I had a penchant for putting my fists through walls. Overwhelmed by emotions so intense and jumbled I would go into overdrive, see red and hit something really hard. As a teenager I really had no clue on how to deal with the intense feelings of rage and angst by responding. These emotions came on so strong I felt as if I had to do something drastic to release the energy. Something would set me off, probably something trivial, and it would start this chain reaction. I didn’t know how to stop. So – walls. And guess what? Walls work.
The long car rides to and from the hospital were a mix of shame filled silence and platitudes about my inability to control my anger. They told me time and time again, that my way of releasing the overwhelming energy was unacceptable.
I knew that. I knew that I shouldn’t punch walls and realistically I didn’t like hurting myself over and over. But that’s all I knew. The only option I felt that I had in that moment was to take the matter into my own hands the only way I knew how – walls.
I didn’t (and still don’t) like being angry. I feel it in my face, my chest, and my stomach. Flushed red with a constricted chest and a terrible pit in my stomach I always felt I had to rid myself of this terrible feeling. Thoughts would race through my head faster than I could grab hold of them. Nobody would want to feel that way, but imagine if you had no categories to make sense of it? If you didn’t know what was going on or that responding was an option.
Maybe the third of fourth trip to the hospital she told me something that truly changed my perspective. “Bradley – you have to learn to respond and not react.”
This was a totally new idea for me because all I thought I could do was react, to hit something hard, to release this burning from inside of me. I felt overwhelmed and unable to do anything about it, but my mother was suggesting that responding is another step in our experience of intense emotion.
Teenagers, especially young men, don’t possess an innate capability to withstand intense emotional experience without the freedom to choose how they will engage with it. This assumes one thing – that we are allowed to feel angry. You must feel free to experience your emotions as they are in order to allow for them to develop and mature into something else.
That means anger is pointing to something deeper that we are experiencing. Most of the time (not all of the time) it is deep sadness or fear. Fear of losing something or sadness felt from being hurt, dismissed, or invalidated. We experience anger first, but the real question we ask when someone is raging is “What is the deeper emotion driving them to feel that they need to protect themselves?”
By my mother giving me the choice to respond instead of reacting out of my anger, she was inviting me to sit with my anger and attend to myself in the way that would not just release energy, but validate my feelings of loss, fear, and sadness. This powerful message was more than platitudes – it was an adult giving a young man the freedom to be who he is.
It gave me a voice. I had the freedom to express opinions because my feelings mattered and how I saw the world mattered. I didn’t have to go to my room and fix it or ignore it and move on to something else. My emotions weren’t, and still aren’t, something to be “fixed” or “figured out,” but instead something to be experienced and allowed to evolve.
Make room for yourself and be curious about the emotions you feel. Allow for them to tell their story and witness the power inherent in the abundant life.
Learn more about the author, Brad Rahr here.