Fourteen people gathered at a lovely retreat center outside of Edmonton, Alberta for the weekend of November 15-17, nine Canadians and five Americans. We did “Co-Counseling and Community Building, Level 1,” the same training that I gave to 30 people in NY state in August.
This training had a key difference from the last one, which was that roughly half the participants were from the local area, and they had various connections to each other prior to the weekend. They had already started building a support network and were eager to bring PLN skills and principles into their approach to supporting each other. These folks will have the luxury of not having to go home and build a local PLN network from scratch; they already have their core group and now they’ve all had two full days of intensive training.
The training participants were such a lovely group of women; caring, outspoken, sticking up for each other, fiery, fighting for their kids, big hearts, willing to take risks. I am carrying these awesome people around inside me and feeling buoyed by them in the days that have passed since the training.
I want to share some specific thoughts I have as I reflect back on the weekend:
* I’d like to see everybody in the Peak Living Network make a list of all the things you can think of that the world needs that you have to offer. Some things on the list might be skills or knowledge you could share, and others might be personal qualities you have that the rest of us could benefit from.
When you first start making the list you may have trouble coming up with ideas; most of us have been invalidated a lot over the course of our lives, so we underestimate what our abilities and positive qualities are. You might also run into a message in your head telling you not to say (or even think) positive things about yourself because that would be conceited. Try to push past those injuries and those negative voices and start building a list.
I explained at the training that it’s false to think of some people as “the leader type” and other people as “not the leader type.” Everyone has important leadership to share in some aspect of life, and one of the missions of PLN is to help everyone develop their leadership skills.
* Learning to co-counsel is challenging, not because it involves any hard-to-attain skills but because it requires breaking a number of long-standing habits. The hardest parts seem to be: 1) Breaking the habit of switching the subject back to ourselves when it’s the other person’s turn, and 2) Breaking the habit of making reference to things the person said during their counseling turn after their turn is over. We’ll need to find ways to frequently remind ourselves and each other of these principles.
As happened at the August training, several people commented that they were already starting to feel the power of co-counseling. This is all the more reason to do it with commitment and discipline, because its power depends on those things.
* People are reporting that they get messages in life, from a number of different directions, that say that it’s unrealistic to expect or hope for very much healing. Society seems to be rife with the outlook that things inside of us can only improve a little, and even that can only happen with a tremendous amount of hard work. Some people reported getting this message even from their therapists. So we need to put our passion into this movement and help people believe – and experience – what a huge healing potential we all have.
Photos from Unsplash, top to bottom:
Jens Johnsson, Greg Raines, Maxime Bhm
Today I’m offering a collection of strategies for successfully releasing anger. Anger, and more specifically how to work through it, is one three or four topics that I receive the most questions about. So I know that many people struggle with carrying a lot of anger and rage around inside them and don’t know how to relieve it.
Two key opening points about anger release:
1) The release needs to be quite physical in order to work.
2) You need to be feeling powerful while you release it, or at least not completely powerless, or the anger won’t get out.
With respect to my second point above, many people spend hours screaming and yelling without feeling any relief from their anger, and that’s because they are feeling too isolated and too powerless while they’re doing it.
There can also be one other reason why they aren’t getting relief: because they’re screaming and yelling at actual people, instead of working on releasing their anger. Running your anger at other people — which may be necessary sometimes in order to stand up for yourself — won’t ever relieve it. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it’s easy to observe in practice. For anger to successfully get out, you have to release it alone or, even better, with a support person accompanying and encouraging you.
As always when you’re trying to work through deep emotions, I recommend working with a partner if possible. You may be able to release anger successfully alone if you are feeling generally well-supported in your life in the current period. In other words, if you can picture a specific person being with you, someone whom you feel close to and whom you trust, that may work well enough if they can’t be with you in person at the moment. Having someone with you on the phone is another good option to pursue rather than being alone.
Here are some ways to help yourself feel powerful so that you can release anger:
1) Stand up tall, take a powerful stance (feet at least shoulder width apart), hold your head high but your chin in, which radiates the most confidence.
