About five years ago I traveled to NYC to attend a week-long corporate speech coaching program.  It was a unique opportunity to learn and I was grateful to be supported and encouraged by my company to attend.  I had no idea what that week would hold for me.

We had many role playing exercises to complete and engage in.  We had homework including recording ourselves while presenting, then sharing with the group.  We mimicked hosting conference calls from another room.  We role played our reactions to different leadership situations, and gave repeated presentations to our peers and our coach.  During this process I discovered something new and somewhat shocking about myself:  I don’t get mad.

What?  That is ridiculous.  Anger is such a natural human reaction on our emotional continuum.  How is it possible that I was unable to just be pissed off?

I discovered this observation during one exercise where we instructed to think of something that made us really, really mad.  Then we were told one by one to leave the room, and re-enter in a verbal rage about whatever we were thinking about to make us angry.  After our rant, we were instructed to rate our anger from 1 to 10 in terms of how much anger we were able to convey in our performance through verbal communication, emotional engagement and body language.  Upon completion, our peers and coach would also rate our anger from 1 to 10.  1 was “little” anger, 10 was “off the chain” mad.

I left the room as instructed, and entered while complaining about my topic.  All in, I completed the exercise and rated my own anger somewhere around 7 or 8 out of 10.  My peers and my coach disagreed.  They each individually said my display of anger was more like a 2 or 3 out of 10.  So I was asked to try again.  I did, and this time I really let them have it.  I got as mad as I could.  Again, I thought my anger was expressed around 8 out of 10.  But my peers and coach again disagreed.

After two tries at this, it was painfully obvious that I was not able to convey the anger that I was experiencing or trying to manufacture.  By contrast, some of the others were rated as 11 out of 10 or even 15, meaning that they were over performing how angry they were.  I sat down and shrunk back into my chair when my two tries were over, and noticed the arising of a very important question:  Am I able to get mad?

Surely, with all of the challenges and pain I have experienced through the deaths of two of my children and along my own physical health journey of syndromes, surgeries and diagnoses, I had plenty of anger to work with.  So I started thinking back over my life for times when I “lost it” in anger, or times I even yelled at anyone including members of my family.  The more I searched for these events, the clearer it became that I rarely expressed anger.  The next obvious question then arose: Why is that?

This was the beginning of an important self-inquiry process, not ever having looked at this in myself before.  As I investigated this question of “Why don’t I get angry?” I came up with many answers.  For example maybe I don’t get angry because:

  • It is a waste of time and energy.
  • Why get worked up when I can be working on the solution to whatever made me mad?
  • I generally accept things as they are and go with the flow, so I guess I don’t get mad.
  • I have control over so little that I don’t invest my energy getting mad when things don’t go my way.

And a few other thoughts into the process it hit me:  I am scared to death of my anger.  It intimidates me so, that I literally keep the lid on my frustrations and disappointments for fear of scaring myself and others!

This was a fairly major discovery for someone who thought they were pretty emotionally expressive.  I’ve always received feedback that I am a good communicator, that I am easy to connect with, and that I am empathetic.  But here I was, stifling a voice that I had never permitted to speak.  Nothing good about that.

Well maybe there was one good thing.  I suppose in my stretch to reconcile my lack of anger expression, I reached for other ways of settling myself than having tantrums, rages, or just plain sulking.  This inability to express rage led me to pursue writing, meditation and a lot of internal investigation.  For the first time in almost fifty years I was learning something new about myself.

Wellness practices aside, it is not healthy to keep any emotions bottled up.  Especially anger.  Over the last five years I have found my anger and my voice.  And although I still don’t get really mad over anything, I am more appreciative of my ability to practice non-attachment instead of compulsively reacting to cues around me.  I didn’t think this was so valuable until I realized that so many people have “anger issues” and do things in their angry states that are later regretted.

So I am comfortable now.  I understand that in order for others to know me and for me to know myself, I have to be able to communicate what I am experiencing.  If anger applies so be it.  But overall, I am comfortable that I usually don’t get angry.  And I am relieved that I have other outlets (like cutting the grass and walking outside) to help me through a heated moment, without losing control somehow.  I have come to understand that my approach to anger is actually uncommon.  And I have learned to embrace my equanimity with life and appreciate it, rather than looking at it as a flaw or some type of weakness.

And nope, no angry birds here.  But what a ride.  I learned so much about myself and my styles of communication and presentation, I felt very grateful that I’d been awarded this opportunity.  I wasn’t expecting it to be a game changer, but it truly brought me closer to knowing myself more deeply.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Please check in and share your blog comments if you have any feedback.  In the meantime, I am testing my theory:  Holding shit in makes us sick.  Literally.  Let’s try NOT to do that.  Let’s instead learn to show up as ourselves no matter what that entails.  Lest we turn it all in on ourselves.

PS:  Food for thought:  Might there be there a connection between never getting angry and having so many psychosomatic conditions?  Could my history of medical struggles (like colitis, back pain, unexplained seizures, migraines and arthritis) simply be the result of NOT expressing myself, including my anger?  Has my struggle with my health been the outcome of a reticent, scared, mom who thought her anger would envelop her and everyone and everything around her if it was ever set free?  If I got really good at speaking my truth, would my body be stronger, more vitalized and life giving?

These are some of the questions that have arisen in my own reflections on anger.  And in an answer to some of them, I installed a punching bag in my garage.  A good work out can be as transformative as inner work!

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