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Be Angry

Anger is often part of healing. But it can be complicated for those of us who grew up in church or have spent any time in circles where the Bible is inerrant.

Be angry but don’t sin (Ephesians 4v26) was taught as a directive but without the tools to know how to be angry without causing harm, so it got absorbed as don’t be angry. I didn’t know how to be angry and process my anger, or to talk to people about hard things and the ways they pushed my buttons. Certainly in church growing up, there were no complaints or reporting mechanisms to be able to model healthy accountability when lines were crossed.

We were taught we had to have a sweet spirit, to keep short accounts, be easy, gracious, don’t make a fuss. Control your emotions, make other people comfortable, prefer others over yourself, your needs aren’t as important, be a peacemaker. The words saccharine, smug and spiritual bypassing come to mind. Women especially, absorb this from the wider culture as well.

People present a self-righteous front while choosing unhealthy behaviours in private. And self-righteous is a good term here, it’s defined as ‘having or characterised by certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.’

I’ve been angry this week. Another documentary came out about church and the abusive and controlling behaviours so many of us have seen and experienced. I haven’t watched it, but have seen a few clips from one episode and a line stuck with me. It spoke to the way leaders repeatedly chose a narrative over truth. This resonates.

Managing stories and people’s behaviour, upholding the image of the church at all costs, hiding stories of abuse of all kinds – it’s gaslighting at its finest – nothing to see here, you’re imagining it, pastor/person X has a strong character, this is an attack. Create a narrative and stick to it.

It’s crazy making.

I’ve been part of more than one church where this has played out up close. I saw things, sensed things, challenged things but was told to be quiet. I assumed things were being handled. They weren’t. When the truth came out there was a narrative, spin, support for the powerful while people limped away hurt and devastated. This has happened honestly, more times now than I can count.

And while yes there are exceptions, (I’ve seen a few), church has not proven itself to be a safe place – for our bodies, our stories or our anger. This is not defensible.

So what do we do with our anger? How do we feel it, process it, understand it? The way people are treated is objectively wrong of course, but these examples that ignite the flames in us are also pressing on our own bruises, our life experience, they ways in which we have been gaslit, our needs minimised, in our families of origin or other relationships.

Trauma expert Gabor Mate writes these helpful words on anger. “Anger in its natural, healthy form is a boundary defence, a dynamic activated when we perceive a threat to our lives or our physical or emotional integrity. Its full functioning is a standard feature of our wholeness, essential for survival. The movement towards wholeness often involves a reintegration of this oft-banished emotion. This is not the same as stoking resentment or nurturing a grievance. Healthy anger is a response of the moment, not a beast we keep in the basement, feeding it with shame or self-justifying narratives.”*

He goes on to say many of us don’t even really know what anger looks like for us because we have learnt to minimise it. Genuine anger he says, is not a performance, its core message is a concise and potent no. Healthy anger is not rage, resentment, bile, spite or venom.

Healthy anger looks like boundaries. It can ebb and flow as part of the emotions we feel every day. When it feels overwhelming we can be curious about it and sit with it, listen to it.

Ways to process it through your body

Stomp

Walk fast

Run

Dance

Shake your hands like you’re flicking water off them

Sing loudly to a pre-prepared playlist

Have a good cry

Swear

Feel it, don’t suppress it

Let it take its course, it’s telling you a line has been crossed, that you’re mad about the treatment of vulnerable people in an unjust system, that you’re sick of the smug rubbish coming from X person’s Instagram account, when you know the real story, you can’t believe X has happened, again.

Feel your anger and check in with yourself to see if it’s also a wound, a deeper pain. The urge to burn it all down could also be a cry for someone to listen and validate your story. Anger can be grief making itself known.

Maybe it’s time to unfollow the saccharine people on social media. And perhaps the venom in some of the shouty deconstruction spaces too.

Protect your energy. Understand your own reactivity and what it’s pointing to in you.

Talk about it in healthy spaces. Your anger has a place, you’re allowed to feel it.

If you’d like to read my story you can download it here. Or message me here and I’ll flick it to you if money is tight. No questions asked.

*Gabor Mate, The Myth of Normal. Trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture. Chapter 26.

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