional experiences, we often experience multi-layered emotions that require us to be detectives about our feelings.
A fantastic first clue about our anger is our body and the awareness of its experiences: these are feelings. A physical sensation activates a feeling about it. When I experience anger, I notice a physical humming sensation start in my stomach as my adrenaline rises and my heart rate quickens. I also tend to tense my shoulders. These clues are my body’s way of telling me something feels activating or even violating to me.
A secondary clue about our anger is our past experiences and exposures with anger: these are emotions, or emotional experiences. A feeling that activates a memory evokes this “layered” experience of a bodily sensation and has the ability to transport us to the past. The opportunity to detect both feelings and emotions can be a powerful tool for us.
Interoception is the ability to detect the body’s reaction and experience, which is essential in being able to identify our feelings and emotions accurately. Practicing recognizing the humming, quickening heartbeat, and tension in my shoulders has allowed me to understand my anger more authentically and wholly.
I encourage you to take the time to get to know your anger, no matter what it’s underbelly holds. In doing so, you will come out more attuned to your own needs and wants and more able to tackle challenges.