Honoring Anger and Healing Past Pain
As coaches there are times when we want clients to adopt a different mindset and we encourage them to explore anger. We might see them avoiding or denying these feelings, or they may be stuck in sadness or victimhood and need a strong force to help them shift. Anger is great for this. In coaching there are no judgements about anger. It's neither good nor bad. It simply is what it is. It has its uses and its drawbacks. There is no shame for having anger or expressing anger.
Anger gets a bad wrap in modern life. It’s seen as indulgent, a failure to control yourself, being overly sensitive, and something you should feel bad about. It’s expected that we keep anger to ourselves, shut it down it when it arrives, or express it in a refined, aloof, and detached way - as if we are better than these pesky feelings. There are so many unsaid rules about anger that ultimately numb us from feeling the rest of our emotions too. Denying anger is a sacrifice we subconsciously make to fit in that cuts us off from ourselves. It deadens us inside because we are trying to be perfect people robots. It's not authentic or human nature.
The disassociation from anger prevents us from being mentally healthy because we can’t process our feelings or what is happening to us, which makes us stuck and adds to our emotional baggage. If we can witness our anger we then have the opportunity to be curious and find out what needs are not being met.
With anger, our needs may not be obvious. You may have to wrestle with your anger for days or weeks to understand it. This is where coaches or therapists can help. Once you finally understand what is at the root, you can provide what you need by asking for it or giving it to yourself. It’s called self-actualization .Anger is a part of that.
You have permission to feel your anger in it’s entirety. And you have permission to express your anger as you see fit, taking into account possible consequences.
If you can embrace this, then you can meet yourself where you’re at and feel a confidence in knowing who you are without shame. It’s empowering because you are literally stepping into your own power when you revolt against what is expected in favor of what is real. You stop being controlled by the expectations and limits of others.
While the expression of anger can help you better understand the complex nature of your hurt and help you provide your unmet needs, you may need more to heal and find peace.
I think this is where coaches could play a bigger role for our clients.
Healing Your Hurt
Alison Armstrong talks about healing the masculine and the feminine in her audiobook, 'Celebrating Partnership'. It’s well worth the listen as are all of her books. Her case is that we can not be fully available in a relationship until our past hurts are resolved. Our hurts keep us closed and unavailable to the person we are trying to connect with. Every hurt that you can remember, no matter how small, is worth this work.
How does one heal past hurts? Through deep and sincere acknowledgement, validation, and apology. Coaches are trained to do the first two steps, but may not be familiar (in my experience) with the third.
Stan Tatkin PsyD, in ‘Your Brain on Love,’ talks about how your current relationship is proxy for all the relationships that came before. That you can not say to your partner “That has nothing to do with me. I am not responsible for your feelings” if you want the relationship to thrive. It's a selfish approach that justifies avoiding the uncomfortable feelings of others.
What is the opportunity here? When someone is hurt on your watch, a romantic partner or another, you have the opportunity to heal this person no matter if you did the transgression or not. It means anyone can provide this healing for you if they are willing and able. It also means you can offer this healing to others in your life like your parents, children and friends. The opportunity for healing doesn't depend on the specific person that caused the transgression, and that is liberating.
Healing someone might be resisted because it's seen as admission of guilt or accepting blame. It is not. When we feel this, we are making someone's pain about us as a way to reject them and protect ourselves. Although normal, it isn't helpful. Realize the process of healing has nothing to do with you at all. It has to do with providing a gift for a person you care about because you can. It is selfless, powerful, and I believe one of the highest expressions of love.
How does it work?
The first step if you are providing the healing is to put yourself in an open and accepting mindset. It is easy to feel defensive, to shut down, or turn the attention to you when strong feelings are expressed. As humans we have many mechanisms to avoid the uncomfortable, like moving the attention to us. As Stan Takin PsyD points out in 'Your Brain on Love,' the person who brings up the problem first gets the attention until it’s resolved. There is no competition for the greater pain. All pain is valid.
Once you can truly listen, your first job is to invite the conversation, then acknowledge and validate the other person based on what you are witnessing.
It goes something like this. You notice they are upset. “This seems to really upset you.” They say they were hurt because of something you said. "I hear that what I said hurt you." While these are benign statements, the same holds true if the person you are helping seems to be attacking you. "I think you are a jerk because... and I hate you." "I hear that what I did has really hurt you and has made you upset with me." Hold the space, meet them where they are at, and honor what they are sharing in pain by acknowledging you hear them.
Once the feelings are acknowledge you can then validate their feelings. “You have every right to feel this way. It makes sense you feel hurt. Your feelings of hurt and anger are valid and important.”
