How does anger help with compassion?

Yesterday I talked with a friend who grasped, for the first time, how a family member had emotionally abused her. In about five minutes, she went from confused and ashamed . . . to angry, as she pieced together an incident in which her brother had accused her of deception and then refused to hear her side of the story. In the moment my friend became angry, she felt compassion for herself: standing there taking the tirade while being shushed if she tried to speak. “That was emotional abuse,” she said, as her eyes widened in awareness. He didn’t even let me open my mouth! This moment pulled back the curtain on how anger allows compassion. Let’s look at how.

Those things seem like opposites, but they’re two sides of a coin. The progression from anger to compassion goes like this. When you realize anger, you feel your boundaries. You see where you stand and what you want/need. Then, when you get clear about your boundaries, you have more integrity. Your self holds together more clearly and allows for self-compassion. In other words, when I feel the edges of my self, I know I’m really here and my feelings matter. I flow more love into the world when I love myself first.

Integrity means consistency and self-compassion.

First, integrity means consistency, coherence, the ability to know who we are, in spite of the distractions or chaos around us. This essay helps connect emotion and integrity. My friend found her borders in the moment she felt the spark of anger: she felt the edge separating her brother from her self. Before the anger, she literally took his words as truth and held them – like a basketball she had to carry down the court.

Integrity works like skin, one of our most basic boundaries. Our anger sounds an alarm when our boundaries are threatened. If we can’t feel and own our anger, we have tremendous difficulty knowing where we stop and another person starts.

When we know ourselves, we take action that promotes our growth and happiness . . . we lose our ability to idolize those in authority. Insecure parents block their children’s anger because they fear their children will see their weakness. Dominating world leaders attempt to block the peoples’ anger because it threatens to reveal their emptiness.

Second, integrity means the capacity for self-compassion. Until I know myself as a whole being with boundaries, I have difficulty accepting and feeling compassion for myself. My natural anger response reminds me where I am, where each boundary lies, what I need to be whole.

My friend very quickly realized her brother’s pain in dealing with their aging parents. Yes, she felt anger at him. But that anger moved her to an eventual place of empathy. Before the anger, confused and ashamed, she said, “Maybe he’s right about me.” During the anger, she saw herself as a person whose rights were trampled.  After the anger, she saw how they were both trying to make sense of a complicated family situation. I need to tell him my side.

Homework: Does this ring any bells from your life? Write your story and notice the emotion. Let yourself feel it, even if it seems selfish. Write down all the thoughts that go with it.

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