2) Use a voice that is strong and powerful, not screechy or whiny. Try to sound like someone who is giving orders, not someone who is pleading or begging.
3) Stomp on a pillow or cushion, or pound cushions on a couch or bed. Another great device is a plastic baseball bat that you can hit things with (without harming anything). Speak loudly and forcefully while you pound, but don’t yell your loudest or scream — not because there’s anything wrong with doing so, but because ironically doing so tends to make us feel less powerful, not more so.
4) If you are working with a co-counseling partner, take frequent quick breaks to make eye contact with your counselor and take in the fact that s/he is there. Keep absorbing the person’s support and caring.
5) Ask for reassurance periodically if you need it. When we’re releasing anger, we often feel ashamed or embarrassed about doing so, or feel that it looks kind of ugly. These barriers can be even greater for women than for men, so keep checking in with your co-counselor to see that s/he is still approving of you and accompanying you.
6) Imagine that the person you’re enraged at is present in the room, and direct your anger at that image. (It might be multiple people.)
You might also try spewing your anger at your co-counselor as if s/he was the person you’re angry at, rather than directing it toward an imaginary person in the room. I don’t recommend, however, having your co-counselor actually play the role of that person, which can rapidly become overwhelming for you (because then there’s no one in the room being your safe person). So it’s fine to have your counselor be a stand-in for someone else, but s/he should still continue to act like herself, smiling at you and encouraging you as you blast out your rage.
7) Keep the words simple, and say them over and over again with great force. This technique tends to work much better for releasing anger than giving a speech about all the things you’re angry about. Choose one or two short phrases (perhaps things like “Get away from me!” or “Don’t even think you can get away with that!” or “F*** you!”) to use repeatedly.
8) It often works best to use a phrase that goes against what actually happened; for example, you might try yelling “You can’t get away with this!” at someone who actually did get away with what they did to you at the time. This contradictory-seeming approach will tend to release anger more successfully, as it will help you feel more powerful in the present. Try it.
9) Follow on into other feelings that come up. When anger is successfully getting out, it will commonly lead to moments of crying or laughing, or even of cycling between laughing, crying, and angry storming.
10) Take pride in your outrage. You are right to feel enraged and bitter in the face of the injustices you’ve experienced. You of course need relief from your anger because it’s eating you up inside, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you for how angry you are; anger is only an unhealthy reaction when it’s used by violent or abusive people to frighten or control others. This tends to be especially important for women, who’ve been societally conditioned to feel that their anger is ugly.
11) If you are doing this work by yourself, keep giving yourself encouragement (“Go for it! Don’t hold back! Fight hard!”) just the way a co-counselor would do for you. And keep picturing your close people — whoever they are at this point in your life — and imagine that they’re present with you and rooting for you.
12) As always when doing deep emotional work, take plenty of time at the end to bring yourself out of the painful feelings into positive awareness and into looking forward to the rest of your day, ideally doing so with the support of a co-counseling partner.
One final point: Some people — and this is particularly common with men but is also sometimes true of women — don’t really need to be discharging anger at all, at least for the time being. For those people, the anger they’re feeling day to day is primarily a layer of deep frustration, which is different from true anger, and tends most commonly to be cover for unshed tears. These people need to focus much more on getting their laughing and crying channels opened up and then spend a lot of time working on those kinds of feelings. This is why it’s important to follow your feelings wherever they take you, and don’t try to control the process.
(* I put a shorter version of this post up on the PLN blog as well. *)
The most popular and visible approaches to emotional recovery — the philosophies typically promoted in commercial self-help and personal growth books and websites — are making numerous errors. One of the most common and problematic mistakes is their tendency to spread rigid, inflexible thinking. They claim that these rigidities will free us, but in fact what we’re trying to liberate ourselves from is rigidity itself. Emotional wounds cause us to become inflexible — in our bodies, in our emotions, and in our thinking — and emotional healing helps us to regain our suppleness in all three of those areas.
