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Anger

This is one of the oddest cards in the deck. It would appear to have a shadow opposite another shadow and indeed that is the case, but despair is the darker shade of black. Anger appears when you’re ready to move onward from despair, which is good news as staying trapped in despair eventually lead to depression and any number of other mental and physical ailments.

“The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.”
– Henry Maudsley

The thaw of despair, much like when blood warms frostbitten extremities, brings about a sometimes intolerable burning. The ascent to wellness necessarily traverses the pain of rage. All of the hurt, sadness and shame that you stuffed down, all of the trauma trapped in your body, all of the words not spoken boil up, threatening to overwhelm us and those around us.

Why does anger get stuck in our bodies? Sometimes days pass when every breath seethes out of us like some silent hellfire searching for some innocent bystander to snatch off the sidewalk and pour all of our rage into. You may notice that your reaction greatly exceeds the reality of the situation. You might lose your shit at a customer service rep or want to smash your coffee cup. Your rage sometimes roves around, looking for the tallest tree for the lightning to strike. The charge has been building for a long time, it only needs to connect to something to send a million volts flying.

Our rage is trying to tell us something – something we really don’t want to hear. It tells us we can’t continue on as we have been. If you judge yourself in a safe enough mental and physical space to deepen into that message, there’s much to be learning about how to go forward. You may think you know what your anger says, like “I hate my job!” or “Why is everybody ignoring me!?” but if you’re stuck in rage, there’s a deeper layer that will require excavating. There’s some self-limiting belief that the anger invites you to face and transcend. It hands you a machete so you can slice your way out of attachments and expectations. Even if you see yourself as wanting to avoid conflict, angers makes room for the difficult conversations to come out into the light.

Trauma keeps you disconnected from your body as a coping mechanism. As weird as it may sound, disconnecting is what allows you to get up and make yourself a sandwich, take a shower, do a job, and generally hold down the demands of life. If you fully felt the impact of your abuse, it would incapacitate you, so you only remember and deal with smaller chunks of it at a time.

Prey animals in the wild are subjected to real danger of being chased and killed on a regular basis, yet they rarely suffer long-term negative effects. The definition of trauma is flight/fight/freeze responses that were not allowed to come to completion and thus shifted the brain into a hypervigilant state of awareness. Here’s how the flight/flight/freeze cycle is supposed to work – the prey animal notices the danger and runs away. Their bodies produce the arousal neurotransmitters that pump blood to their legs or wings, then once they’re safe their brain sends the all-clear signal which returns them to a calm state.

In people with PTSD, their body never sends the all-clear signal. They remain in perpetual hyper-awareness. So, when you have a triggering call with your boss, instead of hopping up from the table and fleeing out the door, the flight response, or getting into a boxing match, the fight response, you freeze. Your heart pumps the blood to charge up your muscles for action, but they don’t get to move. This immobility that comes with the freeze response is the hardest to recover from. The more often you’re triggered into immobility, the more significantly your brain changes and the more disconnected you become from your body.

Prey animals will lay down on the ground and shake after they’re safe. This video by Dr. Peter Levine shows the full process of a polar bear going into and out of the fight/fight/freeze response. His excellent book, Healing Trauma, provides a 12-week course of exercises to process PTSD so you can move forward without being trapped and overwhelmed by anger.

See the shadow reversal > DESPAIR