For those who are not coaches, you may scoff if you don’t agree with what they are saying or feeling. It may not make any sense to you. You may shut down if they don't communicate in a way you like. Remember this isn’t about you. You are providing a selfless gift to heal a person in pain. Their perception is real FOR THEM. Their suffering is real FOR THEM. You are holding space and acknowledging their feelings so they can process the situation and let it go. It is messy to express pain and that's ok.
Once a person’s feelings are acknowledged and validated, they will have the ability to hear an apology and let the hurt go. Sincerity and deep compassion for their pain and suffering are required. If you are bitter or resistant to this work because you think you “shouldn't have to” or you are doing this out of obligation or duty, it won’t work. Again, this is a selfless, heart to heart gift you are providing. Emphasis on selfless and heart to heart. Your vulnerability and presence are required. You are joining them in their pain. Try not to resist it.
Apologies can take shape in many forms. Pick the phrases that come naturally for you because it needs to be authentic.
“I’m so sorry you feel angry. I’m so sorry that (insert situation) hurt you and made you feel (insert feeling they shared). I’m so sorry I was/they were disrespectful (insert feeling they perceived). I am so sorry that I/they didn’t listen to you the way you wanted (tell it as they perceived it). I’m so sorry you felt unimportant and alone when (insert situation). I am sorry you had hoped/wished that I made time to listen in this moment and didn't (insert situation they wanted to happen). I am so sorry you didn’t get what you needed, wanted, dreamed of, hoped for.“
It is important to provide plenty of apologies and to be as specific as possible based on what they shared. It isn’t a single generic statement and then you’re done. Really listen to what they said. Reflect the words they used. Connect with them. Connect with your compassion for them. Let your heart speak to them in a way you feel they need to hear, to the degree they need to hear.
Once the apology has been given, you can offer the opportunity address additional needs. This consideration is powerful and often skipped. “What else would you like to share? What else should I know? Is there anything else you need me to do?”
As a last step, you can check in with them. “How are you feeling now? How was this experience for you? How did our conversation make you feel? Is there anything you need now?”
Can You Heal Yourself?
We don't always have a person who can provide this for us in the moment, or maybe the situation is too sensitive to share. You can provide healing the same way for yourself. You can write a letter from a person of your choosing, even from a future or higher version of yourself, and say all the things you need to hear. You can write it from yourself now to a younger part of yourself that is still hurt.
It’s your letter. The benefit of doing it yourself is that you can be as expressive and specific as you need. You can choose the words that resonate the best for you. There is no need to censor or be concerned what others think if they read it. This is your chance to make you a priority even if that sounds selfish. It’s not. Your healing is important because you are important and the world wants the healed version of yourself so you have more to give. And perhaps you haven't allowed yourself to be important and do things on your terms lately. You can start now.
Once you have finished your letter, you can read it aloud or ask someone to read it to you with the compassion and sincerity you need. You can reread it often until you feel seen, heard, and can let the hurt go.
Is this Just for Anger?
No. Acknowledgement, Validation, and Apology can be for used for any feeling that needs to be healed. Sadness, hurt, disrespect, betrayal, disappointment, etc.
What to Expect
Healing is often a very painful process, which is why most of us avoid it. You are fully facing and re-experiencing the situations that hurt you. You are feeling past feelings and perhaps new feelings you avoided because they are so painful. Your feelings may show up to a degree you’ve never experienced before and it may shock or overwhelm you. You may feel overwhelmed or confused, unable to make sense of your feelings. This is normal. Ugly crying is normal. Surprises are normal. This is the messy adventure of deep work.
As the person providing the healing, being witness to this vulnerability should be considered an honor. It’s normal for you to feel deep feelings too. It’s normal for you to cry too. The point is to hold a safe, non-judgmental, accepting space for their vulnerability to be expressed in whatever form it takes. The more you can observe what is going on for them by listening to their voice, their body language, their words, and acknowledge what you see for them, the more they will feel heard.
Is the Adventure of Healing Worth It?
I think this is a personal question. Sometimes the situation needs to be painful enough to make you try. Sometimes you find yourself in a corner and have no other way out. Sometimes your coach or therapist notices something and pokes at that bruised place and it all comes out.
Making the conscious choice to take inventory of your past hurts and actively feel and release them is brave work. It’s also rewarding. You no longer get triggered unexpectedly. You no longer have your emotions hijacked, or feel the need to protect yourself from situations that remind you of the past. You no longer hurt others around you. You get to discover and accept yourself as you are. You also gain your own self-respect. You demonstrate that you are important to you and when you return to the world from your healing, you’ll stand up for your needs more and gravitate toward the people who show you that you are important to them too.
Like anything that has a big payoff, there is a cost to play. Is the emotional freedom, self-actualization, inner peace and self-respect worth it to you? Is being a better self for you, your partner, and your family worth it to you? Or would you rather just not. You are free to choose.