‘How do we deal with our anger when no one is at fault? Or if we can’t complain to the person who is at fault? Or if the incident is long gone, but the anger remains?’
It’s awkward. I injured my leg and although no one was to blame I was angry. I just didn’t know what to be angry with.
Consider any of the following methods. (Some won’t appeal; it depends on the person.)
1. Label your anger. Say it out loud, even, but find the right words. Be specific. Are you miffed? Vexed? Outraged? Irritated?
And, look for other emotions: frustration, resentment . . .
Just labelling those emotions can give some relief.
2. Visualise your anger in your body as a shape. Then answer the following questions:
What shape is it, precisely?
Which parts of your body does it occupy?
What colour is it?
Is there more than one colour?
What is that anger made of? Wood? Metal? Plastic? Something else?
What temperature do you estimate it to be?
What is it like to touch?
Is it smooth, or rough?
If you prodded it, would it resist your finger or yield?
Is that shape moving?
Is it growing?
Once you have a thorough understanding of the anger, ask it if it would like to leave your body. If it declines, accept its decision. Comfort it. Make a place for it.
Cease the experiment but monitor the anger at times to see how it’s going. If the anger you have visualised consents to leave your body, visualise it doing so, drifting up out of your body and floating away. Watch it dissipate in the atmosphere.
3. Express your anger in words, or in art.
In his book, There are No Rules, John Hegarty points out that Picasso painted his Guemica in outrage after the Nazis and Italian Fascists had bombed the defenceless Spanish town, killing thousands of people.
I’m guessing that Picasso found that cathartic. Writing, painting, sculpting . . . might work for you, too.
4. If you have access to a fire you might try this exercise. I do it about once a year.
Step 1. Write a word or two on a piece of paper about a troublesome incident you would like to fade into the past. For example: Watson’s Bay or Susan (Enough to remind you of the incident.) Do that for each incident you want to forget. Five incidents: five pieces of paper.
Step 2. Make a small fire in your backyard, if it’s legal. (If you are a kid, do it with your parents’ supervision. That’s fair to them and fair to me. I don’t want fire brigades telling me I’m the reason houses burned down.)
‘Would a gas stove do?’
I don’t know. Would a witch’s spell be effective if she used a microwave instead of a cauldron? There is something primeval about fire. It can destroy or purify. It’s the stuff of rituals. So, a gas stove may not do. (But you can try it.)
Step 3. Take your pieces of paper and sit by the fire. Read one and think about the incident. Feel the pain one more time. If it’s anger, tell yourself something like, ‘I am angry and have every right to be angry. My anger is justified. If I want to, I can continue to be angry. The trouble is, it is not serving me. I cannot change what happened. I can continue to be angry because I have every right to be angry, but I have chosen to let it go. Etc. until finally: ‘Thank you, Anger, for being my true and loyal friend, and now I must say goodbye.’
You can ramble on until you have squeezed every bit out. Then throw the paper into the fire. As you watch it burn murmur ‘Goodbye.’
(If you prefer, speak to the anger directly: ‘Anger, I have chosen to let you go. I will not continue to hold onto you, even though I have every right to do so. Etc.’) You might feel relief, sadness, indifference . . . Whatever you feel, that’s fine.
By placing the paper into the fire you relinquish the incident to the fire and the fire transforms it. As the fire consumes the paper on the physical level it consumes the incident on a psychological level. (At least, that’s the idea.)
Step 4. Give the fire time to digest your incident. When you are ready, repeat with your next piece of paper.
Step 5. When you have finished with the fire ensure it is properly out. Don’t leave a fire to burn out. A breeze can reignite embers and carry them away to start a fire elsewhere. (In rare instances you can start an underground fire.) Tip buckets of water onto the fire.
Step 6. Continue to live your life. Don’t purposely think of the incident again, because you have chosen to let it go. But when you are reminded of it, note the ‘wince factor’ and ask yourself: ‘Is the feeling less painful now?’ If the answer is yes, congratulate yourself for doing the exercise and consider doing it again with other unwanted feelings. If your answer is ‘No’, then for you this exercise has been a waste of time.