Anger is a form of self-love.
The kind of anger that arises from wanting to protect oneself from harm is part of the fight response. The body desires to remove any perceived harm, danger, or threat. Anger is the guard dog, protector wolf, fierce tiger, or courageous lion that loves you enough to protect you.
This is the painting I’m working on in Sacred Space Painting class (taught by Kaylina Michaela). I’ve been working on this painting in two classes so far.
I started this painting because I was feeling very angry and just needed to do a scribble painting with red paint to express the anger. During that class, my anger was coming out in a direct way. I wasn’t repressing it. So the first lines, the red paint lines, that are behind everything are straightforward. The sharp teeth and the sharp claws were about being able to destroy whatever is causing me harm. I created the nose, ears, and paws of a wolf onto my face. I was allowing the anger to flow out of my body during that class.
Between the first and second class, my anger had become a lot more buried. Probably due to some habitual ways I learned to deal with anger, I repressed the anger deep inside and wasn’t feeling it anymore. So re-entering into the painting was very confusing.
Fawning Unconscious Habitual Response
At first, I felt drawn to pink so I began painting with pink. I think that this was a representation of fawning. My understanding of fawning is that sometimes in childhood if we felt threatened we would try to change the situation by giving love and care to the person that was threatening us. So inside, there would be the emotion of terror and even the emotion of anger and the desire to fight. On the outside, however, the behavior would be very different. We might act caring, try to show love to the person, maybe give them some kind of gift, or try to find ways to be friendly and helpful.
I began by painting pink around the sharp teeth. I think I felt afraid of the sharp teeth so I was fawning them by trying to put a happy and loving pink color around them. Then I painted pink on top of the red. I was fawning in response to the angry red lines. This felt pretty confusing. I was trying to cover the anger, which is actually a kind of self-denial. If you think about it, fawning is somewhat violent towards the part of the self that is genuinely angry. Trying to make something disappear or go away is somewhat violent. But fawning is a survival strategy – it was the way to survive overwhelming danger. I didn’t intend to shut down my angry part, I just intended to survive. My body needed to find a way to feel safe and settled enough to let the anger start to percolate up again.
Next, I painted green on the throat area. I painted a vine, a unique personal voice, growing out of the throat.
And then I painted blood coming out of the ears, representing the pain from hearing false criticisms and judgments come into my ears.
Self-Destruction Unconscious Habitual Response
Then something very strange happened. I’ve never experienced this in any painting class until now. I suddenly felt the desire to destroy the painting.
I think what was going on is that, as we’ve established, my anger was repressed and buried and I couldn’t feel it. The first way I was burying my anger was by fawning, trying to just pile as much pink love over the anger as I could and pretend everything was okay. Pretend I don’t have any sharp teeth and nobody else has any sharp teeth – we are all pink happiness and sugary yum yums. I didn’t know it but I was afraid of feeling my anger. I wanted to feel love instead. This fawning behavior was already somewhat self-destructive.
I guess that first tactic was not sufficient because my system decided to implement another one. I began avoiding having to express my anger outwards by expressing it towards myself. At least this way the other person won’t get hurt. The desire to destroy the painting meant I wanted to destroy myself. That is a painting of me. This is a very, very familiar feeling – I can recognize when my anger gets turned back at me. Often I feel suicidal, or have urges to self-harm when this happens.
So, this second strong habit came into play – the habit of sensing anger and then automatically doing something destructive towards myself with that anger.
Turning the Anger Outwards Instead
I asked myself the question: How would the anger look if it became part of the painting? If that destructive desire got expressed inside the painting rather than against it, what would happen in the painting? I felt immediately a shift. If that wolf in the painting (me) could get very angry and then destroy something else, something outside of me, this would give an outlet for this energy.
So I painted blood on the wolf’s claws showing that the wolf was able to destroy and neutralize the various things in my life that have been harming me, the threats and the dangers. That wolf was doing its loving Wolf Protector Job successfully. This allowed the anger to flow outwards in a direct way again. Just like in the first class when I had allowed all the red paint lines to come out.
I noticed that even though I hadn’t been feeling it, I had been carrying the anger in my body. After I painted the blood on the wolf’s claws, I felt the anger leave my body.
I had a completely different inner state after getting the anger to go outwards and expressing it by painting. I think that whenever we do something that allows the fight response to find a way out of our body and to find a true state of resolution, the anger goes out of the body as well.
I went from feeling agitated, confused, heavy, and having a feeling of wanting to destroy my painting to feeling light, clean, peaceful, and enjoying my painting.
The moral of the story is that if you repress anger, you keep it in your body. You “are” angry. If you express anger to the point where your body believes it has vanquished the threat successfully, then you become free of the anger. Your body feels protected. The anger – your guard dog, protector wolf, fierce tiger, or courageous lion – is not needed anymore.
Fawning represses the experience and expression of anger. Self-destruction also doesn’t allow the anger to move from inside the body outwards to something outside of the self which is how the fight response was designed to work. When fawning and being self-destructive, the anger stays inside the body indefinitely.
This Won’t Work with Other Kinds of Anger
The above technique and any other technique that allows anger to flow out of the body and into some method of vanquishing the threat works with anger related to the fight response. There are other kinds of anger, however, that this technique won’t necessarily work with. If there is anger that is related to fixed beliefs, fixed perceptions, fixed assumptions, fixed strategies, projections, and demands, the process to find resolution is more complicated because these kinds of anger usually result from cognitive processes rather than the buried instinctive fight response based in the body. Nonviolent communication can assist with the process of unraveling all of these erroneous thought processes.
Here is a pic of what happened in the next class on 7-25-22:
I provide many techniques for working with anger in my upcoming book The Art of Healing Anger.
I highly recommend taking a Sacred Space Painting class. You can take the class on zoom. Check it out here: http://www.sacredspacepainting.com/
Non-violent Communication classes and practice groups are also beneficial.
Heidi Hanson is a writer located in Jonesborough, Tennessee. She is working on three books: The Art of Healing Trauma, The Art of Healing Grief, and The Art of Healing Anger.