When I was a kid, I wish I knew that it was okay to feel anger. I grew up in a family that only approved of happy emotions. If I was angry or upset, I was sent to my room until I could behave. Unfortunately, this led me to believe that I was a bad person if I felt anger. My parents loved me and were raising me the best they knew how. Sadly, however, what I learned was to unconsciously attack myself. Instead of feeling my anger as something fleeting and in the moment, I suppressed knowing about my anger and stored it inside. At age 25 I developed an autoimmune arthritis that made it impossible to walk more than a few steps without passing out from pain. What I learned during those difficult arthritis years, was that the more honest I was about knowing what I was feeling emotionally and letting that be okay, the less I hurt physically. My illness trained me to be emotionally authentic. If I suppressed anger, I was in immediate and excruciating pain. If I knew I was angry and didn’t suppress feeling it, I immediately felt less pain. I don’t mean that the pain relief I felt from being emotionally authentic was training me to act out physically or verbally. Acting out only made the pain worse. I mean that I learned that when I was angry, I needed to know I was angry and not suppress the physical feelings that come with being angry. I learned that I could sit quietly and without saying a word or moving at all, I could feel the way anger felt in my body. Over time, feeling my anger and in this quiet way and letting it be okay, trained me out of my deep habit of being angry at myself because I was angry. Replacing this deeply unconscious habit of condemning myself for my ‘imperfections’ with the habit of letting whatever I was feeling emotionally be okay, allowed my immune to stop attacking on my joints. Today I no longer have arthritis. My message to kids today, is it is okay to feel your emotions. Emotions aren’t rational. They usually don’t make sense. This is okay.
Suppressing your emotions so you don’t feel them is unhealthy. Acting out thoughtlessly and letting your emotions control your behavior is also unhealthy. What is healthy is knowing what you are feeling emotionally in your body without acting out and letting that be okay. Once you have done this, you can then respond more effectively to whatever is going on in your life. If more people learned how to do this as children, we would have less internal war like autoimmune disease and less external war like is happening across the globe. When the children (and adults) in my life come to me feeling angry, first I listen. As much as I am able, I make it safe for them to feel whatever they are feeling. Sometimes I hold them and tell them it is okay to feel anger. Sometimes they pace. Often I ask them to temporarily drop the story line and just feel the body sensations. Once the most intense of the body sensations have played out, is usually a good time to talk about the triggering situation. This is because anger playing out in the body helps us get its message. Once this message has been delivered, we can better know what we need to do. Until we get the message of our anger, most of us falsely assume the message is to blame or punish someone. Once we the message, we realize that message is that a specific wrong needs to be righted. If you listen to your anger, it will help you know how to make yourself a better person and your world a better place.
– Barbara Allan, author of the book Conquering Arthritis