Here are some examples of the false dichotomies we get taught:
you “focus on the positive” and “stop allowing your distress to have any power”
you spend time feeling your emotions and processing them (which, according to many philosophies, means that we’ll sink into self-pity, wallow in our painful emotions, and spend our lives in pointless ruminating)
you find other people to love you
you learn to love yourself (which, they seem to be saying, means that you stop needing love from anyone else)
you accept the world as it is
you don’t accept it, so you try to change it (and the message here seems to be that if you don’t accept the world as it is, you’ll live constantly unhappy about the state that it’s in)
you look to people to rescue you
you take charge of your own life (which apparently means you stop needing anyone’s help)
These are all false choices; you don’t actually have to select between the two things in each of the examples above. In fact, the effort to make these rigid choices slows our healing rather than speeding it up.
Why? Because we need all of these elements in our lives. Successful emotional healing only comes if we attend to them all.
What does this mean in practice? It means that some days we need to be tough, and other days we need to recognize that it’s a bad day to fight and just let ourselves fall apart. (Yes, we need times of melting down.) Some days we’re all we need, and other days we really need support, companionship, and encouragement. Some days we need to live with the world as it is and let the rest go, and other days we need to be right up in the world’s face, demanding justice and demanding change. Some days we need to be taking care of other people, and some days we need them to take care of us — including times when we could really use a rescue, thank you very much.
Yes, it’s a dead end to stumble through life constantly looking to other people to rescue us. But it’s equally a dead end to decide we’re not going to rely on anyone, or to pretend that we’re never desperate.
Vibrant healthand healing come from learning to move and shift, some weeks going one way and some weeks going the other, challenging ourselves to grow in one direction today and in a different direction tomorrow. This spring may be my time to kick some asses and this summer may be my time to curl up in a ball while a loved one strokes my head.
Rigid thinking has to be left behind and replaced with flexibility. Emotional healing helps us to regain smooth and comfortable — yet solid — motion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. And that flexibility in turn helps us go toward further and deeper healing.
The Peak Living Network is not about self-help. I believe the entire concept of “self-help” is actually a mistake when it comes to emotional healing. Not only does your recovery not have to be a solitary project, it can’t be; trying to heal on your own will move you only small distances — if it moves you at all. This is why consumers of self-help literature keep feeling like they’ve found the answer, only to see the benefits of each new approach fade over time. The result is that we keep hungrily grabbing up the next self-help approach that comes down the line and getting our hopes up again.
Emotional healing is collective. Either we heal in large numbers or we don’t heal much at all.
Human beings are not mountain lions. Throughout almost the entirety of human history, we have been born into tribes and clans where our membership was secure from the moment we emerged into the world. We are a species of animal that watches over each other, that shares food, that sleeps piled together, that cares for the sick, that gathers for wedding and funerals. It is only in the last 3% or so of our history that we have not lived in this manner, and so the need and desire to live in community is genetically programmed into us at the deepest levels.
The reason we are longing for connection is that we were built to live connected.
So one of the main reasons why we’re all struggling with feeling wounded and dissatisfied is because of ways that connection in our lives broke down, or because it failed to exist in the first place. Either the people who were supposed to be watching over us were hurting us instead, or there wasn’t anyone watching over us, or periods of each. Since aloneness is one of the most profound sources of our injuries — perhaps the single most profound source — it’s not surprising that we don’t heal well alone.
It’s not your fault that you keep trying to make changes in your life but those improvements mostly slip away each time. Stop dumping on yourself about the resolutions you haven’t been able to stick to, the diets you haven’t stayed on, the exercise programs you’ve dropped off of, the jobs you haven’t quit. Instead, start looking for how to build allies, working together for mutual healing and growth. This is what PLN is all about.
(This post is excerpted, with minor changes, from Lundy Bancroft’s book The Joyous Recovery, forthcoming in January 2017)
Written by Lundy Bancroft
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