Anger can be incredibly painful and difficult to navigate in relationships. Angus and I have had our fair share of challenges with this in the past. It is often difficult to talk about because of the shame associated with reactive behaviors. Unfortunately, shame makes us resist our feelings so it is harder for them to disperse and more difficult to gain perspective within ourselves. Shame also makes it much less likely for us to reach out for support when it is needed most.
The only act of physical violence in my marriage was committed by me. This happened about sixteen years ago. We were at home in our apartment. I don’t remember where the children were. Fortunately, they weren’t with us. It was the morning, a bright California day. The sun streamed in through the large living room windows with the dark brown velvet drapes on either side. I was in the living room backed into a corner. The walls were off-white and yellowed with age. There was a grainy texture on the walls and a 70’s popcorn ceiling overhead. There was a red jack on the floor near my right foot. I was wearing a blue tank top and shorts. Angus’s face was close to mine. I was angry and scared. He had never hit me, but I felt trapped. I remember the look of disgust on his face and the spittle around his mouth. I don’t remember his words. I felt dominated, and I couldn’t see a way out of the situation. And then an impulse ran through me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I felt instinctual. I reached out and grabbed him in the most vulnerable spot. I grabbed his testicles and yanked hard!
Angus went to the bathroom to check the damage and then left saying he was going to the doctor so he could file a police report. He called a friend from the parking lot at the doctor’s office and decided against it. He came home and sat on the dark green wing back chair in the living room that had been given to us as a hand me down. He wouldn’t speak to me. I felt intense shame. I felt bad and unworthy. I couldn’t believe I had caused him physical pain and suffering. I was shocked by my behavior. I felt terrible. I didn’t know if he would ever speak to me again. I didn’t know if he was going to leave me. I judged myself harshly.
I didn’t feel empowered. I felt ashamed. I felt alone. I didn’t want to tell anyone what happened. I did not have the altitude to find compassion in my heart at that time.
This has been my relationship with anger. I have seen it as bad and wrong whether it is my own or someone else’s. I have not had much room for it. Ironically this lack of tolerance often backfires and allows things to escalate. In the situation above, for example, if I had had more tolerance for whatever the initial upset was, it wouldn’t have escalated to that degree.
When I look back at that experience, I can see that I did the best I could do at that time with the understanding I had and so did Angus. Something just mobilized in me and said, “No!” That was my health and strength in that moment.
Since then, I have gotten much better at not reacting to my own upset or someone else’s. I understand not to take my low mood thinking seriously. This has been beneficial in terms of me feeling less sensitive and not taking things personally. I can’t imagine Angus and I experiencing that level of escalation in our relationship now. I am very grateful for that, but what I am seeing more recently is that I still had judgments on the emotion of anger. It is nice to feel less of it, but I still saw it as bad and wrong.
I could not see any health in my anger or anger in general.
I was holding a sanitized perspective of what wisdom looks like. I vilified anger. What I am exploring now is opening up to and making room for the full range of human experience within myself and to hold space for that in others. Pain and suffering are often accompanied by anger and rage. How do I make room for that as part of a healthy psychological experience? My desire to be experiencing qualities of love, empathy, and compassion, had me be particularly unloving toward myself when my experiences were not that. My ego coopted a spiritual ideal and had me try to live up to it. Creating rules for myself that result in internal pressure that makes me more likely to become reactive and less likely to hold space for another who is upset and angry.
I share this and ask you to reflect on where you judge your healthy emotional experience and others. This as an invitation for reflection to look deeper in terms of letting go of judgment and making room for all of the human experience. Whether it be yours or another’s.
My conditioning has had me judge anger mine and others as wrong and distance myself from that feeling experience rather than staying open and allowing it. My fear of being taken over and consumed by it had me reject it in myself and others. And in my rejection of my experience, the pressure had me more likely to react to my anger. Rather than recognize anger as a signal with healthy feedback.
Nothing is separate from the one source behind life. No experience can be disconnected from our spiritual nature. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors reflect our level of consciousness. When I lashed out at Angus, that reflected my level of consciousness at that time.
I am not advocating for or condoning violence. I am simply acknowledging that it exists and deserves compassion. I am creating more understanding by bringing anger and angry behavior out of the shadows of stigma and into the light of compassion.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.