A number of women lately have asked me about the phenomenon of the volcanic eruption of rage toward our beloveds that seemingly comes from nowhere. You know the one – you’re feeling a bit tetchy all day and then one of your beloveds says or does something quite small and you blow up. Rage erupts.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés talks about this as an outcome of injured instincts. In her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, she explains how women (mostly women, although this relates to men as well) have been socialized to be “good girls,” to be helpful, to not protest when they feel uncomfortable, in fact to quell their instinctual response to complain and reject even in the face of real physical, psychological or emotional harm. Our instinct to reject others and protect ourselves is countered by our culture’s message that we need to be acceptable, not strong-minded. Our rejection of others and their actions will make them unhappy and we’re taught to not make others unhappy. Such a powerful price paid for acceptance.
Get curious about your inner processes, especially the habitual responses, addictive behaviors, places you resist your experience, shame responses, and the dark things that go thump in the night.
So, why the rage eruption? After an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime of exiling our natural instinct to take care of ourselves, to express our anger, indignation, disgust, disapproval or dismay, all that pent up protective instinct needs an outlet, and it will explode out at inopportune moments. The metaphorical straw that breaks the camel’s back. What we resist persists. Protective emotions like anger don’t go away when we try to ignore them – they are transformed into something else like bitterness and resentment, addictive behavior, depression or anxiety. Until anger is given an audience and allowed to express itself, to tell its story, it will continue to make us sick.
So, what do we do? Here are three steps in a process toward reconciling ourselves with our anger:
- Develop the skill of kind awareness or mindful compassion of your thoughts, emotions and sensations. We need to do this before we can do anything else. We need to get a sense of the terrain before we can work out what to pack in our backpack. What we can notice we can nourish.
- Tune into your soul’s purpose, your core values, and identify what you need. What is right, true, grounded, real and beautiful for you? This information tells you where your goals are, tangible landmarks you can aim for in your internal work. This will give you a context for what needs to change and why. It will give you motivation to do the important inner work you need to do.
- Get curious about your inner processes, especially the habitual responses, addictive behaviors, places you resist your experience, shame responses, and the dark things that go thump in the night. These dark places hold a wealth of information that you need to understand your inner landscape. What we can feel we can heal. Find out what’s going on “down there where the spirit meets the bone” (“Compassion” by Miller Williams). Recruit a therapist, teacher or mentor to help you out: they have tools that can hold your processes with skill and kindness, possibly saving you years of floundering around in the swamp of the soul. Through this brave curiosity, you’ll see the barriers that get in the way of the goals you set to align yourself with your soul’s purpose. From there, you have your work cut out for you, you have a direction to head off in. Be courageous, know that you are worthy.
I had a fresh memory of a sister telling me that she was no longer willing to caretake her beloved, and that she needed to take care of herself.
This 3-step process aligns with what the Strozzi Institute teaches as part of its Embodied Leadership teachings, but it really mirrors many other processes followed by teachers, therapists, group skills training (including Mindful Self-Compassion) and mentors everywhere, including myself. I just went through this process for myself with a situation I faced. Here’s how it looked:
- Awareness: I was feeling some difficult emotions as a result of some negative energy coming from a beloved, so I brought kind awareness to my experience of feeling bad.
- Soul purpose: I had a fresh memory of a sister telling me that she was no longer willing to caretake her beloved, and that she needed to take care of herself. Buoyed by her fierce compassionate statement of intention, I realized I, also, was often putting myself in the role of caretaker, as well as feeling shame over what I perceived as a rejection of me by my beloved when they did not have the tools necessary to meet my needs. One of my core values is emotional and psychological freedom, so I turned a corner and decided to use this difficult moment to align myself with this goal – to not lose myself to caretaking or proliferate my shame.
- Inner process: As I did this, anger made itself apparent to me, and I saw how my injured instincts had lead me to this place of caretaking out of a sense of shame and responsibility. Like my sister, I decided I wasn’t going to follow this old pattern. I allowed the anger to express itself in my body. I invited my body to have its experience rather than using the distractions of caretaking and shame as a way to resist my somatic experience. I was surprised to find, at this point, that most of the work was already done: acknowledging and validating the anger was quite close to the finish line for this piece of work. In the final phases of this piece of work I had an experience that felt a bit like dissociation, a bit like empty mind, a bit like confusion, and realized that I had just created a new neural pathway: I had just gone against a very old habit and my mind didn’t know what to make of it. My body and mind felt very tired and I wanted to escape to the bliss of sleep, but I stayed with my experience. I eventually moved through to the other side of the experience, and the shame and tendency to caretake were gone, replaced by a sense of protection, mindful indignation, realization of how my old patterns had developed, and a love for my dear self.
When we are someone who suffers from injured instincts, what we often find when we go through this kind of process and is that our inner child is unprotected and our inner fierce compassionate mother-teacher has been tethered.
This was my piece of work. Doing pieces of work like this at every opportunity contributes to a lifelong body of work that creates a larger and more vibrant soul expression, more confidence in my power and my place in the world, more love for myself and for others. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.
When we are someone who suffers from injured instincts, what we often find when we go through this kind of process is that our inner child is unprotected and our inner fierce compassionate mother-teacher has been tethered. We need to work slowly, patiently and kindly with our internal family, protecting the inner child and finding our inner compassionate mother-teacher’s voice. She’s in there. I promise she is. And she is longing to have a voice and help you set boundaries in a loving and integrated way so that you can stop compromising your needs for the comfort of others.
I’d love to travel with you as you develop awareness, discover your soul’s purpose, and bring brave curiosity to your inner landscape so that you can actively move toward your goals. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me about your adventures. Sign up for a free introductory chat to explore how the Radical Emergent Self-Wisdom Mentoring program might help you out. We’re on the road together.