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At an event last year and I was walking to evening class. I passed Sam and asked him how he was doing. He said he was really angry. I asked him what happened. Sam explained what caused his anger.
“It was at the heart opening meditation earlier in the day. We were all sitting down and you asked us to focus our attention in our heart. But where you had us sitting was on concrete, and it was very uncomfortable so I couldn’t focus. I thought of laying down but people were around and there wasn’t room. So I stayed sitting up. It was really uncomfortable. You set us up for failing.” (He was really blaming me now.)”
Sam continued and I could tell he was still angry at me. “I thought of moving to where there was more space and I “lay down and be comfortable, but I figured it would be over soon. But it kept going and I couldn’t get comfortable. I could tell other people around me were having really beautiful experiences, and I was missing out because you didn’t prepare us properly. You didn’t give us good instruction to start.” It had been about 6 hours since that meditation and Sam was still angry.
I figured it took some gumption for Sam to tell me this. It’s an uncomfortable thing to say to someone. I thanked him for the feedback, and acknowledged that he was correct. I hadn’t given specific set up instructions about how long the meditation would be, or what might be good to do to get comfortable, etc. I could do better, and I will.
Falsely justifying anger
I then asked him if the amount of anger he felt was in a proper proportion to being uncomfortable earlier in the day. Sam had to admit, that no. The amount of anger he felt surprised him, and he was surprised that he was still feeling it this many hours later.
I proposed to him that maybe the anger wasn’t just about the meditation or missing out on the heart opening experience others had. Maybe there was more to it. I asked him to consider that perhaps the anger was from some other source. This seemed to confuse Sam, but with some coaxing he agreed to consider it.
By the end of class that evening I checked in with Sam. He said that during the meditation at class he could step back from the story, and step back from the emotion of anger in his body. He was consciously observing both. From that perspective of consciousness he perceived his anger as separate from the explanation for the anger. The anger was an emotion by itself. The justification about the discomfort with sitting was something his mind connected to it. It was like the mind needed a justification as to the cause. The mind wasn’t comfortable with the anger to be there for no reason, so the mind gave the justification. From Sam’s conscious perspective he could see them as separate.
Repressed memory of anger
With the rationalization for the anger removed, Sam was ready to go deeper and discover the real source of his anger. In the process the next day, Sam recalled a memory of when he was 9 years old. He had gone to the hospital to have surgery. His mom, dad, and doctors told him he would go to sleep and when he woke up everything would be fine. There wouldn’t be any pain. He trusted them.
When Sam awoke from the surgery he was in excruciating pain. He felt hurt, angry, and betrayed. His mom, dad, and doctors had lied to him. They had tricked him. As he remembered that day he could still feel the anger from 30 years before. It was as if the 9 year old boy was still alive inside him, still in the hospital, still in pain, and still angry at everyone. The memory, with all the emotion, and the physical pain was still there in Sam’s unconscious, and the experience was still going on in his mind, and emotions. Sam was just not aware of all this latent emotion stored with this memory until now.
Sam could consciously identify the emotion, the event, the beliefs, and the memory as the source of his emotions his relationship to it changed. Instead of being in the perspective of the hurt 9 year old he could step into a conscious perspective of what was going on in his mind and make changes to it. It was as if Sam walked into a room in his mind and his 9 year old self was there and needed comfort. Conscious present time Sam was now the adult guiding his 9 year old self through his feelings of anger, betrayal, and pain.
Sam, from a consciousness perspective could change the memory by using breathwork to release his emotions. He could have empathy for his 9 year old self. He could let go of the anger and forgive his parents and doctors. He could see they gave him the best guidance they could. They didn’t know the complications or extra challenges that would occur in the surgery. As a 9 year old in that much pain he couldn’t process the the changes from what he was told. As a 39 year old man he could.
After Sam effectively released the emotions from this long held repressed event he began to completely rethink the meditation the day before. It was the little bit of pain in his body that was a trigger for remembering the big pain at 9 years old. The pain and anger from his 9 year old self came out during the meditation, and he didn’t know where it was from. The mind made the excuse that it was from the uncomfortable flow. Sam could now see that this justification for his emotion was false.
Repressed anger creates a pattern
Sam then started to have a series of flashbacks to other times he was angry. He could see his mind rationalized and blamed other people each time. Yet each time his anger was in much greater proportion than the event called for. He had been repeating a cycle of expressing repressed anger, and blaming other people for the anger he was carrying around in his body.
Sam’s source of anger and pain was essentially a repressed memory filled with emotion. That memory, pain, and anger, was still alive and being played in his unconscious mind. Since it was painful, the mind’s tendency is to push it down out of our conscious awareness and focus on other things so we feel better. The problem is that the emotional energy still wants to flow out and becomes directed at others who didn’t really cause it.
Where do your emotions come from? How angry do you get, and is the source of that anger really what your mind says it is from? Repressed emotions can be stored in the body for decades. The mind is looking around for something to blame them on. When it finds an excuse, it pounces. In a way it is trying to release those pent up emotions such as anger from the body and be free of them. However, when you rationalize and believe the new cause, you don’t solve the actual source. You have vented off the pressure of that anger only temporarily. The unconscious is still playing the memory of past events and feeling the hurt, and generating more anger. Each false belief about the cause distracts you from finding the real source.
The long term solution to repressed anger requires identifying and changing the false beliefs formed during past events. This might mean identifying the repressed memory, but could just mean identifying the emotions and beliefs. You have to move your perspective out of the mind of the past self still living in that moment, and dissolve the beliefs. To do this you have to bring into your conscious awareness to emotions, beliefs, and memories that were pushed into your unconscious mind.
There are some beliefs in Sam’s unconscious memory. The first is that his identity is still in the mindset of the 9 year old in pain. He is still being hurt, and other people are lying to him. Add to that a fear of being hurt again, fear of betrayal, and not trusting anyone that loves him. Emotions are tied to those beliefs and affect his perception of people and life.
Why we repress anger and other memories
We often avoid the look inward because we are afraid of the emotions we will experience. We might not be aware of this and so instead rationalize our fear of looking inward as a fear of finding some dark unworthy secret about ourselves. The truth is we are afraid of the pain buried in the repressed memory store in the body. We were afraid of that painful memory the same as a child was once afraid of that pain.
It is understandable that a child would look away. They didn’t have an effective way to process those emotions of pain and anger at the time and so stuffed them into their unconscious. Then they put a denial system over them so they would forget. Our fear of looking inward was made in those early years because we didn’t have skills to effectively process strong emotions. When you develop those skills, through such practices as the Releasing Emotions or Recapitulation, you also learn that it is safe to look inward towards your emotions and beliefs. It is safe because you have the skills to navigate, the thoughts, beliefs and let go of the pain and anger repressed inside. You will learn those skills through practicing the exercises in the Self Mastery Course and Releasing Emotions.4