When I was a child, if I expressed anger, I was promptly told I was acting like a “little animal.” I was to go to my room until I could act like a “little girl.” Crying was allowed but the common temper fits of toddlerhood were unacceptable. Years later, I struggled to register the emotion of anger. It took acting classes to access the feeling within me.
We live in a culture that is emotionally illiterate. At extremes, we numb everything out, either through sex, food, substances, work, or the Internet, or because we numb everything out, we have melt downs in the most inappropriate, unhealthy fashions. (At the most dangerous end of the spectrum, people go postal brandishing firearms).
Yet all emotions serve an evolutionary function. They tell us that something is wrong and that we need to respond to whatever is not right in the environment and/or lives. Something needs attention. If we listen to our emotions, they provide us invaluable clues and resources for our well being.
Anger in particular is a powerful force. I liken it to the quality of fire. When channeled appropriately, anger can change our lives for the better. Anger can liberate the world from injustice. Then it is life giving and like fire, it can bring warmth. When not dealt with adequately, or dealt with at all, it can be like a flame in a forest fire that eventually consumes everything in its path.
What I find particularly disconcerting is that as females, we are conditioned to “be nice” and in this, we often lose touch with the healthy dimensions of anger. Anger is a reaction to a real or perceived threat. It helps us set healthy boundaries, stand up to betrayals, and make positive changes in our lives. And yet so often, women are viewed as bitches if they express their discontent, even if their feelings are completely justified. We apologize for our feelings just after we’ve stood up for ourselves. If served up a plate of bullshit, we often say, “Thank you, thank you very much,” instead of saying, “No thanks. That is crap.”
It’s not just women whose instincts get ironed out of them. I think of the wonderful film, “Wolf” with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. In it, Jack Nicholson’s character, Will has been grossly taken advantage of by a colleague at work who steals his job and sleeps with Will’s wife. Resentful yet passive, Will swallows his fate until one night he is bit by a wolf. At this, the spirit of the animal enters his being and suddenly his instincts are fully alive and well. He no longer is a tame, domesticated drone who doesn’t know how to fend for himself. Instead he takes his power back in beautiful ways that restore his dignity.
I think of my beloved cat who used to always hiss at the vet. At home, Hafiz was docile and loving, but when he felt threatened, he knew how to dish it out. He knew how to protect himself. Would a mother wolf teach her cubs to let predators harm them? Absolutely not. So why then do we often let people hurt us and just smile as if it is no big deal? Why are we afraid of hurting the feelings of the people who shamelessly hurt us?
I invite the beauty of the animal within us all to recognize danger and to recognize bullshit, even if it’s disguised as filet mignon. I invite us to recognize when we’re safe and protected and when we are being treated with respect. The spirit of the wolf is a beautiful thing.