My name is Emily and I’m angry and I’m not sorry about it.
For the first twenty years of my life, I existed in a religious environment where the only discussion around anger was “don’t feel angry,” “be slow to anger,” and “holding anger in your heart is sin.” There was little discussion about what to do when you do feel angry, what emotional coping mechanisms are helpful to process through anger, or how one can feel angry without spiraling out of control like the Church seemed to warn about. The main message I received about anger in the Church is that anger is unwelcome, shamed, bad, and should be avoided or repressed no matter what.
Even when I began picking apart my faith and slowly building something new again from the ground-up a few years back, I still didn’t know how to build a room for anger in my new spiritual house.
How does one feel or process anger in a healthy way? How do I permit myself to feel anger without shame?
Well, 2020 and 2021 have propelled me into a new realm where anger has been at the forefront of my emotional landscape as opposed to a background player. My options were to either learn how to feel my anger in a healthy way or succumb to the woes of repressed anger, a much uglier beast. From all of the changes and loss that were wrapped up in adjusting to a global pandemic, to me having to completely let go of my expectations and change my wedding plans last summer to be a small, sanitized version of the dreams I had, to publishing my book, The Courage to Go, in November after I’d been writing and perfecting it for almost four years without a way to give it the launch it deserved in the midst of rising COVID cases and deaths. I felt like I graduated from something huge, but no one came to the graduation, and I celebrated alone.
The anger continued to build.
And finally, as if all of that wasn’t enough, I got diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of 2021 and found out the exciting vaccinated summer I imagined was going to still be spent in lockdown at my house, recovering from four months of chemotherapy.
All of this piled up while I was still swirling in the chaos of the past year without much resolution.
And the underlying emotion I felt throughout all of this? Anger.
Anger at whom or what I don’t really know. I’ve reached a place in my spiritual path where, despite the extremely triggering and cringe-worthy comments I’ve received from evangelical Christians telling me that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” regarding my diagnosis, I don’t necessarily believe that God gave me cancer (though I do often want to punch the people that say things like that in the face). I don’t think that a loving Divine presence interacts with the world by making decisions about whether or not to give people cancer, so I’m not angry at God per se. I’m also not angry at my body, for I know that despite my fairly clean health record, life-long exercise regimen, and multi-year plant-based diet, there are carcinogenic environmental toxins and chemicals we can’t always escape living in this capitalist, growth-and-excess-addicted world, and me getting cancer at 26 is not Her fault.
Some days I do wish that there was still Someone or Something I could direct all of my anger toward because it would make my anger simpler. If I had a God to blame everything on like I did growing up, I could project my anger on someone else and wouldn’t have to actually feel my anger. Instead, without a scapegoat to heap my anger upon, in order to retain the quiet center of my being and remain a healthy human, I’ve had to learn how to access my anger on my own and simply let it move through me.
One of the most significant things I’ve learned about anger during the last year and a half is that anger is not something we can think our way out of. It is not something that can be systematically removed from our being by rational thinking, nor is it something that we can feel once and never have to feel again. It is a recurring emotion that often grows out of feelings of fear or being hurt.
In my experience, the only way to move through anger is by doing something embodied.
Embodied emotion is something else that does not come naturally after growing up in specific forms of traditional Christianity. Feel with your body? Especially a woman’s body? No way!
But it’s so good for us to feel with our bodies, especially in our anger.
For me, that looks like screaming, in a safe space, at the top of my lungs until my vocal chords hurt.
It looks like having open communication with my spouse where I tell him that I’m going to go take a few minutes to scream in the steam of my shower, with all of the vulnerability that comes with letting someone else into such a personal state.
It looks like allowing myself to punch and throw our living room pillows at the wall until my arms hurt.
These things access something imperative to the health of my human experience, and miraculously, when I let myself feel and move through my anger with my body, I immediately feel relief instead of the churning sensation in my gut I get when I repress my anger.
It is important to note that there are certainly ways that anger can lead to harm, such as the kind of unchecked anger that leads to violence, whether to another person or to one’s self. However, the anger I’m talking about here is the anger that bubbles up before it gets to the point of violence, the anger that teeters on that fine line begging to be noticed and named with care before it turns harmful.
Anger, when accessed, named, and felt before it turns to violence, is a good and natural and safe emotion. It is not something to be scared of. Feeling angry does not mean that one is a bad person. Anger is often feelings of fear or hurt that have been neglected, and it’s just asking for our gentle attention.
Not sure how to let yourself feel your anger without shame? Experiment!
Grab a pillow and scream.
Stand in the comfort of your steamy shower and scream.
Go on a walk alone in the woods and scream.
Throw rocks into a lake.
Throw a pillow at the wall.
Letting ourselves feel our anger with our bodies isn’t embarrassing or weird, but it may feel like that at first as we come back into our bodies and permit ourselves to feel anger after so many years of shoving it to the side.
We must be patient with ourselves as we learn how to dance again with our good and normal emotions.
Permitting ourselves to feel anger will not consume us like religious leaders might have told us in our past, but repressing our anger will consume us, and the longer we keep it inside, the more time it has to grow up and out of us as something much darker.
My name is Emily and I have cancer and I’m angry and not sorry about it. I hope my anger nudges you to give yourself permission to feel and move through your anger without apology, too.