In Anger Part 1 and 2 we looked at what comes before anger, what happens when you are angry and what helps in these situations.
Now let’s take a look at anger in other people and what yoga teaches us about that. Yoga is rooted, founded and based on "ahimsa" or nonviolence. So we learn early on that in order to truly practice yoga we need to commit to nonviolence. When we are in a pose we don’t force or push ourselves. We are encouraged to honor our limits and be kind and nonjudgmental.
Our yoga mat can be a metaphor for our own personal boundaries. When we roll out our mat we come to a safe space. We don’t expect anyone to violate the boundaries of the mat. It is silently agreed; this is our personal space. Yet there are no walls to our mat we are free to stretch and move beyond it and even invite someone on to our mat for support, comfort or closeness. But what about off the mat, how do we stay safe and connected by keeping good healthy boundaries? When someone else is angry we expect they will take care of themselves and be committed to nonviolence too. We want them to be responsible when they are feeling this strong emotion and not lash out with words or behavior but in reality not everyone is willing to do what is necessary to be responsible with anger.
“It’s not that bad,” Elaine protests, “after all he’s never physically hurt me.” Elaine (not her real name) 33 years old had lived with Richard, 31 for 8 months. Elaine had the same expectation that most of us do; the person she loved would treat her with respect and kindness. Most of the time Richard was a loving, attentive partner but when Richard became angry he lashed out at Elaine, calling her names, yelling obscenities, even pounding the counter or breaking dishes coming just short of physical abuse when he was really irate. At first Elaine called me to get help for Richard. She wanted him to get the support he needed so he wouldn’t feel so stressed out. Maybe then the outbursts would stop. When Richard refused to come in for therapy Elaine decided to get help with the symptoms of anxiety and depression she was experiencing.
At first, Elaine couldn’t see the connection between how she felt and what was happening in her relationship. For the most part their relationship was good. Richard had all the qualities Elaine was looking for in a life partner. He was handsome and hardworking. They shared the same values and interests. Yet every time her boundaries were violated she felt more and more powerless and sad. Not knowing what to do and not wanting to be with these hard feelings she focused on doing more for him. If he was angry about the laundry not be done she made sure the laundry was done. She became an expert in taking his emotional temperature and adjusting her behavior to what she predicted his mood to be. Other times she would lash out herself or try to convince Richard to stop. Over time she tuned in to her own feelings less and less and before long she didn’t know where she ended and Richard began.
Our personal boundaries are what we decide we need to be safe and emotionally healthy. If our boundaries are too rigid the rough edges can hurt us. Emotional walls keep out the love we need causing us to feel disconnected and alone. If our boundaries are unclear or non existent we are open to being hurt or disregarded. We can lose track of how to take care of ourselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Healthy boundaries start with awareness of how we are feeling and what we need in the moment. As we tune in to our needs and begin to take care of ourselves our boundaries become clearer. Then we are able to safely open up appropriately in relationships. This is a process that requires practice. At first your new behaviors may seem artificial or awkward. Often we long to be taken care of by someone else, taking care of ourselves is work. Having the support of a group or a therapist can help you carry out the difficult work of following through with establishing healthy boundaries. Over time you begin to feel stronger, more confident as well as more loving and open.
As Elaine practiced mindfulness she became more and more aware of how the abuse was affecting her and began to take small steps to strengthen her boundaries. For example, she refused to stay in the same room when Richard began to lash out. Instead of trying to placate him or lashing out herself she noticed how she was feeling. She learned to say, “I see that you are angry and I don’t like how you are treating me. I’m going outside now or to the other room.” Or “I feel angry, I’m going for a walk.” At first, Richard’s outbursts increased making it even harder for Elaine to continue her new behavior but as she let go of blame and shame what she needed to do became clearer.
With the support of a weekly therapy group Elaine found that separation was necessary. She continued to take the steps she needed to tune into her own needs, following through with her commitment to herself. As Elaine grew stronger and clearer about what she really wanted so did her personal boundaries. Eventually Richard sought help for himself and has learned to be more responsible with his anger. As a couple they are working together to improve communication and be open and supportive to each other.
If you are experiencing difficulty with someone else’s anger consider your boundaries.
Be honest with yourself. How do you really feel in the moment? What do you really want? How do you want to be treated? How do you want to behave? Having healthy boundaries require your honesty in these areas. Commit to being honest as well as non-violent, two foundations of yoga.
Ask yourself if you are opening up to mistreatment or violence or even participating in it with criticism or sarcasm. What are you open to? What is acceptable behavior for you and what is not? Keep checking in with how you feel to know. Strengthening your boundaries requires you to be mindful about what you are open to. If you are unsure of what behavior is safe or healthy seek out opportunities to practice opening up in safe situations; perhaps in a support or therapeutic group or with a trusted therapist.
Be willing to try something different to end a pattern of unhealthy boundaries. Be willing to do the work required to take care of yourself (no one else can do it for you); emotionally, physically and spiritually. Be willing to ask for help when you need it. Be willing to be firm with your boundaries to keep yourself safe.
Bring the lessons your learning on your yoga mat out into all your relationships including the relationship you have to yourself by understanding how your past affects you now, how you react in difficult situations and by committing to having healthy boundaries and living more peacefully. Now you are ready to welcome this often-misunderstood emotion, anger, into your life, embrace it and let it go. As you do this you open up to joy, peace and gratitude for a life fully lived.
Contact Elle Garfield, at 248-961-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org