Anger to Forgiveness: Emotions in the Body

Why am I stuck in anger?

Anger is not listening, attempt to prove I'm right. yay-9244844Anger can be the most difficult emotion to master. Partly because it can feel so intense. It has a lot of energy. And partly because it has been used as an excuse to hurt other people, to act outwardly. With that as a model, all feelings of anger are then judged as “wrong” or “bad”. One person’s anger can be used as an excuse to punish, or to react with even more anger! We don’t make much progress that way.

Instead, anger can also be used to heal ourselves. We can be mindful of how we create it. Feelings of anger can be distinguished from reaction. And transformed into love. Does this sound realistic, or impossible? This post is about moving from anger as a hurt victim, to recognizing our own power to change ourselves. It is about moving from the “right” to be mad, to the “responsibility” to own the immense power of our creativity.

Perhaps you would rather ask, where does anger come from? And why is it so hard?

  • Did you expect something to work out and it didn’t?
  • Or, did you think you deserved something you didn’t get?
  • And perhaps you think someone is treating you unfairly.
  • Or, you may suspect someone misunderstands your motives?
  • Is it easier to jump to anger from a story that you heard about someone else, rather than investigating to find out the truth for yourself?
  • Or is anger a good way to cover up a belief that someone has hurt or wronged you, or feeling of helplessness, as if things are out of control?
  • Could it be you are expecting a thank you from the universe for all your good deeds, and all you get is a shower of mud?

Please notice that all of these feelings of anger come from a thought, belief, or expectation. Perhaps some of them might seem irrational if we looked closely at them. However, it is not useful to just dismiss them. In these situations, you might have felt angry. I certainly have. However, no one is “making me feel” angry. I can feel my body tense up, or my head, neck and jaw tighten. I can observe my breath getting shorter. Quickly, I can then recognize the emotions in my body. And track the beliefs that are behind them.

You can, too. As you trace your reactions to expectations, beliefs and thoughts, you become more empowered to change. It is relatively easy to examine thoughts: are they true? How do they serve me? Do they bring me peace? Who would I be without that thought? (Byron Katie, Who Would You Be Without Your Story?). Then we can change the thoughts that give rise to our emotions. But we can also work directly with the body sensations and breath to change emotions.

Emotional Tone Scale w Rosi footer3Emotional Tone scale

When I feel anger or irritation, or any emotion that disturbs me, I use a process of healing that moves me up the Emotional Tone Scale (ETS, see post Emotional Tone Scale). I learned ETS from Body Electronics Point Holding (1). I adapted it into a system I call Verbal Point Holding. (2)

Anger is close to the top of the scale. How do I work to change it? There’s a progression here. First, I am present to it, accept it without judgement. Then notice where I feel it in my body. Is my throat tightening up with unspoken rage? Do I feel it in my belly? Or, do I feel an emptiness in my heart? (3) Perhaps ask myself, where do I hold the tension, and pain? Then breathe into that body area.

Once I have found the anger in my body, and accepted it, the next step is to love the anger, make space in the body to hold it. Then, to recognize that it is mine, that no one reached inside my head to “make” me feel mad. I created it, and it may have served my own purposes. Now, it becomes no longer outside me, about someone else, but part of my own process, part my own evolution. This allows me to first forgive myself, then forgive the other. This process can take time. Finally, the last step is simply to witness what comes next, how my body and breathing have changed. How my feelings have changed. And feel the relief.


You Can Heal Your Life book cvrAren’t we “supposed to” forgive?

Forgiveness is a cleansing process. Forgiveness doesn’t work if it is hurried, or forced, or if it turns into another “should”. It only works after we stop looking outside ourselves for an external cause of suffering. As Cheri Huber says, “Examining beliefs, abandoning them, and returning attention to the present is essential to ending suffering, as is living in the awareness that nothing in the universe is personal.“(4)

One key to ending suffering is staying present to your feelings. Another is to recognize that no one is reaching inside your brain and nervous system to “make you feel” something. In fact, every feeling arises from within you. Claiming this, recognizing that you can own your feelings is empowering. It brings peace and relieves tension. At least, this is what I have found, and what clients tell me as I teach them the skills in Mindful Awareness of Body-Oriented Therapy, MABT.

Forgiveness is no different. Except that we need to forgive ourselves fully, before we can move on to forgiving others. What I have found is that forgiveness of others doesn’t stick, unless I forgive myself first. When I make space for self-compassion, forgiveness arises without judgment. I stop feeling wrong or “bad”, even about my rapidly receding anger! Jack Johnson puts it nicely, “Forgiveness is an act of radical self-compassion.”

How do my emotions affect my symptoms?

Carrying anger and unforgiveness for a long time is like carrying stones in your heart. It really only punishes you. (5) Louise Hay (6) lists many conditions that result when we burden our bodies with unprocessed anger, resentment, irritation or lack of self-love: kidney stones, gall stones, gout, liver problems, heart disease, chronic pain, immune system breakdown, are just a few. She teaches that when we change our thinking patterns, we change our bodies. That has also been my experience. It takes time, maybe a lifetime. Or maybe in an instant.

Are you ready to change?

Would you like to free yourself from emotions that have been stuck for a while? Are you willing to learn mindfulness skills you can apply to your body?

Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy, MABT is easy to learn. It teaches mindful awareness of both sensation and emotion, to overcome pain, trauma, stress or discomfort. You are able to master your emotions, and use body awareness to increase a sense of empowerment, soften areas of tension, breathe in relief. I offer it as an eight week series of sessions. That way, you gradually build the skills for inner peace that come from embodied presence.

If you would like a free first session to find how this works for you, call 503-708-2911. Or, schedule an appointment at a time of your convenience here:
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(1) Credit to Dr. John Ray, N.D. Read more in Body Electronics, by Thomas Chavez.
(2) See my post, Emotional tone Scale and Verbal Point Holding.
(3) Stanley Keleman, Emotional Anatomy.
(4) Cheri Huber, Suffering is Optional.
(5) Tikkun: Forgiveness as a spiritual practice
(6) Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life. Also, Heal Your Body. Both by Hay House Publishing.