Coach's Casebook: On anger
I recently posted on the journey to a healthier relationship with anger.
I also shared the fact that I’d been coaching for ten years.
And earlier this month I suggested practicing saying 'no' for NOvember, which requires us to set boundaries...for which we need access to healthy anger.
So, you know, anger is on my mind.
And whilst it's one thing to say we need to transform our relationship to anger, the next inevitable question is, how? And it's a good question. To which there isn't one simple answer because, you know, humans.
So instead of sharing 'The Answer' I thought I'd share three stories of incredible women I worked with who all found their own unique way to transform their anger from limiting to liberating.
And don't get me wrong; working on our anger is not a 'one and done' job. It's a process, an on-going process. Something we will keep dancing with our whole lives. And that shouldn't sound discouraging; far from it. It's a wonderful thing; dancing is fun.
So as you read these stories, know that we're meeting these women at a particular point in the dance, and that their stories, their dances, carry on.
[For context, I worked in prisons for five years and these stories are from some of the phenomenal women I worked with. Many were angry; and rightly so. The majority of women in prison are themselves victims of crime, abuse, assault or neglect long before they inflicted their own crimes on others. All names changed to preserve client confidentiality.]
Meet the clients
Mary: anger at the other
I will always remember meeting Mary. Mary was fifty, and had been a serious drug user since the unexpected death of her mother when she was 21. Drugs had enabled her to keep kicking the grief can down the road, but had also robbed her of a life; and, more specifically, the chance to have a relationship with her own daughter and grand-daughter. She came to coaching exhausted by the life she’d been living and massively defensive about what might come next.
Her physicality was striking. She sat stiff in the chair, arms barricaded around her chest, leaning back, away from me. Her eyes were steely and direct, seeming to suggest fearlessness and provocation. During the first three sessions she wore a permanent scowl, barking terse, “I don’t knows” to every question I asked her. The anger directed at me gave me the message: do not enter. And yet, she kept turning up.
Maggie: anger at self
Maggie was masterful at holding herself tightly wound. She was gently spoken with a soft gaze that rarely met my mine. She was elegant, composed on the surface, but underneath the rage was so sticky it was gagging her. She’d suffered greatly, more than most, including the murder of a loved one, loss, betrayal, miscarriage of justice; the facts of her life all contained like a mass inside her.
On top of all that she was feeling, she was furious with herself for not being able to manage her anger, creating a breathless claustrophobia that was palpable. Spending time with her, I got the impression that she was quietly dying, from the inside out.
Mo: anger at the world
Mo was a live wire. She would cartwheel into the coaching room, all arms and legs and fury and indignation. She’d enter the room on a torrent of words, telling me who’d slighted her, who’d said the wrong thing, the guards that had done this and looked at her LIKE THAT…she raged like molten lava, easily and messily, all over the furniture.
She was undiscerning in her anger; whether it was for herself or others, she would rise up, in her chariot of rage, ready to wave her sword and herald the battle cry. The world was NOT a good place, and Jackie's anger was the means by which it would goddam sort itself out. NOW!
Their transformational moments
Mary's breakthrough came midway through our third session. I finally managed to hear what she'd been telling me along; I don't know. The ‘I don’t knows’ weren’t merely defence but a simple statement of fact. Having been high on drugs for nearly thirty years, she didn’t know…who she was, what she liked, what made her happy, how to meet her own needs. She didn’t know herself, and this disorientation manifested as anger at the world, creating a safe boundary between herself and exposure.
Like a penny dropping, we worked out we had the puzzle piece she'd been looking for, and her homework was to go away and start to really place close attention to what she did like...all and any teeny tiny clues. Jam on toast? Quiet time? Time with friends? Listening to music? Early nights? Nature?